You know me and how I feel about change. Sometimes it truly is the best thing in the world.
We were excited to welcome our third daughter into the world on Tuesday evening – baby, momma, and sisters are all doing wonderfully. On that note, I’ll be taking a short little pause from the blog and spending more waking and half-waking hours with our new addition and with the fam.
I’m eager to share more about this experience in time — while COVID-19 has definitely colored this event differently, it’s been helpful in light of some of the autistic-level challenges I’ve had to negotiate with everyone else’s excitement about a new baby.
For the longest time, I thought one of my more autistic working attributes was 100% detrimental.
Now it’s probably 95%, but I’ll take the win.
As a manager, I had a hard time with some of the meetings with other managers. We all got on fine, and while I was not often abrasive, I started showing my struggles it came to getting things started.
It might be a human thing, but I could tolerate the small talk and warming up the room only so much before feeling tension and getting short with everyone. Sometimes it felt like meeting to generate a spark of ideas and light a torch of actions, only neither of those things would happen.
With my more rigid, purposeful autistic attributes, it irritated me.
“We’re here to discuss X and take away Y, but fifteen minutes in, we’re still on ABC. Okaaaay…”
I can be fun and lighthearted when my mind says it’s time. But when it’s “business time,” a lot of that colored pencil gets sharpened to a point prepared to trace, draw, dot, and poke.
“But Hunter, this kinda sounds like a regular person thing. How does that—”
When you’re a focused, laterally thinking person, imagine how you’d feel when those attributes get shut out because people perceive you as ‘impatient’ and ‘short’ for being more routine and purpose-driven.
When a meeting is just to BS and have a good time, you better believe I can play along and fill that half-hour. Sorta. But when it’s getting in with ideas and getting out with action, I’m there for the reasons stated. It just locks into my mind, and it’s hard for me to pivot out and away from that.
That didn’t help.
Until last week.
I met to help coach a friend on some interview prep in a 30 minutes session. Within the first 30 seconds, I was onto my practice questions and scenarios. I figured he would appreciate my economy of time and purpose, even if I dove right into the thick of it.
What I didn’t expect was what he said afterward, more or less:
“Hunter, one of the things I appreciate about you is that you can get straight to business when it’s time to get straight to business. Thank you.”
I’ve never heard it put that way before.
Pretty much my whole career I thought that attribute was doing me more harm than good. In many ways, and in many less-than-fair blemishes on my reputation, it has.
But this time, it didn’t.
Maybe this is another time we need to embrace the hidden strengths of autistic attributes. Where that one person getting uneasy in a brainstorm isn’t being bored or otherwise unworkable. Where your creative thinker isn’t actually checked out.
We’re just ready and waiting for someone to say “Let’s get down to business.”
(So if you ever need to defeat the Huns, you’ll want us along with you.)
You’ve probably heard of these or similar terms to describe our autistic characteristic in burrowing into a singular obsession or obsessions, plural. The things that go beyond interest.
Experts on trains. Lovers of vacuums. Professors of sharks. Memorizers of countries. And that’s usually before pre-school.
So how do we choose these obsessions?
I wish we could. I’d have loved to have fixated on and explored things like analysis and data science — sure would have helped me these past few years!
My earliest forays were in countries, flags, and capitals, to where I had all of them memorized – before preschool. I don’t remember much of that, but my parents, uncles, grandparents all attested to that prodigious demonstration and lamented not being able to capitalize on that fame it could have brought us. Oh well.
But the rest spanned the practical to the bizarre: Z-Bots, LEGO bricks, Beanie Babies, camera equipment, game shows – particularly Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Dragon Ball Z, Star Wars, chess, basketball, BattleBots, ambient music, literary criticism, and watches.
That said, there’s a difference between interests and autistic enthusiasms.
And some of those definitely intersect. For me, I enjoyed collecting LEGOs and Z-Bots – what kid didn’t?
But for all my interest in cameras, I wasn’t drawn to photography as much as I was makers, specs, formats, cost. Same with chess, I was a terrible player, but to this day I could still name the lineage of World Champions, their playing styles, and pontificate on the historical and developmental aspects of the game.
Star Wars was an interesting one, where I cared less about Sith vs. Jedi and more about amassing intelligence on canon: naming every alien in the Mos Eisley Cantina, Jabba’s Palace, and researching the deep historical fictions behind every place, character, and prop.
It was more about the things themselves than the things themselves.
Still is, though to a lesser degree, with watches. I blame my dad and the Apple Watch for both biting me in this recent kick, where I’m apt to research and dive into the great and rich horological world within worlds.
Today, I have to hold myself back — interests are a gateway to obsessions and fixations that alter our executive function. I know my autistic self better, the perks and the perils.
In a way, it’s bittersweet: I’ve stopped downloading apps, games, and pursuing other ‘interesting’ things knowing that I could get sucked into an obsessive vortex and never emerge.I have to take great care in engaging a passion, unless it’s time-neutral and practical, like baking — I try not to dabble too much, just enough to try something out once in a great while.
If you’ve got kids with their autistic obsessions: embrace them both. Optima dies; prima fugit – the time to pursue an enthusiasm and enjoy it with childlike fervor is a fleeting thing.