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

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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

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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.”