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!

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