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: How to Get Expelled from Preschool

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Yes, I was expelled from preschool, of all places.

On what grounds? Embezzlement? Racketeering? Insider trading? I only wish I were that cool.

People like me don’t exactly “fit in.”

By age 3, I’d learned all the countries, capitals, and flags of the world (not an exaggeration, apparently), so that left me little time or space to learn a thing or two about interacting with others. Sharing. Sitting. Cooperating. Conforming to norms. Slowing things down. Listening.

Structured spaces, homogenous places, new faces – those were all well and good, I suppose. But it was a far more subtle thing that did me in.

My problem – I looked normal.

Hear me out:

Let’s say a pre-school classmate rolls in on a wheelchair. Without thinking, you’ll hold a door longer, you’ll be conscious of standing when speaking to him, and you’ll be considerate of his difference. It’s human nature.

It’s an “accommodating reaction.”

But say this kid looks like he could be your able-bodied sibling.

Only she . . . never looks at you when speaking.

Or he won’t pay attention to you unless he arranges his desk objects —just so—-and only then do you enter the picture.

I’m not out to blame anyone, so I definitely don’t blame that preschool for having almost no clue about a regular-looking dude like me.

I slipped in under any accommodating reaction because it’s hard to “see” autism.

I didn’t sit as still as the others, if I sat at all. I wasn’t much for listening when people called for me; can’t say I’d learned to crawl out of my little world yet.

I was bored. Bored. Unchallenged. Agitated.

While they were teaching colors and shapes, I was reading. Reading words in books. I couldn’t bring myself to sandbag myself to get to everyone else’s level.

That wasn’t what a normal-looking kid was supposed to act like.

It’s hard to slow myself down.

To this day, I still struggle to behave in similar situations. It’s bitten me more times than I can count, and I’m only slowly getting experience in chilling out and saving the rocket fuel for later instead of getting frustrated about not using it.

Nowadays, the preschool kickout makes for a funny anecdote. Looking back, it’s a bit ridiculous.

But it was my first foray into an important life lesson: you’re either playing along, or you’re playing elsewhere.

The Life Autistic: What a Barefoot Irish Sage Taught Me about Change

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Here at Apple, I once worked for a boss who was more myth than man. He was based in Ireland, and he ran a team that stretched the globe.

He was a tour-de-force of culture-building aphorisms, folksy-wisdom, and cogent industry insights. He strode through offices barefoot. He’d visit sites the world over and dance an authentic Irish jig if they hit performance targets. And his countryside abode was rumored to be so prominent that it didn’t have an address – but a namelike Xanadu or something.

For our bi-weekly meetings, I’d drag myself into the office at 6AM my time to catch him midday in GMT. He usually hosted over the phone, whilst driving, unspooling yarns and helping cast vision for a future I needed to help spearhead.

While I remember more of his accent and cadence as he said this, there were two words that resonated the most:

“Change Management.”

Me being me, I liked saying “management” the way he did, with an airy Irish lilt to render it “MAH-nedge-ment.”

Me being me, I liked the sound of change far more than the concept. I’m not good with change, at my core. It’s one of those autistic elements; comfort comes from routine, predictability, not shaking everything up.

But in the coming weeks, as my boss elaborated on the c-word, my worry began to ease, and I got more excited about the idea of change as a whole. Why?

‘Normal’ people can be just as apprehensive about change as autistic people.

The advanced notice surely helped, but there was another powerful notion at work:

I go out of my way to embrace being different. This was the perfect chance to do so.

To stand out in a good way. To embrace the porcupine of change. To stand tall where others would wither. To make change the challenge, because I do like a good challenge.

In my time with my barefoot, jig-dancing, sage of a boss, I feel like I made a step up.

Where an internal difficulty became an inspired directive.

Where change didn’t have to be my antagonist forever.

Where the anxiety could be better channeled into adrenaline.

If resisting change was going to be normal, then I’d be something I’d have no trouble being: abnormal

photo credit: Joe.ie