The Life Autistic: When You Think Someone Else’s Child is Autistic . . .

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This question comes up a lot, and it’s a peril of knowledge:

“I think their kid might be autistic, but I don’t know what to say to them.”

My answers:

“I usually start with ‘Hi’ or ‘Hello.'”

“Do what I do – don’t say anything. Ever. For any reason.”

“You must be desperate to be asking me.”

This is a hard question.

Because you might be right, and their parents just might not know.

It’s hard not to intervene. To share and highlight where their child might be different. Where they could use understanding, support, people coming alongside.

It is the most well-meaning thing.

I don’t have a good answer.

I just have my own story.

Of course I feel I can spot other people’s children with autism right away. It sticks out, and even if it doesn’t, it sticks out to me.

I don’t have answers, so I do what I’ve learned to do best.

Talk.

Just talk.

No one really cares if you’re the first to suggest “the A word.”

But they care if you care about the things they care about.

If you’ve got neurotypical kids, share your challenges.

Tell your stories. Ask for theirs.

The common ground is where the truth is sown.

You can bring the warmth.

The growth is on them.

 

 

The Life Autistic: Turning Scowls into Smiles

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As a teenager, a lady named Melody always got onto my case for my generally dour, scowling disposition.

“Well hey there, smiley,” she’d tease.

I endured it, stoic and unmoved.

After all, I believed my stone-faced gravitas to be a strength.

I wasn’t “friendless,” I told myself. Nor was I lonely, no, I merely stood above the fray, in my own rarefied air, savoring not the shadows of Plato’s cave, but the enlightened tenets of introspection, culture, distantiating as a thoughtful young man, whose companion would be contemplation.

Also, I was thirteen years old, and an idiot.

At the time, I was aware my life and way of thinking was different, even if not quite defined as The Life Autistic.

If I couldn’t smile the way others did, I thought I could mold myself into some mysterious figure, whose intrigues would lead to curiosity or whatever.

I wanted to embrace a cold difference and try to find warmth.

But as much as I wanted to lean into my grave persona, I couldn’t undo the fact that I’m human in the end.

I began to smile back.

Just to do it.

To spite my dyspeptic soul and crack open to the sun.

There are times I think back to Melody. She didn’t have to bother cajoling me. After all, I was a glum, dour kid on the outside. A simple “Hello, Hunter” would have sufficed for her, as it does for many.

I don’t know what became of her.

Her health didn’t seem that great. She may have had a sister with spina bifida, as I remember learning about it from her. She would tear up when talking about the disease, how she was affected by it, where she’d campaign for awareness in small ways.

But she chose to smile.

Even at its hardest, I can choose a smile too.

 

 

The Life Autistic: More Like Trains than Trucks

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These days, everyone’s putting a premium on distinct set of skills.

Agile. Switch gears. Nimble. Agile, again. Pivots.

It’s all about how quickly you can de-commit to commitments, rather than being able to stay committed.

No wonder we have trouble.

I had a recent episode on The Life Autistic, where Mrs. H2 had to leave me with the kiddos to make it to a dental appointment.

In the middle of my workday.

I about snapped, even though:

  1. I had no issue
  2. It was on my calendar
  3. Told her it’d be alright
  4. My coworkers know I have kids
  5. My kids are fun
  6. It was on my calendar
  7. I’d said it was fine

More often than not, I can either start my day a little later or end it a little sooner.

But having to break work midday? I near imploded and it was bad. Mrs. H2 has to deal with an awful, awfully autistic person at times, and this was a time.

Here’s the deal:

We do really well for the heavy-duty, long-haul, arduous work.

Like a train.

We’re tough to stop, take a while to ramp up, and our ability to focus and commit is a strength.

Not everything needs to be able to pivot. Some things do.

But other items, tasks, works, and goals need an extraordinary commitment, to carry something heavy for a long time, to grind away and move heaven and earth.

We’re not like trucks, where we can tow and carry loads, while also pivoting, switching gears, and navigating more nimbly as needed.

I wish I could train myself completely otherwise on The Life Autistic, but:

Being a train means you can best stay on track.

The Life Autistic: Not as Smart as People Think

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I’m still quite terrible with humility, but this one is just honesty:

I am honestly not as smart as many people think. 

I’m ok with that, and I’m happy to demystify!

But first, a story:

My wife, Andrea, told me a tale from our college days, when she was at some party with this one odd gal who made snow angels in the host’s carpet. Which, I guess that’s a story too.

But said gal recounted how she sleuthed out my student ID (uh…) from the records office (what), so she could compare our mid-term exam scores in an English class (why?).

“I couldn’t believe I actually got a better grade,” she beamed.

“Oh,” said Andrea. “Yeah, Hunter didn’t study for that one.

Ouch. That’s what you go to the burn unit for.

Why am I sharing this?

Because I wan’t people to get the wrong impression about me.

I’m not some genius. I’m not all that smart.

These are the real “autistic strengths” that I’ll attest to:

1) Decent memory

It’s the forgetting that’s the hard part! But yeah, I tend to remember a bit, both actively and passively. It’s not perfect, and as Mrs. H2 will attest, I can forget things as soon as I hear them, but it’s not too shabby.

2) Recall

There are times where my memory is just “all right there.” I often don’t need to take time to remember, so the instantaneousness comes out at a good clip. But really, that’s not smarts – that’s just a product of producing memories quickly. 

3) Associations

There’s recalling memories, and then there’s stitching them into patterns, situations, fitting them into neat spots to form a pattern. It’s almost like creativity. I’ve done OK professionally with this, as a coach, organizational leader, analyst, etc. Is it a “smart” thing? I dunno.

4) Big words

We’ve been over this.

That’s it. That’s the combo.

I’m really slow with math. Sluggish with computations. I don’t read as many books as I should. I don’t have an advanced degree. I wouldn’t last anywhere in engineering fields. I’m actually aware of where I’m not the sharpest bulb in the shed.

I’ve got a good memory and recall combo, and I’m almost clever – I’ll take that.

 

The Life Autistic: We have Perks!

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Why am I laughing?

Well, I’ll get specific. But in general, there’s one fact I don’t highlight often enough.

The Life Autistic is not all bad!

In fact, I do enjoy some of the perks. Here’s a few:

1) Deep focus

I’m sure some humans and neurotypicals possess this too, but it’s wonderful to be able to summon a deepness in tasks that generates flow and keeps us fixed

2) Obsession

As an analyst, I tell people the following in truthful jest: “If you want this done quick, either get my boss to tell me to do it, or get me excited about it.”

I’ve burned hours on projects and data-driven explorations purely out of obsession with trying to find the answers. Once my obsession is popped, it don’t stop.

3) Detachment

On a sadder note, I recall being the designated ‘multimedia’ guy for two family funerals. Things get emotional, and sometimes I’m better able than others to detach from that and not get caught up when things need to happen.

Granted, I’m prone to really juvenile meltdowns over things I shouldn’t be upset over. But when it comes to things where I should be upset like everyone else, I’m usually not. And I can function where others don’t.

4) Memory

It’s amazing.

If you want me to remember something critical, mention it in passing, like it’s some weird piece of trivia. I’ll never forget.

Of course, if it’s actually important, and you tell me I must remember, I’m literally forgetting it as you tell me.

Ok, so this one is 50/50.

5) Difference

I don’t always enjoy the isolation, the otherness, being against the flow.

But at least I know I’m different and differently configured. If anything, that can be memorable!

 

There’s a whole host of other perks, like recall, name recognition, patterns, routines, self-awareness.

I like some of the practical ones too, like ‘control’ — which can come in handy when you’re trying to eat a brunch one handed while keeping a flailing one-year old baby in check ^_^

 

The Life Autistic: We Can Get Along (but not for long)

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I remember taking myself down the alleyways and misted halls of memory, trying to trace a core feeling I’ve walked around with for a long while:

Why does everyone seem to disappear?

I have no lifelong friends.

The ones close once are now far.

Everyone exits my orbit.

People fade.

I am stupidly fortunate to have a wife and daughters who mostly enjoy me on most days, but I can’t shake the feeling that they too will be just . . . gone.

The Life Autistic is a great exercise in deep self-awareness, and I found one element of the whole “people disappearing” act.

Growing up a Navy brat, life itself and the others around me – they were all in transition.

No one remained for long.

What few friends I had, they’d be stationed elsewhere within months. Years, if I were lucky.

I wasn’t fast on friendship then, and I’m not all that quick about them today.

 

 

But here we are today, and still I ask:

Is everyone going to disappear again?

It’s an innate concern that has me looking without, within.

I am a difficult person in person. 

The Life Autistic, y’all, it tires people.

And we know it.

It’s hard dealing with someone who can whip from mad/sad/glad in an instant.

Who vanishes at a moment’s notice to recover.

Who turns ice cold when the empathy tank runs out.

Who can offer only a shoulder blade of steel to cry on.

Who tries hard to be human, but — just isn’t.

 

It’s why I enjoy working from home. Writing. Tweeting.

I don’t keep a distance because I need it from you.

It’s because you need it from me.

The Life Autistic: Why We Learn to Fight Alone

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Do you ever send a version of yourself back in time? Just to give your past self these pep talks, little reminders, things that’ll get you through many yesterdays ago?

In my own mind, I feel I’ve gone back plenty.

To tell myself this thing then.

To hear my future self telling me now.

“Learn to fight alone.”

 

There are those helpful refrains that many others enjoy.

“We’re all in this together.”

“People know what you’re going through.”

“We’ve got your back.”

In The Life Autistic, not so much.

 

If you’ve ever seen Inside Out, the takeaway is that Sadness is key. It pushes the empathetic response in others.

And yeah, that makes sense for normal humans.

“Oh wow, that interview went that bad, huh? I know the feeling; did you wanna go get a coffee or something?” (or at least that’s the best I can imagine here).

But it just ain’t the same for us.

 

When even the simplest routines go awry.

When something in the day is out of place.

When meltdowns happen.

When you’re the robot malfunctioning in a room of humans.

When you’re angry for reasons that neurotypical people can’t relate to.

Good luck finding the empathy.

 

When things go bad, they are lonely fights. Few who understand. Fewer who’d relate.

Not only is it a self-struggle keeping ourselves in check, our expressions, reactions – there’s everyone else around who—even if they try to get it—will have a hard time getting it.

So this is where I return to pasts long passed from futures yet foreseen:

You’re right. No one seems to understand. It’s hard to find people who care. It’s tough when no one else gets it. To them, it’s just a spilled bowl of cereal, or whatever. 

Somehow, it’s OK. 

Anyone who does get it, that’s a bonus.

Because your help is an uplifting surprise.

When someone well and truly cares, it’s rare and wonderful.

You may not always heal by yourself.

But learn to fight alone.