The Life Autistic: Is High-Functioning Autism just a Shield?

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I recently came across some autism-related news; it’s unfortunate the autism mention came in defending one’s poorly-chosen actions:

“I understand I came off as super rude but I’m rude and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

[Becky] said she suffers from Autism and that having Obregon stand outside her home made her feel trapped.

“As somebody with autism I’m extremely uncomfortable with having strangers in front of the house,” she said. “It’s extremely triggering to have to walk out and see a stranger there. To me, this person might attack me, I don’t know.”

As I read this article (and the, uh, interesting takes that followed), it got me thinking about the all-too-fine lines between ‘autism as a reason for actions’ vs. ‘autism as an excuse.’

I’ve even had to endure some difficult conversations about to what extent I “hide” my negative actions (brusqueness, directness, ignorance, insensitivity) behind my autism.

That line of thinking both makes and misses the point:

Autism is not a shield, nor is it meant to excuse our worst attributes.

I’ve had episodes similar to Becky’s, thankfully with less racist/ableist optics.

I’m not proud of when I’ve yelled and cussed at people, or when I’ve ever lied, or grabbed the last piece of cake.

Some actions are just bad, and autism doesn’t explain them away.

Autism doesn’t justify racism, prejudice, lies, grift, or many hosts of other sins.

In fact, it doesn’t justify anything.

Things like ‘rudeness’, ‘insensitivity,’ and ‘brusqueness’ — now that is where autism gets its bad rap.

But do I get a pass on those? Do I get a “Get Out of Civility” free card?

No, and I shouldn’t. And I won’t use a shield for that.

Instead of a shield, I’d rather have context, something that moves my stance from “Don’t Blame Me” to “Do Understand Me.”

 

 

The Life Autistic: WHO THE $@#% MOVED MY CHEESE?!

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I forget where I was that day, but I’d been out of the house, something typically productive for a 15-year-old, like work.

As I settled back down in my room, I went to put my wallet, watch, and my other effects back in their spots.

Then I noticed something. Many somethings. They were off.

This . . . would end poorly.


If you know me, you know I’m not the cleanest person, but I am one of the tidier, more organized folks you’ll meet.

My nightstand, office desk, and other surfaces are arranged just so. 

It’s not neatness; it’s obsessive compulsive behavior.

I almost wish it were less so! I’d like to be able to leave my bed unmade or have dishes in the sink for more than a minute. But I can’t.

It’s a visceral reaction, one that (to me) seems borne of a need to declutter the things I see so that I’m not being overwhelmed with my own internal clutter than I don’t see. 

So when you’re wondering “Why is he doing dishes during this event at their house?” or “This guy is really obsessed with picking up after every single toy right away” — it’s not because I think y’all are dirty; I just have to declutter space to function. 


Back in my room, my pens had been misaligned. My watches completely shuffled. My change cup was emptied, its contents placed in piles across my dresser. Like a surgeon rearranging one’s organs and fitting them back into a body, my room had been dismembered and stitched into a pale imitation of how had everything.

I heard my siblings’ impish chuckles outside my door, and — well, I might have lost my cool. My brother tells the story better, adding much more violent, beating-someone-over-the-head-with-a-plastic-blue-chair color commentary — I don’t recall the reactions, but I definitely remember the irrational outburst.

In the end, it’s just stuff. 

I tell my normal self that “stuff can be rearranged.”

But my true self, the autistic one, doesn’t see it that way. Out of place is the wrong place, and it’s what makes our world melt.

The Life Autistic: The Silly Reason I Walk Alone

Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 11.58.39 AM.pngI was touring the campus of Pensacola Christian College for the first time, walking with my campus mom.

Until I heard a voice about ten feet behind me.

Ahem . . . Hunter.”

I’d done that thing again.

There I was, what seemed a mile ahead of my tour guide. I’d walked way too far, but not far enough to hear her tut-tutting at my apparent sprint ahead. I marooned both of us, not by design, but by, well—

See, there’s this thing.

I walk to get places, and I walk fast, and that’s my default setting.

It’s nice when I need to get from point A to point B, or when I need some exercise, but shoot, when I started socializing, being more human, getting to know people, I didn’t realize how much of a socially-illiterate walker I was.

Until arriving at college, I don’t think I walked with another person before.

And that’s when I learned why I’d walk alone: because I walk like I am alone.

It’s not like I’m trying to get away from you if I’m more galloping than ambling. I’m not trying to be rude, inconsiderate, etc.

Walking is a focused, driven, routine, one-track thing for me; it’s how I’m wired, and left to my own devices, I’d walk without stopping, loping along, maybe even talking at myself while I ignore things around me.

I’m learning to slow down.

To walk with people.

To take in surroundings.

To realize that the destination is not the only thing that matters.

They say You’ll Never Walk Alone, but in The Life Autistic, you often do.

 

 

 

The Life Autistic: Things NOT to Say to High-Functioning Autistic People

IMG_0213.jpgSometimes the best things you can say to us are the things you choose not to say. Here’s a short list:

“Why can’t you just be normal?”

Because we’re not dishwashers and clothes dryers. It’s not a setting we can just switch to.

“You’re not really THAT autistic.”

I’m sorry that I’ve socially adapted to the point where you think my autism isn’t as prominent as you think it should be.

“I need you to grow up and get over it.”

Really? You think we’re somehow unaware of the illogic in our response to stimuli, frustrations, and otherwise outlandishly inconvenient meltdowns? Autism isn’t a maturity issue.

“You’re just using autism as an excuse for [insert something negative here].”

This is where I buy you a dictionary and educate you on the different connotations behind “reason” and “excuse.”

“Can’t you just use your autism to [do something here]?”

What are we, mutants? Autism and its perks aren’t just ‘powers’ we can trigger, sorry.

“I wish you got along with people better.”

Likewise.

The Life Autistic: Why We Wear the Mask

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For those of us on the high-functioning side, we’re sometimes accused of faking our autism.

But more often than not, we’re having to fake being “normal.” 

That’s where ‘masking’ comes in.

Masking is where autistic people drastically adjust their behaviors to mask their symptoms. Some of us do it more than others.

Things like finding a spot on someone’s face to stare at to approximate eye-contact. A painstakingly-rehearsed repertoire of small-talk to give off the appearance of social comfort. Mimicking normal behaviors. Finding places to sit or otherwise be occupied so we’re not caught pacing, flapping, or otherwise repetitively twitching while we talk. Reaching out to others out of the blue. Doing research on people we’ll be meeting so we can find ways to get them talking so we don’t have to.

Why? To pass as normal. To retreat from awkwardness. To fit in. To be accepted.

It’s exhausting. I don’t know how you neurotypical people do it.

But I know how do it. I’ve needed a mask, something that goes beyond Hunter.

My mask is practically Batman (or Daredevil, as befits the image). It’s become its own thing nowadays.

You may have seen it.

It’s why some people think I’m a great raconteur, an entertainer, and (at work anyway) a well-connected, gregarious individual who can light up a room and spin the conversational wheel of fortune around the table.

But that is itself a mask, an emblem, a symbol.

My mask has a name: H2.

. . . to be continued

The Life Autistic: Why Handwriting Sucks

IMG_6384.JPGI remember taking notes for an absent classmate back in 4th grade. That was a mistake.

While I thought I was doing her a favor, it turns out that she spent more time decoding my hieroglyphic scrawl, consulting forensic experts, and soliciting translation assistance for my poorly handwritten notation.

She probably failed the test and never spoke to me again. Typical.

My handwriting sucks. It just does.

I used to think that it was due to an early bait-and-switch in my second preschool, where, as the only leftie, I was forced to comply with the “right” way to write along with the class.

But no, while that may be part of it, it turns out that it’s common for us high-functioning autistic folks! It’s like there’s something that gets lost in transcription there.

“So what, H2? It’s 2018. Get over it. Nobody uses pen and paper anymore.”

You’re right about one thing: it’s 2018, not 3018.

Kids like me still write in school. Visit an elementary class sometime and lemme know how many of them text and type before learning to write. We’re getting there, but we’re not there yet.

You try being one of the sharper kids in class who could be out trying to learn about socializing during recess, but no, he’s stuck miring through a penmanship worksheet. It’s a struggle at a young age. And get this:

Handwriting is a struggle for us autistics at any age. 

And sometimes it does matter.

I don’t like putting down more than just my signature when writing in birthday cards.

I’m not the one you can count on to jot something down.

And my wife would appreciate a love letter once in a while, but I’m embarrassed and taxed in writing her one that doesn’t look like it came from a 1st-grader.

So yeah, if we insist on texting or emailing instead of writing: trust us, it’s for everyone’s good.

The Life Autistic: OMG LOUD NOISES – What Now?

Screen Shot 2018-07-05 at 8.24.09 AM.pngFireworks. Who wouldn’t love them?

Well, lemme tell ya . . .

We spent the July 4th with some of our friends whose son also happens to be on the autism spectrum. He’s got a bit of a different symptom set than I do.

For example, he’s way more coordinated and active than I was as a kid, and while he’s not as hyperverbal, he has an almost uncanny talent for sound mimicry.

He’s been doing exceptionally well with therapy, support, all that good stuff. So, I was surprised and not surprised to see him walk out with these awesome noise-cancelling headphones.

“Yep,” said his dad, “If he’s bothered by a loud noise, he just grabs the headphones and deals with it.”

But here’s what’s interesting:

Loud noises are different strokes for different autistic folks.

 

It’d make sense for us autistics to be noise-sensitive, but apparently it’s more of an all-or-nothing deal.

Me? I now enjoy loud noises.

Weird, huh? I might not be for commotion or a gaggle of people in my kitchen, but I’m drawn to BOOMING sound.

Fast-forwarding to the fireworks show, there was my friend’s son, jumping up and down, hands to headphones, getting a KICK out of the show, the lights, and the (manageable) noise. It was amazing to see him manage his senses to better enjoy the sensory load.

But I’m all about that feeling – the resonating waves kicking into my sternum, rattling my bones, heaving me back with sonic oomph. 

The firework sound doesn’t bother, move, or otherwise delight me. But the splintering crack whipping through the air and cascading down to bump me back into my chair? Yeah, man, bring me more of that.

Just another quirk of the Life Autistic: even the things that’d seem unmanageable can be enjoyable.