The Life Autistic: A Thing or Two About ‘Masking’


It still takes many people by surprise that I “function” normally.

That I “get sarcasm.” That my reactions are mostly normal. That I empathize, embrace people, and try to have a good time.

It begs a good question: “How can you be autistic without acting autistic?”

The better question: How do you think we pass as normal?


There’s a good post I’d refer you to on Autistic Masking – our practiced art of adapting to what others would consider and judge to be normal situations.

You never really grow out of autism — you just learn better how to cope and adapt to where normal meets norms.

Things like practiced conversation, pre-rehearsing, active listening, walking in just the right spot in a group, “going with the flow,” leaving my glasses off to make better eye contact, making good exit points, asking lots of open-ended questions — these are almost survival skills I’ve had to practice over time so I can exist with others without warding them off.

I have a week-long business trip coming up, and I’m dreading it.

I’ll be meeting what I feel is like a hundred people for the first time, people I’ve known virtually for years. And they all like to party and have a good time.

And you know I’ll pop up here and there and be genuinely amiable, crack a quality joke or two, come across as halfway normal.

But that takes a lot of acting behind the mask.

Where I have to be excruciatingly intentional about the time I spend.

The group size and composition.

The proximity to my hotel.

The relative odds of certain groups of people staying out later relative to others.

Pushing off enough work projects to where I can exit gracefully on my own terms.


Folks, this is the reality of the many autists in your midst, us ducks paddling feverishly above the waters you deftly sail across.

Fine tuning and baking the clay of a polished mask to where we dare tread among good ol’ regular folks, because we want to try. In many ways we are far apart, but we want to play the part.

And it’s often our finest role – playing a normal version of ourselves.


The Life Autistic: I Choose to be Late to Meetings – Here’s Why

Screen Shot 2019-06-21 at 3.25.15 PM.png

I am a predictable machine, punctual to a fault.

Except in one scenario.

Where I toss my penchant for punctuality out the window and make a conscious decision to be late to meetings.

But why?

In my Life Autistic, I can barely stand committing to a task if I start it late.

If I dedicate 30 minutes to working out or to development work, I can’t do it in my right mind if I start it askew, like at 11:07AM. It just doesn’t work.

It must begin on time or it doesn’t begin at all.

Except meetings.

See that image above? It’s the impossible scenario for someone’s OCD.

I have a similar autistic problem with meetings.

If I’m getting there on time, I’m usually just a smidge early.

And that’s a problem, because sometimes it’s just me and very few others.

It forces my hand into making small talk when I’m not always prepared to do so.

If it’s me and the meeting host, then it can get awkward quick. I’d rather less, not more, of these instances in my life. I can hold my own, but I don’t like making a habit of that.

I’ve found it much better to show a minute or two later, where a group is already discussing items – maybe they’ll draw attention to me, even better if we get to business, but by then I can jump into a conversation. Or not! Sometimes it’s easy to listen and disengage for a bit.

Even if I’m late.

Some trials aren’t worth my punctuality ^_^


The Life Autistic: Somehow I Got Good at Team Building

Stick figures.jpg

Ever end up looking back at a skill and wondering “How did I get good at this?”

After watching The Office for the grizzillionth time in a row, I’ve started to look for different layers within the show.

One of them is “Michael Scott managerial competencies” — you could argue that there aren’t many. But one skill stands out.

Good with names.

Like, unusually good. Names, details, ages, people — helpful in sales, helpful with people.

Sadly or unsadly, we share that similar skill.

When I got into organizational leadership, I tried my hardest to be relatable, to show that I cared about their details, about them. Because I did.

So after I got to know my team of supervisors, I learned more about them, their families, and all their kids and dogs. It became part of our common language, not just in my conversations with them, but with each other.

It got to where I could rattle off the names of:

—all 15 kids

—across six supervisors

—in descending order by age

That didn’t take too much effort with my *autistic superpowers* and all.

But getting names and details down led to something unexpected. So here’s a story:

We brought on a new team manager into the mix. She was a bit more reserved at first, but she soon picked up on our vibe. After a while, she felt more comfortable sharing a little bit more about the goings on in her life.

She’d say things like “Ok, taking my son off to wrestling” or “My oldest just won her cheer competition” — which was great, since she hadn’t really opened up to the team in our chat before.

Then, something changed.

Weeks later, she started changing the verbiage. Subtle, but substantial.

Instead of mentioning her kids generically, as she’d done for a while, she started using their names.

“Jimmy just won his latest match!” and “Amber’s feeling a lot better, thanks for asking.”

And me being me, I noticed.

In a later meeting, I brought it up with her. Turns out, it wasn’t accidental on her part.

And her reason was when I finally felt I got good at team building.

Because I wasn’t building a team.

She said: “Hunter, I feel like you’ve built a family here.” 



The Life Autistic: How Three Odd Questions Made One Good Friend


Friendships aren’t found; they’re built.

I’d just moved from Iceland to Jacksonville, Florida. Moving and resetting life was common, but as a pre-teen, I felt way more self-aware — awkwardness, shyness, oddness and all.

We met our next door neighbors. They were helpful. As parents of children do when sizing up up other parents of children, they told us about the other kids nearby.

“Oh, hopefully you guys meet Zach,” they said. “He’s around Hunter’s age, great kid. Babysits our son. Real nice guy.”


Ok, I thought, hopefully we get to meet this guy.


This is where an interjection would be helpful.

There’s no guidebook on making fast friends on The Life Autistic.

It’s just “throw something out there and hope it sticks.”

As a boy, I found myself at a rare intersection of oblivious confidence and embarrassing awkwardness. 

So what you’re about to read: don’t try it at home. Or anywhere.



Two days later, my dad, my brothers, and I were out on the driveway when we spotted a teen steering his bike down our street.

It had to be him.

I stepped forward. He slowed down.

“Hey,” I shouted. Are you Zach?”


“Do you believe in God?”


“Do you wanna ride bikes?”


“Ok, well, uh . . . I need to build mine first.”

Miraculously — after being accosted by this pasty, odd fellow teen who assessed one’s theism and badgered you into biking before his own ride was even built — Zach didn’t speed away from what surely qualified as “pedal away from kids like this.”

He stuck around. We rode bikes, hung out, did stuff, and ended up good friends.


My whole intro was preposterous. I’m quite doubtful I could make another friend that way.

The normal reaction to my abnormal interrogation would have been to just wave, peace out, and call it day.

On The Life Autistic, we are most often saved and shaped by the kindness of others: those who dare to stop, to listen, to wait for someone who needs to build their bike first before building a friendship.



The Life Autistic: Finding Love ❤️


I remember a low point in my teenage life, when I confessed that I wanted to take my own life. It was a hard thing to consider, entrenching myself in reasons buried in my own shortsightedness.

My counselor then framed his response in a way I’ve been unable to forget:

“Think of what loss that would bring to others, Hunter. Your parents, your siblings, your future wife.”

I scoffed at the thought. But the fact that someone else would even say that, like it could ever be thing for me — a hopelessly awkward, unattractive, humorless, acne-ridden, husky clumsy oaf — it gave me enough pause and remote hope that maybe he wasn’t wrong.

He wasn’t wrong.


Contrary to what most of you would believe, I’m happily married and have been for ten years this week (!).

That seems unfathomable.

I feel like it’s one of the more unlikely outcomes of the autistic experience. Sure, moving out of your parents’ house, keeping a job, establishing independence, and being “successful” in some weird niche — I mean, that was my most optimistic, foreseeable hope.

But shoot, finding someone to love, someone who would be tricked into end up loving me back? Someone with whom I’d spend the rest of my life with?

“Hunter,” you’d contest. “That’s perfectly normal!”

Have you not been reading this blog?


Andrea’s experience as Mrs. Hansen needs its own blog entry. I won’t even cheat it by hinting at it, because that’s her story to share, being as close to my autistic epicenter as she is.

I’m grateful.

This was not a future I foresaw, but one I hoped for.

I can imagine some of you wondering similar:

“Is my son going to find someone to love him?”

“Will my daughter find her person?”

“Is there a soul mate out there for someone as unique as [MY CHILD]?”

I saw myself as the least likely to be at the front of the aisle, ready to tie the knot. And for the longest while, it felt impossible.

But ten years on, here we are.

p.s., Andrea, thanks for enduring with me for an entire decade; you are indeed wonderful and brave, and I love you.



The Life Autistic: Different Wasn’t Always Cool

Screen Shot 2019-06-02 at 3.03.00 PM.png

“If everyone else likes *NSYNC and Blink-182, then what I like will make me unlike everyone else.”

I was such an odd kid.

Pre-Internet, your tribes were harder to find.

I wasn’t cool, nor a jock, or Gothically-uncool, so I just kind of existed as my group of one for a while.

And did I ever lean into that.

If I had to be lonely, then I could at least be unique.

I found my own self in ambient electronic music. Where I had no peers. No company. No equals in the well.

Where I could be the only kid in Iceland who absorbed Steve Roach, appreciated Thomas Köner, hunted down ephemera from Ashera, breathed in beatlessness from Robert Rich, Oöphoi, Mathias Grassow, Ma Ja Le, and entranced enchanted evenings with Vidna Obmana, Jorge Reyes, and Bill Laswell.

And I was.

And I took heat for that.

“You and your weird music.”

“What’s this, some five-hour ambient remix of Tibetan frog chants?”

“If I were a trans-dimensional cyborg, this sounds like what they’d play at my funeral — against my wishes.”

Weird. Abnormal. Weird. Different.

I’ve taken every jibe I can think of on my tastes. For being weird. Different. Unpopular.

Things are almost different now.

The chiding and teasing continues.

Here I remain, intractably different and almost unique.

People, to a degree, found out that being different is actually kind of OK.

I’ll hunt down things on Apple Music and find, wait, hey, these people listen to these guys too?

I remember Wil Wheaton linking to Steve Roach’s Bandcamp and being almost floored by that. Someone famous listens to Steve Roach too?

My tribe is not close, but they are afar — the little enclaves that still allow me to be alone, yet less alone.

Even after all these years, taking flack about listening to “the sounds of a refrigerator thinking it can play a drum machine,” being told to turn off my weird music for the grizillionth time:

I dared to stay uncool.

And now it’s almost cool.



The Life Autistic: GRIT is our Skill

Screen Shot 2019-06-02 at 3.09.14 PM.png

Tableau Conference 2018 was one of the highlights of my year.

All things considered, I shouldn’t have stood a chance in even getting there.


Autism rarely gives you fancy skills, talents, or superpowers. 

At the end of the day, I feel it’s instead given me a jaw-stiffening, forearm-tightening, fist-clenching, pupil-narrowing sense of GRIT. 

Unlike others on the spectrum, I can’t magically conjure maths, recite pi to a Brazilian digits, remember everything I’ve seen, or play piano pitch perfectly.

Rarely skill; mostly will.


Just last year, work offered a ticket to Tableau Conference for winning a dashboard design contest.

Only one problem:

I learned Tableau only six months ago. I was going up against a dozen experienced peers. I was overwhelmed in my existing role.

(Ok, that’s three problems.)

Already I knew I lacked the skill to win this.

But I had GRIT. 

I could work with that — the second, third, and fourth gears of AUTISTIC OBSESSION and focus that drive my work poorly, slowly, but effectively over time. So I hoped.

It took early days and late nights, walling off monolithic chunks of my calendar for deep focus, experimentation, doing clever things inefficiently, because I didn’t have the skill to do them efficiently.

When I told my boss about it, he was surprised.

“The fact that you’re dedicating time to do this — that’s . . .  I’m impressed.”

When it came time to present our products, I discovered only that three others (the best three, of course) even tried. 

And their comments:

“Yeah, I threw something together this morning.”

“I didn’t really make time for it, so I gave it a quick stab early this week.”

I couldn’t believe my dumb luck.

Among the people with actual skill, I’d contended by dint of force and just continuing to do, as maladroitly and stupidly as I could manage without stopping.

It’s been said that “Quantity has a quality all its own,” and that’s how I’d describe my contest entry: inelegant, but extensively crafted, sturdy, thoughtful, and iterated over time.

But it was a product of GRIT.

Even if the outcome wasn’t quite the diadem, the work was enough to win.

I could never have succeeded with the skills I didn’t have.

Because I don’t have a lot. It’s disappointing. It’s a near-constant discouragement.

Yet I’ve found a way through that.

My one true skill is gritting away where I lack true skill.