Pretending to Forget (and other autism masking tricks you don’t know)

“And you said you just got a new dog — I forget which breed. How’s she doing?”

No, I remembered.

It was a Blue Heeler. I remembered laughing inside, thinking it was ‘Blue Healer.’ And I also remembered, because I’ve seen them before. Their color isn’t actually blue. It’s like a blue French Bulldog. Or the color ‘merle.’ It’s a pattern. And I remember them (Blue Heelers) as Australian Cattle Dogs. I often think of them as Australian Blue Heelers. On this one, I wasn’t sure whether the full name was used. But people seem to just go with the shorter version.

Point being: I remember.

But see, that could scare people. It often does. People mention these throwaway details, the appurtenances of the story, like they’re the barely noticeable accessories of the narrative. The “big thing” I’m supposed to remember.

And that’s the expectation: when we go through the small-talk dance, I am expected to go through the motions. To remember “new puppy.” No – she was adopted. So, “new to them.” It was important enough to mention, but not critical that I remember.

But I do.

Pretending that I don’t is just autistic masking.

It’s almost like an anti-mask. Either which way, there’s very little room to wear it right.

If you remember too many details, you’re a creep. Too few, you’re a dummy. Too precise, you’re a robot. Too imprecise, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

The Life Autistic is an exercise in finding when to pull back or pull over this mask. And that is a tiring endeavor.

I’m working my way out of that.

The other day, I asked a stakeholder how their newer cat (a Hemingway, which I knew, but didn’t mention) was getting on with Louie (whose name I did mention). Those are specific details. It’s specific enough to be off-putting to most, especially since those two cats don’t come up in every conversation.

But I remembered. And I’m going without that mask more often.

Here’s some of the masks you’ll likely never notice — except now you will.

Feigned imprecision. People ask me about numbers. I’ve learned to be more “round.” It’s 25%, even if in my mind I know it’s actually 24.73% and am thinking that in my head. It comes out as 25%.

Limited depth of interest. You ask about my current favorite artists: I’ll stop at three. If I’m feeling my more autistic self, then I’ll check my list and give a dozen. That’s too many. Then it sounds like I’m just showing off. I’m not. I just listen to a lot of music.

Simplifying. I’ll try to use simpler words. I don’t always say strident or vituperative. Bitter is fine. And, y’know what, no — strident is a good one. I’mma use that.

Unmasking is an ongoing thing for me, for other autistic people. It’s been such a long exercise that it almost feels part of me — too much so. I’ve used the phrase “drill in” and almost forgot that I’d reflexively say “inculcate” instead. My ambient music lists would often once run deeper when compelled; now I’ll usually just say “Steve Roach, and, well, stuff like that.”

This is a process.

The dog’s name was Velvet.

To learn more about autism from an autistic person’s perspective, follow & subscribe to The Life Autistic here and on YouTube — and follow the more whimsical, spontaneous, and amusing content on Instagram as well.

If you want to know more about masking, you’ll enjoy this:

Pause and Affect: Autistic Reflections Away

It was an unannounced break from the blog.

Nothing happened; I was out of state, away vacationing. Months and years ago, I’d have felt guilty for not hanging an out-of-office sign here, but I’ve learned to trust people to be more understanding.

But I still felt a teeny bit uneasy while on vacation.

Vacationing while autistic just isn’t vacationing.

That’s OK.

Many people look for the BREAK in routine as the object, the major events that rakes across their dreadful monotonies, the joyous, carefree lightning locks of freewheeling adventure, perfectly-framed travelogues, and limitless Epicurean delights —

No, that’s not me.

I live in the routine. I glide through the monotony. I rest easiest in the pulses, knowing where the surges and pauses are to come.

This vacation was a better one.

In The Life Autistic, you’re probably not living for the weekend nor readying to plunge headlong into the idyllic charms of beach, amusement park, or [insert stock vacation here]. You’re planning. Preparing. Adapting.

Or in some cases, you’re undoing yourself from the stereotypical notions of what a vacation should be and readying, preparing, smoothing out the folds of dread.

This is also OK.

I’m back now.

But I’m not quite back here.

Vacation was a good break from the creative ventures too, where the pause helped me reassess where I am burning bright or burning out.

It clarified the kind of things that are still burning hot and fueling a lot of joy, despite the expense. Videos (short and long) remain a fruitful endeavor, and I’ve found myself being worked into more speaking and podcast engagements — those are both new, and I enjoy contributing where I can.

But that leaves, yes, my writing.

Despite this being my first autism advocacy venture, it’s veering closer to burnout. Ironic, given my Hephaestean craft, writing as a first love as well. It’s a fickle beast — the fires temperamental.

I won’t be forsaking this in total; I just need to extend the vacation to this domain too. The stories will be told, not forced. For as much as I devote myself to routines, I’ve learned to pinpoint when they’re serving me, and when I’ve veered too far into serving them.

Vacation had a purpose.

I’m glad for the purpose in unplugging, enjoying some sand, enjoying time with my family, seeing my kids enjoy their first visit to the Atlantic Ocean, seeing weird birds, and then following up with a more mellow staycation at home. It was purposeful, and I enjoyed it at my autistic best.

But it served a good creative purpose, helping me see better what I really wanted to come back to and what I felt could wait a little longer.

The words can wait.

They’ll always be there.

Lessons in Autism from an Austrian Strongman Legend

Would you just LOOK at the SIZE of the biceps on that dude?

https://youtu.be/zW4y0WzSWiIUnless you also share the same kind of era-specific special interest of strongman, you probably don’t know of the behemoth on the left. That’s Manfred Hoeberl, an Austrian Strongman competitor in the mid-90s, known for his 26-inch biceps. Bandana-clad and big-armed, he cut a characteristic figure among his strongmen peers, making him an eminently watchable competitor.

Of course, being in Iceland, I rooted for Magnus Ver Magnusson, as one does. But Manfred had the strongman LOOK.

And then there’s me on the right. I can barely fit my hair into a bandana, and I’m not as well-known for my biceps.

Through absolute happenstance, I caught an episode of one of my personal favorite YouTubers: Big Loz Official – an English strongman whose commentary, insights, and content just ticks all of my special interest boxes. He finally landed an interview with Manfred, one whom I’d been wanting to hear from for a while.

What does this have to do with autism, HUNTER?

Among the many anecdotes he shares, Manfred recalled being a half-point ahead of Magnus Ver in the 1994 World’s Strongest Man competition heading into the final event. And not only was he leading prior to the event, he led during the event (Atlas Stones).

Until he made a fatal mistake.

Well, not literally fatal.

He looked over.

To see how Magnus Ver was faring. Breaking focus. Checking out the competition. Side eyeing for a split second.

Magnus took the event and the title, winning the event only just, and the competition by a single point. It was the closest Manfred came to a title.

I’m paraphrasing, but Manfred remarked that THAT was the decisive moment. Where his claim to glory was snatched away a glance askance.

I’m guilty of that too.

Where I compare my experience to peers. To other creators. Even to other autistic professionals. To those lifting their own Altas Stones, where I should be focused on my own.

That’s never a winning move.

My Atlas Stones are mine own. I’m my own competition, not others.

My autistic experiences, joys, successes, failures are not a competitive event.

It’s hard not to fall into this trap, for my autistic brain and soul to seek additional inputs, vectors, data to frame whether or not I’m “doing well” or “doing good.” For all my innate hyperfocus, I am equally strong in zeroing in, but also perilous when I zero out and break the turbolaser beam of me and my own word.

Manfred’s advice: “You do you.”

True words there.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see if I can apply some similar wisdom to my biceps.

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 Instagram.

Speaking of YouTube strongmen and creatives, well, only one of those applies to me, but I hope you’ll check out my channel and subscribe nonetheless. Thanks so much.