“Greasing the Groove” for Autistic Strength

My family holds a pull-up contest every Christmas Day. I’ve never won.  Last year, I only cranked out four and embarrassed myself. The most pull-ups anyone has done to win was ten.

This year, I’ll be doubling that and embarrassing everyone else instead.

If there’s a “one easy trick” gimmick, it’s this:

If you want to get better at something, do it more.

Yes, I know, I literally said sort of the opposite.

Before you read any further and get this confused for some flabby rando’s barely-passable exercise blog — remember, we’re talking The Life Autistic. I’m trying to figure this all out and do my best, and part of that is figuring other things out.

Like ‘greasing the groove.’

If you want the explanations, read Pavel Tsatsouline’s hilarious primer or this Art of Manliness adaptation.

Either way, I realized I’d been doing this since before I learned about doing this.

There’s a way to grease the groove and build strength in your autistic experience.

These days, I can handle public speaking. All day training sessions. Long trips to the grocery store. Leading and hosting meetings back to back. Making phone calls.

I don’t possess the innate autistic strength to manage those. It came over time. It took a little bravery. Some of it was doable. Some of it I’m still daunted by — especially when it comes to visiting people, having guests, or even doing meals (which I enjoy) with people I don’t know.

But sometimes you can grease that groove. Starting slow. Jumping on video. Saying hello. Trying to hold a two sentence conversation with a stranger. Practicing a fun introduction to yourself.

Some of the hard things in the Life Autistic just remain hard; they’re heavy, and I only attack them every so often to better handle them.

Other things need more frequency, and while they’re not always easy, they’re not the heaviest things — there’s a groove I feel I can build here. Maybe you can, maybe you can’t — whatever, be you!

If anything, I know what I’m going to be: The 2020 Hansen Family Christmas Pull-Up Contest Winner.

 

A Weightlifter’s Guide to Autism

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As you all can tell, I’m training to be Arvada’s Strongest Man.*

This picture was taken right before I hoisted this 250kg boulder clear above my head in a clean overhead press.**

Ok, *not really, and **not hardly.

But with my typical workout routine altered during leave, I ended up rekindling a latent enthusiasm (early 90’s World’s Strongest Man competitions, back when I lived in the same country as Magnús Ver Magnússon) and took up deadlifting the rocks in my yard. I mean, if you’re out watching kiddos, what better way to risk splintering your back build strength and stay fit?

I had to adjust, practice, and study weightlifting a bit, since it wasn’t my typical kettlebell/HIIT slaughter. A couple things stood out.

  1. Rocks can be heavy, and they can hurt
  2. Weightlifting tips apply to the autistic experience

Here’s how.

Lifting heavy, not hard. Weightlifting and powerlifting focus on the heavy and the increasingly heavy — not just high-frequency, high-reps. Heavy builds strength. Going hard, not so much. It’s the same with autism, where some of the heavy items aren’t things we can’t do a lot.

I’ll never be able to manage certain large audiences, environments, tasks, even certain people — but over time, I build strength and I don’t wear out. And that’s so I don’t wear out and buckle and start detesting and withdrawing. We can’t just go hard and full bore on situations and with people who drive deep discomfort and anxieties in us, whichever they are. Enduring strength comes from a paced approach.

Low repetitions, greater gains. You build more strength from lifting heavy over fewer repetitions than lifting lighter over many reps. (Are there some cases where the obverse is true? Yep, and give me until the next post, k?) And similarly in my life autistic, I need to pack on the strength (mental, emotional, even physical) to get through the recurrence of some events.

For my neurotypical audience, this can be hard. We might not be able to manage “visit X” or “event Y” as frequently as you do. And that lack of frequency might make you think we don’t ever want to go through XYZ at all.

That’s not entirely it.

Just let us treat it like weightlifting. We can’t overtrain. We’re often trying to build strength. And it isn’t always about trying it light and often. Sometimes it can’t be light. And if it’s heavy, let us do the heavy lifting the right way.

Go Beyond Being an Ally

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It’s OK to be an ally. But it’s hard to do.

Because it’s hard to define.

In America and across the world, we’ve seen a surge in allyship for and with Black Americans in the face of racially-tinged injustices, both recently inflamed and those long-ongoing and overdue for change.

Many of us have stood up and out and declared ourselves allies.

But how do I go from “being” an ally to “taking action?” 

If it’s not obvious, I haven’t lived the Black experience — just the autistic one. And this isn’t me saying “hey, autistic people need your allyship too – over here!” 

But being an ally and doing what allies do — it is not a zero sum game. It benefits all people, groups, and people groups who can benefit from your influence, reputation, and advocacy – both neurotypical and neurodiverse.

Where can you start?

Learn. Don’t lean solely on us to teach! Do the work. Read. Find resources. Don’t just hear – listen. And, while you mean well, don’t use proximity as a replacement. Just because you have “that one autistic acquaintance” or have autistic children doesn’t quite replace the need to gain perspective on other person or group’s experience, perspective, and even history.

Speak up. Notice I didn’t say “speak,” because we don’t need people to speak for us, but rather in support of us. We don’t always have “the conch” of speaking, of opinion, or influence. But if you do, use that privilege. I’m one of the more vocal autistic people you’ll meet — unless I feel like I’m too different from the group. And that’s not just an autistic thing. Invite our opinion. Revisit our ideas. Make it easy for us to volunteer thought, especially when it goes against the collective grain.

Engage. From an autistic standpoint, our needs for inclusivity differ. For example, I might balk at someone’s well-intentioned-but-ill-advised attempt to shoehorn me into a presentation or project because “I’ll bring something different.” Allyship isn’t about knowing what’s best for someone, it’s engaging people thoughtfully, knowing that our needs are on our terms, not necessarily yours. Sometimes we’re good! Sometimes we are not. It’s OK to read the room, to ask, to let us share how you can help — or sometimes understanding where you can’t.

This isn’t just for autistic people. This is for your black co-workers. Your Hispanic acquaintances. Your gay neighbors. Those with disabilities. People.

Go beyond just being an ally. Go do.