Birthday Parties in The Life Autistic – Part 1

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I am now in the “children’s birthday party gauntlet.”

You may know the deal: where weekend afternoons are a carousel of venue and child and celebration of birthdays that sequence from party to party to party, with classmates you hear about and parents you’ve never really met.

It’s how it happens. It’s what you do.

This was my first of those.

Even for normal adults, it’s not the most ideal scenario.

But I’m not a normal adult.

Despite my cheeky snapshot above, I managed to survive and even smile through full-on kid birthday gauntlet fever in The Life Autistic.

Thankfully, I’ve got social survival skills:

Doing things. One of the other moms asked if she could help setup. Great idea, thought I, until I realized she took the one box of things that made for an easy task and left me, uh, nothing.

Finding a corner. That didn’t work. We were just late enough to where the corner/side seats were taken. Drat. Find a wall, find a wall. 

Chase my younger child. Mo, my oldest daughter, is as learned and practiced socially at 4 as I am at “older than 4,” but Zo is kind of a wily, todding, ornery, troublemaking baby. Of course, today, she was perfect and didn’t need corralling or chasing.

Well, those options disappeared quick.

Help.

Things eased up as “the process” began. When there is process, there is peace. Chaos, too, but at least it moves in a sequence: crafts, snacks, cake, cleaning, and more cleaning.

Thank goodness my wife was there, else I’d have been unmoored and adrift in having to solo it out with other adults. I can make the moments count, but I need a safe harbor.

So I did venture out once or twice.

When the kids’ dad himself got a plate of snacks, I overheard him getting chided for not announcing that “everyone was welcome to get food.” I can relate to that! So I ended up joking with him a bit later, remarking how “It’s like a pool party — someone’s just gotta jump in to let everyone know it’s open.” To my credit, I did not reference the arcane source: a pool party episode on Nickelodeon’s Doug.

Then when I noticed their grandmother laying out cupcakes on plates with sprinkles, I leaned in to ask:

“Oh, is this a decorate-your-own-cupcake thing?”

“It sure is,” she beamed.

“Ok, we’re leaving – it’s been great!”

For not getting sarcasm, I can sure dish it hot — we all laughed.

After cupcakes and controlled chaos, they announced that the Children’s Museum would be ours to explore for the next hour or so.

“Dad, can we go?” asked Mo.

The party quieted down in my head as I could hear the distant roar of hundreds of other kids throughout the museum’s floors, thinking back to the unending trickle of parents, children, escapees from the boredom of a Sunday afternoon, ready to burn off that excess energy here.

“Of course we can go.”

To be continued.

 

 

The Small Corner of Hope in my Autistic Experience

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I took this picture from a secluded nook at Garrison, the nice restaurant enclave at Austin’s Fairmont hotel.

I’m a lone wolf’s lone wolf, and this trip I went four-for-four in dining alone and saving some social energy. Sure, it looks sad and can feel sad, but I’d rather that mild loneliness than just peter out and turn to dust and reduce myself to grave, stone faced catatonic jelly at a table with others.

Anyway.

When I set about The Life Autistic, I did so as this kind of redemptive, explanatory narrative.

But y’all, I am doomed. 

It’s not bad, but there’s nothing left I can redeem. I am who I am at this point, and breaking the bedrock of preconceived notions; it’s impossible now.

So why keep at it?

During my trip, I found myself using a code phrase to refer to my autism: “me being me” — it was enough to help ascribe things as unique to me, without letting on too much for those not fully disclosed.

But to that, I had people respond with another code: “Yeah, I read your LinkedIn.” 

People. Plural.

That was the signal.

In a mix of smile, bashful nod, and a hackneyed joke (“I guess people do read that”), it took the pressure off, where I could be more open in those moments. To share a little more about what makes me, me.

Even if I’m pretty much done and dusted in terms of what and how people regard me — autism or not — I still have one corner of hope.

The rest of the people you’ll meet on this Life Autistic.

The ones you don’t know yet. The ones you’ve not made up your mind about. Maybe you’ve never met. Maybe they’ve yet to be born.

For fearing my transparency, opening up about this, for so so long, I thought it’d do me more harm.

But it hasn’t. It’s done a little good.

I’m hopeful, because these conversations, this cracking open of an open door — it will do even better for others who follow.

They’ll meet more understanding, sympathetic folks in their lives.

People who learned just a little bit more about some rando’s autism experience, enough to color in the gray, to enlighten just a fraction more.

For those of you who do read, who notice, who endure reading the entirety of a post — thank you.

It may do me zero good in the end — that’s OK.

My corner of hope is that it will do more good for others like me. 

Autism Has a Daredevil Problem

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Think of when Netflix’s Daredevil was all the rage. Great show. Stellar choreography. Solid first season.

The hero, Matt Murdock: a blind man, yet super-attuned in his other senses, able to overcome that disability to where his other abilities could shine.

Now imagine people.

“I don’t think he best represents the blind community.”

“He’s only blind when it’s convenient for him.”

“Matt Murdock doesn’t speak for the REAL challenges among the blind.”

“He probably isn’t even blind at all.”

Think how patently absurd that is. But y’all, that’s believable. And I feel we can face similar challenges on The Life Autistic.

Autism has a Daredevil problem.

What’s a ‘Daredevil problem?’

It’s when autistic people overcome obstacles, adapt to situations, learn to mask as neurotypical, and articulate their experiences — to the degree that people don’t believe they’re autistic or don’t validate our experience on the autism spectrum.

What?

Yeah. Imagine that.

I’m not as severe on the spectrum as others are, but that doesn’t mean I cannot still voice where I am on the spectrum.

I’ve managed to overcome many social and interactive anxieties; that doesn’t mean they’re “100% gone” or “never existed” or that I don’t still struggle.

I can hold my own in conversations and keep an “almost charming” veneer, but that’s work and I deserve to speak to that work. I’m not invalidated by where I’ve built strength.

I explain how I feel; I’m not trying to excuse it all. I can keep myself from reacting poorly, from doing wrong, but I can’t change how things affect me and my soul: routine disruptions, closed spaces, ambiguities.

No. 

There are too many autistic Daredevils out there, who have managed, who may not be as severe, may not be those with the uttermost of need. We may even be totally independent, high-achievers, and *gasp* fun people.

But it is unjust to toss aside our articulations, our adaptations, observations, and our voice by dint of “accomplishment” and “success.”

Are you trying to imply that we can’t be…adjusted and autistic?

Not everyone among us can fight for us.

But we can.

 

The Traveling Life Autistic

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I’ll be traveling for work this week, so this may be more an endeavor in collecting stories than writing them.

Maybe I can share one Hunter-level quirk, though — airports and air travel don’t much bother me anymore.

You’d think that’d be triggers within triggers, but not anymore.

I’ve done this so much that it’s its own routine. Even the delays. Waiting. Standing by. Being in close proximity with others. Cramped spaces.

In a way it’s gotten predictable. And I like predictable. I like that I can plan.

Granted, I hate not having my family around, so I do feel a bit exposed. But with AirPods and with a good ability to have something to work on (like this blog) or to sleep at the drop of a hat, I’ve come around on autism airborne.

Sure, it only took about hundred flights over my few decades of life, but I’ve arrived 🙂

Catch you next week; I can’t wait to share some upcoming tales.

“Love, Hunter” – The One Tough Thing I learned from Valentine’s Day

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photo: handmade valentines from Mrs. H2, #craftymom

There’s always a point in my life where I can look back and say that “I didn’t know any better, and that’s what did me in.” Third grade was one such time.

I seem to recall that class experience as having been terrible, in general: I don’t adjust well to things, and plopping down mid-winter into cold-hearted, unwelcoming elementary group only exacerbated that more.

A month in or so, as things warmed up, I’d started to manage – kept my head down, clammed up more, gravitated toward the kids who were just less incorrigible and coarse, and learned the “game.”

Back then and at that age, Valentine’s Day was a mere functionary party-vehicle. We didn’t get into the “mushiness” of it — it was just baskets at the front of the desks, perhaps a bit of chocolate, with some added festive decor slapped to the bleak walls of the class in the form of a paper heart or two. Simple. Innocuous.

I should have known better.

My dad enjoyed a bit of bitmap art on MS Paint back in 1995, so he designed and printed Valentines for me to dish out. Pretty cool, I thought. At least it’d be unique, and the pixelated renderings had a certain robotic quality that appealed to me.

I passed out and slipped in each printed, cut Valentine – deft, light, bespoke. Sure, some of the kids sneered, but that’s what they did, as I’d long made peace with the fact that I’d just not be liked, or that their souls would rot in Hell — whatever comforted me at the time.

As we lined up to leave after the “event,” one of my classmates had their sheaf of valentines on hand, rifling through them. Then I heard her read mine aloud, in hilarious disbelief:

“Happy Valentine’s Day! LOVE, Hunter. LOVE?!?!”

I don’t recall where I was in line, but they all turned to find where I was and laugh. Scorningly, blisteringly laugh me to shreds. I don’t know if one can be the butthole of a joke, but I was right then.

In the din of chuckles, giggles, bellows, asinine guffaws, I flooded in tears, my face red hot, my mind racing to backtrace and think of how I could have stopped this. “What was I supposed to do? It’s Valentine’s Day. Of all days, surely this would be the one where—”

I should have known better.

Little autistic H2 didn’t have the frame of reference and self awareness to stop and tell dad, “No, PLEASE, just say “From, Hunter.” Trust me, it’ll spare me an episode.”

I came home miserable, my dad felt awful after I shared the story, and I learned a bit more about self-awareness, perception, and how I was so underequipped to handle this stuff.


 

At Christmastime, I take out a box of tags – for presents. For my lovely wife of ten years. For my daughters, brilliant and delightful, cheerful girls. There, on each tag, I see two fields.

To:

From:

I still remember this Valentine’s Day from 3rd grade. I think about the one word. The wave of shame. The juvenile idiocy. Not having enough to know to make one key change.

But I know better now.

I cross out From: and write LOVE.

 

 

Autistic People Can Relate, but Only Up to These Points

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It’s not you, it’s me. But it’s you, too.

In my years on The Life Autistic, I’ve gotten good at social adaptions, situational perils, and the conversational/relational equivalents of being dropped into the wilderness with little else but a match, twine, a dull knife, and a modicum of survival skills.

But I can’t do this with everyone. I just cannot.

If that’s you, it’s not personal. I’m not as malicious, standoffish, or unapproachable as people seem to think.

It’s human to get along with some people better than others, just by dint of emotional intelligence, relatability, and conversational fluency — but when I can’t latch on to a few key elements, I’ve got nothing. 

And it gets awkward. 

Here’s some of those areas where my ability to relate, converse, and be an openly genial autistic human dwindle and winnow away:

No overlapping interests. My guard goes up when someone asks “So, Hunter — do you like to hunt?” Once they deduce that I don’t live up to that part of my namesake, nor do I fish, or do other woodspersony things, I’m basically scrambling at that point, hoping they like sports other than baseball and NASCAR. Sometimes I get lucky, and they’ll talk football. If not, I hope they just start telling fishing and hunting stories; I can listen, nod, follow along, smile, and say nary a word. Safe. 

People who aren’t talkative. I can make it through most any conversation as long as I’m not doing the talking. When people talk, they give me strands, ropes, threads that I can use to string together another topic and keep things threaded. But with a more laconic person, I’m not the best at teasing out words. That’s awkward. 

Unpredictability. I don’t drink, so my company among people drinking tends to be limited. But golly does it stress me out, not from any sort of violence or inappropriate behavior, but the unpredictability. For the most part, I can map a person’s range of mood, conversations, but when they are losing the ability to maintain course — I gotta abort. 

Concretely-mired thinkers. But I thought autistics couldn’t think abstractly.” It might just be me, but I can dig a good hypothetical deep thinker. You might not have an answer to what your dream job would be, or what you’d do with a million dollars and a time machine, but if the answer is no answer, then that’s just not fun. Creativity isn’t a spectrum/non-spectrum thing.

will try and do try — so bear with me! Sometimes, with some people, it is just hard.

How your Autism can HELP your job interview

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See what I did there?

That’s step one: don’t look at it as a handicap. You have a balance of skills that are at least getting you to interviews. You’re not alone. You’re not the first. Wherever you find yourself challenged in your autistic experience, you’re also finding it easier in other places too: pattern recognition, hyperfocus, lateral thinking — the strengths will help.

But I’ll back up for context here.

I’m autistic.

I’ve been interviewed dozens of times for several roles. I have interviewed others scores of times for dozens of roles.

I’ve been on both sides of the table. I’ve been good at both. I still am.

So I’m going to share a 360º, holistic view of the autistic interview experience and where you may find it helps your next job interview.

You know youThat’s the one thing I looked for in interviewers: How much can I learn about this person? I wanted to answer as many unknowns as possible, the key one being “Who is this person?” If you feel you have a tendency to overshare, set guardrails ahead of time, and practice sharing within the confines of the questions.

Interviewing can be your new enthusiasm. You know that interviewing is practically its own field of study at this point, right? It’s hard to “hack” your autism, but you’ve probably had some instances and obsessions about other subject matter — research, study, watch people, and practice like it’s your new domain of expertise.

You can surprise your interviewer. I was always impressed when candidates did their proverbial homework. That takes effort, focus, dedication, and a lot of predictive thinking. It’s not 100% going to get you there, but you may find yourself enjoying learning about your role, and if that’s enough to help your eagerness, it’ll ease tension and exude confidence in the interview.

You may have a helpful communication style. You may be autistic and loquacious or autistic and verbose: if you know which side you’re on, that’s half the battle there. The other half is practice. If you’re blunt, terse, then practice your storytelling, Ernest Hemingway-style. He was one of the best, and he didn’t use two words when one would do. If you’re verbose, practice trimming those florid buds into shorter soundbites. Tolstoy wrote brilliant short stories too!

You can brute force the process. It’s still one of my best helps, and I can’t encourage it enough.

You know, your interviewer is nervous too. Yeah, it’s true. I was probably more nervous when interviewing people, because I needed to make the right decision in a very short window. You’re honestly not alone.

You can be 100% yourself. You need to be. You want to work for someone who’s going to want you for what and who you are, not who you can project to be. We all polish up before an interview, get our stories straight, find ways to endure a little small talk, but be you. If someone takes you for you, then that’s who you want to end up working for.