Understanding the Everyday Obstacles of Autism

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In a way, I’m very fortunate to be stashed away in remote work.

When I work onsite, I have such a hard time when I see people I know walking toward me that I:

  1. Keep my glasses off so I have some plausible deniability in noticing them
  2. Keep my AirPods in, even without playing, so they think I’m on a call

The small-talk, wave-or-nod, quick-smile, acknowledgement decision tree gets wearisome after a while — it tires my brain, and I’m pooped after all the micro-decisions going on — because it’s not as natural, and we have to think about it.

It’s one of the most negative positives.

People come up to me because of Mo and Zo (because they’re cute, and people do this). So I’ve had to keep a short list of convo topics always on hand and pray that Mo can do most of the entertaining so I don’t have to, because I didn’t opt into the convo and can’t always plan beforehand.

Even when people book me for meetings without noting an agenda, it’s almost this *gasp* microaggression against my innate autistic sensibilities.

Every little thing.

Some would say, “just act normal,” like there’s a certain norm that I’d know enough to act through — but have you tried acting and staying in character for most of your life?

And then “be yourself,” where, I love the advice, but I also hate how gratingly awkward it gets when someone’s able to rattle off “Hey Hunter, how ya doing?” and say, “Hey, I’m good” and think I catch them slowing down thinking there’s more to the conversation, but there’s not, and then I feel bad if I don’t ask “and you?” so I want to slow down for that, but I have somewhere to be, and I don’t want to be rude —

The easy answer would be ‘just leave us alone,’ but then I get lonely, isolated, worse, and —

But just because we have obstacles doesn’t mean we don’t get better.

Sometimes I’ll keep the glasses on and tuck my AirPods in my pocket and smile.

Sometimes I’ll be the one to notice someone before they notice me.

Sometimes I’ll kick off the convo, giving myself time to where it can be done just enough in passing:

“Chriiiiis Robinson — how ya been?”

“Oh hey Hunter, doing alright – you?”

“Not too bad, just getting lunch — I’ll catch ya ’round.”

“Cool, see ya.”

And then done.

To anyone else, it’s normal.

To me, it’s an obstacle conquered.

 

We Aren’t Normal, but There’s a Next Best Thing

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It just happened.

Sophia, a team lead, picked up the sign-up sheet, looked it over, smirked, and said “Thanks, H2.” 

That was how I initialed things, purely for the novelty of it (because I kinda-sorta cribbed it from this album)

And then the hair — I’m too frugal for frequent haircuts, and I didn’t know it’d get curly and wild when I grew it out. I left it that way and it became a thing.

When I’d visit work sites or show up places, people noticed the hair.

Lately, I’ve bought into the Memoji craze, which generated the very accurate image seen above — and I can’t log into a virtual meeting nowadays without someone making comment about it.

Even on my worst day, for all of my other differences, I can at least be memorable.

Some of those memorable differences aren’t always great, like using big words at inopportune times, deploying obtuse analogies, or otherwise slinking away as the most awkward in a group.

But while The Life Autistic is a different and not-so-normal life, it sticks out in terms of memorability.

For all my follies and failures, I can at least take solace in barely being forgotten.

I’m sure many of us can relate, whether from a speech pattern, stim, or otherwise different way of wading the waters around us — people can tell, and people remember difference. It is ingrained within us to make note of notable change.

Some of the differences are cool, and I like that. I am defined by feeling and acting unique, and it stands out in many good ways.

For those of you who struggle with your neurological difference and diversity, I’m going to step outside myself to say it’s ok.

Fitting in isn’t always the goal, even if it’d be the easy way.

Difference stands out. It’s memorable.

It’s literally outstanding. 

 

Are You Sure You Want Our Opinion?

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If there’s one thing I’ll bet many of my fellow folks on the spectrum have learned — we have gotten to be careful with our opinions. 

Not everyone, and not always, but for many of us who share the same hyper-analytical and super-introspective capacity, it feels like there’s a reinforced behavior: don’t be too divergent; it only makes life more difficult.

Why?

We already deal with our difference 100% of the time just by being different.

It gets exhausting.

And people know I’m definitely not a normal dude.

So when it comes time to debating and deciding ideas, I let out a sigh inside. I know most people embrace different kinds of thoughts and will value diversity, but it’s hard when you are the different one volunteering one different opinion. 

It calls attention. Exposure. Brings the focus to you. I can’t always take that. I don’t always enjoy that.

And then when we’re wrong, oh look out — see, it’s not just “oh, Hunter had kind of a lame idea,” no, it ties back with the perception — “he’s an odd duck and odd ducks lay odd eggs.”

Am I being too harsh on myself?

When you already know you don’t fit in, and you’re being asked to contribute ideas, do you really think we want to lean a lot harder into not fitting in with our ideas too?

Difference is good. But it’s not easy.

So how do you make it easy? Here’s what helps me (and might help some of us too):

—Ask for something very different by design. I love when someone opens up the floor to where “wild ideas” are sought; we feel better about contributing to something that can be off-the-wall, if that’s the game.

Ask us directly, and appeal to what you value about our opinion. The ones who know me get a good response out of me. “Hunter, you usually see a different side of this. I’m curious what your gut is telling you.” 

Ask for something other than absolutes. Sometimes it’s hard for us to volunteer a radical thought if we feel it’s definitive. We’re always debating how to act and how to interact – invite us to give both sides of our opinions and build out a wiggle room.