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: I Walk Through the Uncanny Valley

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Ok, if you’re not familiar with the phrase and concept of ‘uncanny valley,’ go read up.

Back? Cool.

Being autistic is like being living in an uncanny valley.

Why?

We humans are most comfortable with humans who act like humans and robots who act like robots. Mixing the two together creates an eerie revulsion that jars our expectations and freaks us out.

And of course, how do people describe us higher-functioning autistics? Monotone. Focused. Cold. Rational. Unemotional. 

Robotic.

Instead of thinking it was always personal, or that it was my weight, acne, whatever, I should have just rationalized it as “Oh, duh, these people have a reflexive avulsion to humans with robotic tendencies!”

If only.

We’re not robots. We’re just different.

Where many would become derailed by emotion, we won’t. Where others make poor decisions based on anger, spite, and hate, we don’t. Where some bask in the warmth of others and feel the benefit of feelings, well, sometimes we can’t.

We’re no less human. I’m no less human.

I might not look you in the eye. I might flap and jitter while walking and waiting. I probably won’t get worked up about hot-button, emotional topics. And my elevated prosody isn’t your computer’s dictionary talking.

I can’t help that you’re revolted. And I also cannot pretend to be a normal human the way normal humans don’t have to pretend.

If you can, try to see beyond the uncanny valley. 

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. 

The Life Autistic: Things You Need to Know About MELTDOWNS

atomic-bomb-2621291_960_720.jpgPictured: Me, after more than an hour of forced socializing in cramped quarters

Meltdowns are not tantrums.

Remember that phrase. Recollect this comparison. Recall the equation.

Meltdowns are not tantrums.

“Wait a minute, H2, I thought we were getting some quirky, offbeat story about you like usual, like how you broke down after your parents moved away while you were at summer camp?”

You’ll get that story.

But this is important. Your autistic kids need to be spared the ignominy of misunderstanding. Your autistic acquaintances want you to know the difference.

Tantrums are an explosive reaction, an output to an unfulfilled input. 

When I was younger, I remember finally getting the chance to go out for Indian food in Reykjavik, something I’d been looking forward to for years. That was the plan.

Until, due to whatever-the-heck-probably-something-stupid, it wasn’t. We ended up going for McDonald’s at the Kringlan, where I sulked, whined, and griped all the way through a meal that topped the Big Mac Index (no lie!)

I didn’t get what I wanted, and I pitched a fit. That’s a tantrum.

Meltdowns are either explosive or implosive, a response to overstimulation that defies consolation. 

For starters, I’m going to shout-out to all the parents who have kids who melt down.

These are hard. 

They’re stressful, embarrassing, and the stares you can feel from behind your back — I’ve only small words of comfort that I hope will apply:

This too shall pass.

But let me share what it passes on to.

After my promotion to “Big Boy Manager Job” at Apple, I joined the other organizational leaders in the group for a summit out in California. First time traveling. First time seeing so many of my extended peers at once. 

On the third night, we all went out bowling. It was a blast, we had fun, other people had drinks, and I pulled out all the stops to be just as social and cool as everyone else.

But after about an hour, I ran out of gas. Folded. Catatonic. Zombified. Shot. I just . . . couldn’t anything anymore. People are exhausting. Firing on all cylinders just to keep up with the malaise, cacophony, I could only maintain for so long. I don’t see how you neurotypicals do it, all told.

I melted down to a sedate, sullied, burnt husk of a man, utterly spent, like a robot who’d lost its charge.

As I sat in the chairs at the bowling alley, pitcher of water all to myself, sipping away aimlessly, a Senior Manager caught my thousand-yard stare and cocked her head.

“You OK?”

“Yeah yeah,” I nodded.

See, I’ve learned a bit about meltdowns. They’re far less violent now. The fuse is longer. The combustion is more of a slow burn, cratering in the chaos. Not a bang, but a whimper.

I’ve outgrown the explosions, but I’ll never escape the meltdowns.

The Life Autistic: Why I Don’t Answer the Phone

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“I’m not too good on the phone.” — Leonard Shelby, Memento 

If I were braver and more foolish, I’d post my number here and invite you to dial me.

Go ahead.

I can already tell you what’s going to happen. It’s going to voicemail, where you’ll hear my recorded snippet cut to the chase: Text me instead. 

Why?

Conversations are hard for us autistic folk.

Do I want to hear from people? Sure.

Don’t I want to talk to others for important things? Of course.

Am I just being an unreachable jerk? Hardly.

The less I can predict where a conversation could go, the more anxious I get.

Phone conversations have variables, tonal shifts, no body language, and few clear exit points. That’s just “talking” for neurotypical people.

Not for me.

I need a better idea of what I’m getting into. What the conversation’s going to be about. Time to plan. Time to think. Time to get the words in order. Space to process. Drafts to draft. Ways to frame what I want to say with a minimal risk of what I write being taken out of context.

Social navigation in The Life Autistic takes extra work. We can’t drive through all conversational turf the way you’d speed around somewhere where you’re most familiar.

So call me maybe.

I probably won’t answer.

But I’m here.

Help me draw the map of conversation and text instead.