Managing Meltdowns: When Autistic Strengths meet Autistic Weaknesses

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“Hunter, this isn’t working.”

Yeah, I’m having the same issue.”

Same here.”

Uh oh.

This may surprise you, but I get tapped for presentations pretty regularly. I’ve gotten good at it over time, and—bizarrely—get great feedback on my presence, style, and humor for hosting over video conferences. I guess if you do something often enough, you skill up to survive.

After doing this one presentation nearly a dozen times, it’s finally gotten “natural.” This is a great feeling for us autistic people: it’s predictable, successful, engaging, and elemental.

Me being me, I plan and plan again — what could go wrong? what can go right? what if A, B, C, X, Y, Z happens? But planning is exhausting: I can’t draw a new map for each scenario, just a “general direction.”

This last Monday, this latest presentation had been going smoothly.

Had.

Until my audience came to my resource and . . . it was broken.

Yikes.

The participant chats rolled in.

My brain scrambled.

Some said they thought it worked.

Others couldn’t get it working.

I have a backup for this, I thought. But not for when it’s half working. What do we do here? How much time do I have? What about the last activity?

My inner monologue ran straight off the monorail and into meltdown territory. Mind you all, I’m on camera — LIVE — this entire time.

But, mirabile dictu, I managed to un-meltdown — how?

Masking for so long to “unfortunate expert” levels. My only public face is the ‘game face’ — so even at my worst, I’ve gotten so used to ‘telegraphing’ emotions by intent. Of course I felt rattled, but I’ve spent hours being rattled and looking placid or being something and looking like something else.

Practice “pre-framing” the Plan B as the Plan A. Things fall apart, and it’s hard to cope. I’ve a few posts I want to do about this, but mentally, I’ve had to practice these “backup plan” scenarios. The key challenge is thinking about that as “the plan all along” and convincing myself that this was the design.

Rent space ahead. I couldn’t dissolve my anxiety internally, but I managed to “act” my way through it — knowing that I’d be able to exhale and process this within a few minutes. I rented that time in advance to will myself along until I could bail off camera and bleed the tension out.

At the debrief, I had my joke ready:

“I’m glad I’ve grown out my hair, because I have plenty left to spare after pulling it out after my session!”

They said I recovered extremely well and that I’m “such a natural” presenter.

And that’s The Life Autistic in a nutshell: natural, unnaturally. 

Not all of the stories are successes. But I’m glad this one was. To learn more about autism from an autistic person’s perspective, follow & subscribe to The Life Autistic here and on YouTube — or follow the more whimsical, spontaneous, and amusing content on Twitter / Instagram. Thanks!

One thought on “Managing Meltdowns: When Autistic Strengths meet Autistic Weaknesses

  1. Great post! Your insight is so helpful. This wife of an autist is eternally grateful. The concept of masking is new to me, but it helps me understand so much.

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