The Best Birthdays in Autism

My birthday was last week. Very little ado was made of it. Mission accomplished.

Surprises aren’t my thing, nor are extravaganzas. Since I had neither the impetus, nor the friends, nor the general energy for birthday parties after age 8, I found the absence of celebration sad, but liberating.

Maybe you’re the “birthday celebrator extraordinaire” type of person.

As an autistic fellow with a recurring birthday, I am not.

Here’s why:

We (generally) don’t like changes in routine. I like when my birthday falls on a weekday, because then I go to work, get things done, and make it a mostly normal day. Predictability is a fine present. Sure, I wouldn’t mind an Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra Co-Axial Day Date either, but barring that, I’m most at ease and happy when things go “according to prescription.”

Were not fond of misaligned expectations. There’s a great phrase I borrow from The Patriot: “Aim small, miss small.” With hypervivid imaginative capacity and keen abilities to construct what amazing events look like, it’s only dooming us to failure when those things can’t come to pass, due to scale, complexity, meltdowns, whatever. I asked for three things on the day: for me not to have to make the bed, an empty sink, and $10 worth of tacos from El Michoacano — a taqueria in a part of town where I’m the only person who orders in English. I got all three, as expected, totally perfect.

People. Well, it’s nice having people around, but I like keeping my energy reserves stored. My wife and three daughters made sweet and special company, and they let me be me at my most “me.”

Normal people are quick to claim an entire “birthday month,” paint the town red (whatever that means), and get a pass on their vanity for bending the world to their whims on the one day they can afford to do so.

Me? I’m not normal.

Yet I had a great and happy birthday in my own autistic way.

I’m 3# years into my life autistic, and I hope it won’t take all too many more for our differences to pass from ‘misunderstood’ to ‘tolerated’ to ‘accepted’ and maybe even ‘celebrated.’ Even if I don’t have much by way of birthday celebrations, right?  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 Twitter / Instagram. Thanks.

Speaking of celebrations, check out my latest video for something I actually celebrated perhaps even more than my own birthday:

Autistic People are Cat People?

People often assume I’m a cat person. They’re wrong, but not in the way they expect. They’re also right, but not how they expect.

The other night, I was invited to meet and catch up with some out-of-town acquaintances at the Denver Cat Company, which was less about feline manufacturing and more about keeping company with cats. There were around 14, darting, slinking, and enjoying cuddles and play from others.

It was a great catch-up and meet as well, one of the first and few in which I could engage with and listen to other resplendent, neurodivergent people. I cracked open my tin of Fancy Feast™ and enjoyed about 75 minutes of late-evening conversation. It’s nice when, within my tribe, I can almost finish someone’s sentences with the word ‘anathema‘ and not be thought strange or odd, but perfectly welcome.

But back to cats, when I saw the sign, I asked to snap a pic and muse on my own enduring question:

Are autistic people cat people?

A lot of those feline guidelines sure apply to me:

  • Touch at your own risk
  • Watch for claws
  • Leave me to my refuge
  • Leave me be
  • Don’t chase me
  • Don’t pick me up off the ground

I see why we get that reputation. We’re cuddly, but only on our own terms. We’re social, but we opt into that and need to be able to bail at a moment’s notice. We’re not declawed, and if we scratch, it’s not because we hate you. We don’t want people invading our bubble, unless we somehow faintly signal that we want you to.

But we’re not all nor always cat people.

We get a puppy-like exuberance about our special interests. Sometimes we’ll follow a scent or a thing without breaking focus. We can be intractably loyal and fixed to a single person as their aggressive defenders and faithful friends. Sometimes we’re distracted by squirrels.

And that’s the autism spectrum for you: variety within variety, difference within difference.

Fun fact: Despite my cattiness, I’ve only ever owned dogs.

Cats, dogs, reptiles, fish — whatever: every time I try to fit autism into a stereotype, I fail spectacularly. Word to the wise there.  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 Twitter / Instagram. Thanks.

Unrelated, but my two dogs cameo in my latest video. It’s far more entertaining to see it vs. read about it. Check it out:

When Every Road is Uphill | Autism and Resilience

I know that feeling.

I’ve been waiting to use this perfect picture of Zo for a long while now.

Though small, my middle daughter has BIG feelings. There are no in-betweens with her. To my knowledge, she’s a neurotypical toddler, so as an autistic dad, I overlap with her on a few things, but not everything.

This instance here: it reminded me of where I have to be more “dad” than “autistic dad.” Zo didn’t want to trike back uphill. She’s great at it, but she just quit before starting.

My first thought: “Zo, just pedal – let’s GO.”

My second thought: “Wait, let me get a photo.”

My third, best thought: “It’s OK, Zo. This is kinda tough. I understand.”

Isn’t it weird giving the kind of advice that you yourself struggle with?

The hills are always, and I mean — ALWAYS — 100% UPHILL in The Life Autistic. If it’s ever easy, it’s because there’s a dip in a hill that’s still going upward.

But as she sat, as I reflect on this image in time, and on what has been a brutal uphill and disappointing season within seasons at work and in even in this creative endeavor, some truths of the autism experience echo here.

It’s OK to process a disappointing road ahead. I get upset at the efforts spent, the effort I’ll have to spend, and the efforts wasted in trying to do my best and make it. Sometimes you just have to sit on the edge of the trike, work out the sadness, and see it to its end. Sometimes this is not forever.

It’s doable, but it’s hard. And THIS is what y’all need to get. Acknowledge the difficulty. Hard isn’t impossible. I’ve traversed miles of literal and figurative rock, muttering “this is hard” all the while. Keeping focus, enduring awkwardness, working to futility, pouring waters of life into gardens that don’t bear fruit right away — just. because. it’s. hard. doesn’t. mean. we. won’t. do. it.

An upset finisher beats a happy quitter. We can’t always be upbeat when we’re beat. When things affect our sense deeply. When we’re melting down and around along the way. The autism spectrum is an odd thing. But the more authentic we can feel along the way, with each footfall forward, the better off and away we’ll be. Maybe we’ll evince a hint of smile after the finish line.

Five minutes later, Zo charged back up that hill.

Autistic resilience isn’t about holding your head up or grinning through the pain. Despite depression and disappointment, we can still make a routine of “DO.”  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 Twitter / Instagram. Thanks.

Speaking of resilience, I don’t know how I’m still managing not to quit at doing YouTube videos. Here’s my latest adventure back in time and school grades as an autistic student. Interesting times, those.