A Strong Back: Lessons in Autistic Resilience

I guess this is what passes for self-care.

When I need to “be in the thick of it,” but also catch a break, I’ll find some space and lie down in the prone position and rest. And then comes my scamp tot Zo, who insists I “stay right there.” I brace myself.

She then begins to walk up my calves (which, ouch), then tiptoes delicately from my lower back, spine, with her stout little feet planting square betwtixt my shoulders. She stops, pauses, kneels. I wince. She then springs into a jump from atop my shoulders clear over my head.

Whew. Glad that’s ov—

“Again, again!” she pleads. And on I lie for another calf-back-shoulder-jump walk. I like to think it’s some sort of walking massage, but with a tiny person who occasionally jumps on your head when it’s done.

After a spell of injuring my lower back and being laid up multiple times, I’ve since built back my back, forging weakness into strength, soft dough into cast iron. As a kinda-tall dude and a dad of three, I’ve had to shape up and ensure I can withstand backbreaking activities. Like whatever this thing is that Zo does.

I’ve had to build a stronger ‘back’ in my autistic experience as well.

Thanksgiving week is always tough, but this round taxed both my literal back (with perpetual kid-handling, toting, baby-propping, etc) and my figurative back.

What do I mean by that?

Autistic resilience is withstanding things. With some major back-to-back episodes in my home life, I ended up doing a lot less but bearing more: late-breaking changes to plan, unexpected purchases, a wild Thanksgiving day, and then some. I only wished to be called to action to focus and fix things, but instead, I had to endure a lot of uncontrollable variables with a smile. In autism, active calamity feels more purposeful; passive calamity is painful.

Autistic resilience is isometric. If you’re into fitness, words, or both: you know what I’m talking about. In both exercise and autism, I prefer plyometrics: where I can jump or otherwise create momentum. But isometric workouts, like wall sits, planks, or (my grudging new favorite) hollow body holds, require a painful amount of positional endurance. It looks easy, but it isn’t. This has a distinct autistic parallel, to where things like “sitting and small talking without being able to escape” are the psychological equivalents of a 2 minute wall sit. Ouch.

Autistic resilience is a hidden strength. When it comes to “prominent muscle” – one’s back isn’t the first thing to pop out of a shirt or in one’s physique. It’s not something you can often show off ahead of time. The metal is there, but you only see it in the effort spent. I feel that way a lot, where going through events and holidays with a smile, shreds of congeniality, and maybe a pinch of small talk — that can be extraordinarily taxing. It may not look like I have the “guns” for such, but I’ve had to work up the back for it — it’s there when it counts.

Maybe someday I’ll write about the autistic equivalent of deadlifting! 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.

Oh, if you’re still here, would you consider subscribing to my YouTube channel? I write because it’s my one talent, but apparently The Life Autistic videos are pretty entertaining as well, and I think you’ll enjoy them. Thanks so much!


These Bricks Don’t Stack Themselves

You’ve got quite a bit going on with the bricks here, Hunter.

I do.

What are you building?


Like, walls? Things to keep people out of—

No, not walls. Not anymore.

I’ve been building castles, roads, benches, paths, towers, bridges. At least I hope that’s what these bricks will be.

Yeah, I — I can see that happening. It’s, uh, a good start.


No, don’t get me wrong — you, you do great work — it’s well-crafted. I mean, you’ve got these courses weaving in this

I know, I’m not bad at this. It’s just . . .

I’m sorry, man.

It’s just not much. It’s good. It looks good. What’s there is good. It’s just not much.

You’d love a city, wouldn’t you. Or just to have a single castle, like — whoa, that one, right over


Wow, that one across the hill. That’s amazing. Look at the siz—

Yep. With the crenelations, parapets, I know, I’ve seen it.

Geezus. How long was that guy at it?

Oh, he — I don’t know. I don’t know them. But they have machinery. Some help along the way. Things like that.

That’s impressive.


Hunter, you do good work, man. I can see it in the details. You care about this, and you—

I’m sorry, I do have to carry these bricks over — do you mind —

Not at all, pardon me, I’ll get out of your way.

I’ve carried a lot of these bricks. My hands are calloused over to where I no longer feel the rough faces of the stones, but I do still bear their weight, brick by brick and heap over heap.

Perhaps I would appreciate machinery. The timely boost. Seeing my bricks, rows, wythes, link together, fitting tidy without needing every firm fingerprint of my own hand.

I try not to sweat it, lest I raise my head and wipe my brow to catch a fleeting glimpse of the greater cities, towers, bridges, all sprung up so quickly beyond and around me. I hold a brick to the sun for shade, and there I spy other bricklaid paths — those seem as if they’d take me ages beyond what my age can spare. I was not fortunate, nor timely enough, it seems.



Why not just—


No, not quit, per se. But you, you don’t have to do—

These bricks don’t stack themselves. Not like they do for others. I’m good enough with the bricks to where I can’t let myself down. It feels like, like I’d be wasting what little I have. I might have a bridge, or a park bench, or maybe just — you know — this nice looking part of a wall. And yes, I do wonder if I’ll be happy enough with that. But, like, I thought I was good at these. I feel like I am. People tell me I am. It’s just hard — y’know — seeing those great cities, and I just . . .

You are a different kind of brick, Hunter.

It must be an autistic thing, I guess.

How so?

Even though I don’t really succeed, I don’t quit.

The Rarest, Best Thing Autistic People Want to Say

Sometimes we talk too much. Sometimes too little. Sometimes not at all.

But for those of us verbose and wordy autistic people, I think I found it. The one phrase that—when we can say it honestly, truly—makes a world of difference.

The other day, I had to employ a self-hack, something I call “My Own Best Friend.” It’s like when you talk to and think of yourself as your own worst enemy, but in reverse. Weird, huh? It works, and sometimes it’s a revelation. Sad that it often has to come to that, but whatever.

So in triaging how a recurring scenario has been affecting me negatively and compounding in its specific impact on “autistic me,” I walked through a couple of less-than-helpful admissions before arriving at the one that unlocked it for me.

“You’re right.” This one is a defeat. It’s what you say as a concession to someone browbeating or otherwise twisting your arm into a truth — irrespective of whether it’s not true, it’s like you’re the horse being led to water, then dunked straight in. It’s just…not the best. If someone gives you this answer, then you’ve dropped the proverbial ball and need to do better.

That’s right.” This one is better, but not there yet. One of my favorite Chris Voss tactics — where you get someone to acknowledge the larger truth-behind-the-truth, aligning on a key, deep-rooted motivation for what you’re doing. It’s clever, but it still falls a bit short of where we autistic people yearn to express.

So here’s the phrase:

“I know, right?”


That’s the phrase.

“Come on, H2, people say that all the time.”

I’m sure people do.

But among autistic people saying this about uniquely autistic things? That’s not common. That’s rare.

It’s rare that people can articulate and echo back why things affect us the way they do. The unique stressors. The specific pain points. The otherwise unexplainable emotional toll of otherwise inoffensive situational toll bridges.

To be able to spin it back, validate, elucidate, and distill in a way that makes not just sense universally, but specifically for us: getting an honest, true “I know, right?” is liberating.

Bizarrely, people have found my content “relatable” for this reason — and I had no idea anything I felt, said, did, or expressed, was relatable! But apparently that is so, and very so to a very select few.

The few who rarely get to say and mean “I know, right?”

In the neurodivergent experience, “relatability” is hard to come by. But when we find it and lock in, it’s a world-changer: in those moments we are less alone. 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.

Hey, if you’re still here, would you consider subscribing to my YouTube channel? It’s quickly becoming one of my more impactful vehicles for autism advocacy. It’s unique, fun, and it’s going a little way to help people better understand the ‘different normal’ of autism. Thanks so much!