Usually Funny; Rarely Fun

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One of my college roommates over a summer once claimed that I was the funniest person he’d ever met.”

Without missing a beat, I quipped back: “You should try meeting more people.” 

And he laughed, again.

I’m not that funny.

I’ve just learned to fine tune humor as a coping mechanism to overcome social tension and stress. 

Isn’t that why everyone does it? Like, if I were on stage all of a sudden at a comedy club, I’d start telling jokes too to ease that awkward tension.

The problem though, is that some people think I’m fun. 

The Life Autistic is a weird amalgam of people perceiving your actions as your attributes, for better or for worse:

“Oh, you use big words – you must be an intelligent showoff.”

“Oh, you remember a lot of details, you must be incredibly smart.”

“Oh, you’re kind of blunt – you must be a mean, critical person.”

“Oh, you have a knack for making people laugh — you must be a fun guy to be around.”

Some of that could be true?

But you’ll find me out pretty quick, even through the jokes — Hunter is usually funny, but rarely fun.

I’m not the life of any party. I’m the last with any good suggestions for a night out, unless it’s “out cold and asleep.” Even on my bravest days I’ll suggest activities, trips, events, all while just taking it in a moment at a time, kinda quiet, hoping that others will bring the energy.

And many of us can be that way too.

Fun is a state of being and manner of expression; funny is a plotted thing, built on experience, tropes, observations, deployments of things we know a normal human would find funny after years of study.

Funny how that works.

Ugly Ducklings, Lonely Swans, and Why Autism Makes Our Difference Difficult

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We saw this swan by a fountain in Versailles.

Three thoughts came to mind:

1: “I should get a picture.”

2: “I shouldn’t get that close, because I remember reading about some rowing team in Ireland who completely aborted their run because of a swan – apparently they’re no joke.”

3: “It’s been too long since I’ve watched Hot Fuzz, and I’m overdue.”

A fourth thought came looking at this picture:

“What was The Ugly Duckling really about?”

I read a summary of the tale today and found this a relatable angle:

The ugly duckling, now having fully grown and matured, is unable to endure a life of solitude and hardship any more and decides to throw himself at the flock of swans deciding that it is better to be killed by such beautiful birds than to live a life of ugliness and misery.

Not many of us grow up fully knowing that 1) why we’re different, and 2) we’re autistic.

I remember weeping out of frustration in my younger days and wishing the most bizarre of things: to be normal. I couldn’t define why I was different; I only began to realize that I was — long after I felt it. The teasing, the slip ups, the profound loneliness and helplessness of not being able to connect to or with others.

Only recently do more kids and people get an idea early on about their difference being defined. But it can beg a sobering question:

If I’m different from ‘normal’ people, who am I not different from?

If I’m never going to be a duck, then where are the swans?

Thanks to the great and perilous internet, we’re finding each other, these pockets of tribes, the others out there who have long been the others of everyone else. Still:

There’s a human need for connection, but our most similar connections are among those who can find it hard to connect.

Almost like the swans in Andersen’s tale, we’ll be welcoming even if we’re awkward together; it’s not like everyone on the spectrum has some secret wavelength that allows us to be more at ease with each other.

In fact, sometimes it’s trickier — I’ve spent so much time adapting to neurotypical people that I almost have to think harder to adjust and be mindful when I’m interacting with others on the spectrum, as odd as that sounds.

So with swans, ducks, birds of every feather, we still often struggle as the odd, lonely birds, no matter which flock.

Executive Function – autism’s hidden struggle

Screen Shot 2019-09-11 at 12.12.29 PM.pngKnow that phrase “can’t walk and chew gum at the same time?” Welcome to the kind of autistic struggles we often don’t know we have.

My wife and I were walking, and I was navigating to a metro station while lugging a suitcase. She asked if I could look up whether a nearby bakery was closed. And I couldn’t.

“I can’t. I just . . . I just can’t. I’m pulling a heavy suitcase and trying to navigate, and I just . . . can’t look that up unless I stop — “

My poor wife. She puts up with a lot from me, with a lot of the autistic hurdles that I can’t always leap over. One of which is executive function.

I’m a different category of weird because I can and do articulate some of my autistic challenges, which not everyone on the spectrum can or will do. And not everyone faces the same struggles at similar levels.

For me, I can really struggle with executive function on task attention.

And it’s in silly, innocuous ways.

Sometimes it’s seamless: much to the annoyance of many others, I can easily be on my phone, process information, engage in conversation.

But if I’m carrying groceries while on a call, and for some reason I need to tack on an item like bringing in the paper, even if on the way — I just can’t suspend one of the tasks until one is done. I can’t really explain it, but my mind walls off my focus to ensure I finish what I’ve started before moving to something – even if urgent.

Just the other day, Mo asked if she could have a drink. And I did my best to reason with her.

“Honey, I have to finish emptying the dishwasher and put the dishes away so I can then empty the sink and load them into a clear dishwasher, at which point I’ll have an empty sink where I can get the pitcher out, stir up tea, get your clean cup, ice, and give it to you.”

It’s never easy.

My wife summed it to my 4-year-old best: “Daddy has trouble stopping what he’s doing to do something else, ok?”

So what helps?

— Knowing that we often approach tasks as 0 to 100% with little in-between

— Asking about our “availability” before asking for a favor or task

— Break things down into concrete sequences

— Take things off the plate before putting things on

 

My Autistic Advantage in Foreign Conversations

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There are two kinds of travelers: the ones who don’t care and enjoy their trips, and the ones who do care and enjoy their trips more.

If you’re in the “don’t care” bucket, I’m surprised you’re here, but hey, welcome anyway.

For you conscientious ones, not speaking the native language can be a foreboding, intimidating thing — it’s true in Paris, where you hardly have to be fluent in French, but it’s definitely worth your while to try.

And that scares a good few people.

Me? Eh, not so much.

Why?

I’m used to planning out and programming my conversations anyway.

I’m not socially savvy enough to just wing it, goodness no. Even in English and the US and A, I’m thinking ahead, observing patterns, deducing the right kind of transactional cadences to where I’m not going to work myself into an awkward spot.

So whilst in Paris, I found myself surprisingly at ease when needing to get by in French. Thank you, autism, for affording me the circumstance of practice.

For example:

I was waiting in line to buy a shirt. That was intentional — after letting people ahead of me go, I could listen to the conversations ahead of time. The sequence of what the cashier would ask. How the other customers would respond. What words I needed to listen for and how to answer (oui when asked “is that all?” and about “do you need a bag?”)

Just like I do in some unknowns in English, I planned what I needed to say, offered just enough up front to avert questions I wouldn’t understand — only this round, en française.

So yeah, maybe getting in a checkout line and skating through an order without the clerk deducing you were an American is a small thing, but I’m glad I’ve had enough practice being human to be human abroad.

Have you had a similar experience?

The Life Autistic in Paris

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What do you do with your otherness when you’re a world away?

Hey folks.

Sorry for the long pause – just got back from a weeklong stay in Paris, where I disconnected from work, social media, and the general fervor of life. A much needed anniversary trip for me and the missus, but it’s good to be back.

As I took this detour on The Life Autistic, I collected a lot of narratives along the way.

I’m looking through the travelogue from a different spectrum, the first time I’ve been wholly aboard after embracing my whole self.

The week sowed seeds for so many stories:

Why autistic people would have it good in French culture. 

How to blend in as a more normal human.

Braving the need for eye contact.

Making a six-step plan for even the simplest conversations in French.

How I can’t navigate while walking with bags.

The autistic advantage of being a tourist.

Defiantly Unique, but blending in.

How you’ll find the best burger in Paris at Goku Asian Canteen.

Planning through lines and rivers.

And just . . . so much more.

As I share mine too, I’d love to hear of more of your autistic experiences abroad.

 

 

Routines: When to Bend, but not Break

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As Mrs. H2 and I have been working through an upcoming international trip, we’ve both run into an odd conclusion, one that doesn’t seem to fit me:

Hunter doesn’t always like making plans.

“But H2,” you’d wonder, “I thought you autistic folks needed routines, and structure, and—

Yes, yes we do.

Routine and repetition are our R&R, but at a certain point, even those of us on The Life Autistic know when it’s easier to bend routine, so that we don’t break completely.

Here’s where we find it better to bend:

In high-variable situations: I’ll be outta the country in a week, and much to Mrs. H2’s chagrin, I’m not keen at all on committing to too rigid a plan. Why? Because plans fail, and the more planning that doesn’t go right, the more corrosively I’m going to react. 

That’s not to say “don’t plan,” but it’s much easier for me to stick to ‘guidelines’ when I know I can’t control or predict all the variables. Guidelines are great for vacations, job switching, events, other temporary situations that will snap back to normal.

During catastrophe: My basement seems to love water, and every summer, it tricks some pipe into leaking. I hate when it happens, and I hate how the wreckage to my house and routine leaves me reeling, but in the moment? I’m usually OK.

It’s a kind of situation that, again, calls for a different systematic approach and has an end result in the distance. That “restorative” goal helps me cope with the jarring changes to routine.

When it’s small: I remember a serious debate over whether we would spend the afternoon at a kite festival, which would wreck the kids’ naps, FaceTime schedule, etc. We chose the kites, and it was the right call.

Did it throw our day out of whack? Well, not really — I felt it was easier to confine the wildness to just a few hours in the day, and after we’d had a routine start. It was small, and it followed a mostly normal day — that combination helped.

 

Now is The Best Time to Grow Up Autistic – Here’s Why

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My wife and I were talking about how Mo, our daughter, has never known a world without streaming video.

“I’m not sure I would have liked that,” she said. “We played outside all the time, and we did so much else besides gluing ourselves to a screen.”

Me? If I grew up with Netflix, I’d have loved that. I’ll explain why.

But really, the “good old days” is a tired take. You wouldn’t give up your conveniences today to be much better off in yesteryear, without mobile phones, 24/7 shopping, and tortilla chip options other than ‘Nacho.’

The Life Autistic today is better than yesterday, and here’s why.

Awareness — remember how “all of a sudden” we have gluten allergies now? “*elderly voice* In my day, all we had were peanut allergies and irritable bowel syndrome and we liked it that way.” — Yeah no. In the same people just “have autism” these days, we’ve gotten better at understanding the human conditions, and with awareness comes progress.

Technology — I might have had an unhealthy Dragon Ball Z obsession back in the day, so when I had to shut off the TV for dinner and miss Goku turning Super Saiyan for the first time ever on US broadcast television, I was, uh, not well. I’d have loved Netflix, YouTube, being able to pore over and pour into obsessions but at least on my own terms! And things as simple as noise canceling headphones – talk about better crowd coping! It definitely beats sticking cotton in your ears :/

Connection — To think, there were no “online friends” back in the day. If I didn’t have the luxury of texting people or chatting, I’d be exposed as a hopelessly awkward conversationalist even today. To be able to think before I put words down and use writing as my preferred method — that’s my style, and it’s everyone’s style now. Thank goodness.

Resources — There are literal groups and organizations dedicated to helping children adapt and understand their world in The Life Autistic now. Today you can go to a school where trained staff understand you better and help address your needs, rather than kick you out for being able to read when the other preschoolers can’t.