The Life Autistic: Not as Smart as People Think

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I’m still quite terrible with humility, but this one is just honesty:

I am honestly not as smart as many people think. 

I’m ok with that, and I’m happy to demystify!

But first, a story:

My wife, Andrea, told me a tale from our college days, when she was at some party with this one odd gal who made snow angels in the host’s carpet. Which, I guess that’s a story too.

But said gal recounted how she sleuthed out my student ID (uh…) from the records office (what), so she could compare our mid-term exam scores in an English class (why?).

“I couldn’t believe I actually got a better grade,” she beamed.

“Oh,” said Andrea. “Yeah, Hunter didn’t study for that one.

Ouch. That’s what you go to the burn unit for.

Why am I sharing this?

Because I wan’t people to get the wrong impression about me.

I’m not some genius. I’m not all that smart.

These are the real “autistic strengths” that I’ll attest to:

1) Decent memory

It’s the forgetting that’s the hard part! But yeah, I tend to remember a bit, both actively and passively. It’s not perfect, and as Mrs. H2 will attest, I can forget things as soon as I hear them, but it’s not too shabby.

2) Recall

There are times where my memory is just “all right there.” I often don’t need to take time to remember, so the instantaneousness comes out at a good clip. But really, that’s not smarts – that’s just a product of producing memories quickly. 

3) Associations

There’s recalling memories, and then there’s stitching them into patterns, situations, fitting them into neat spots to form a pattern. It’s almost like creativity. I’ve done OK professionally with this, as a coach, organizational leader, analyst, etc. Is it a “smart” thing? I dunno.

4) Big words

We’ve been over this.

That’s it. That’s the combo.

I’m really slow with math. Sluggish with computations. I don’t read as many books as I should. I don’t have an advanced degree. I wouldn’t last anywhere in engineering fields. I’m actually aware of where I’m not the sharpest bulb in the shed.

I’ve got a good memory and recall combo, and I’m almost clever – I’ll take that.



The Life Autistic: What’s with the Autistic Obsessions?

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You’ve heard the stories. You’ve ‘Liked’ the posts. You’ve seen the viral videos.

“Adorable Boy WOWS Captain with Encyclopaedic Knowledge of Boeing 787 – and You Won’t Believe What He Did Next!”

“This Five-Year-Old Genius Knows More About Trash Compactors Than you will Ever Know about Anything in your Entire Life.”

It’s a basic formula: young child, semi-arcane interest, staggering depth of subject knowledge. Yet while it’s a common thread in the tapestry of The Life Autistic, it’s still not the best understood.

Autistic people have a strong tendency to fixate on specific interests, at a level that’s typically dubbed an ‘obsession’ or ‘enthusiasm.’ While hobbies might be more about practical activities (like camping), obsessions are more components of the hobby (like tents or camping equipment).

How do you develop obsessions?

I’ve had a few (and will share them later), but it’s when interest and ‘attainability’ collide. I had a much bigger kick about cameras when I was younger, and the proliferation of camera and camera gear magazines only stoked that further.

Is it bad to have such focused obsessions?

Not always. Sometimes they’re utterly impractical, but their side benefits pay off. I was once immersed in (sigh) Who Wants to be a Millionaire, to where it was more than just appointment viewing for me. Was it really all that life-enriching? No – but I banked an immense amount of game show and trivia knowledge.

Why can’t I get my child to obsess over something profitable, like neurosurgery?

In my experience, it’s less skill-based and more ‘knowledge-accumulation.’ I’ll use my photography example from earlier: the components, brands, and formats of a camera interested me, but I had no interest in actually using them or learning how to compose photos.

Do you ever get over it?

Sometimes they pass, other times they wax and wane.

What doesn’t pass is the “obsessive” tendency — I’m in a bit of a lull on mine at the moment, but with enough time and space, who knows?


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The Life Autistic: What the Heck is a Facts Curator?


I was disappointed in my first online IQ test.

Not because it confirmed that I was ‘good with the words, dumb with the maths.’

No, it was in the disappointing “career recommendation.”

Apparently, this test assessed the strengths and weaknesses of my answers and offered me the kind of job I’d be good at.

‘Facts Curator’

Facts Curator? What the even is that?

I read further: a Facts Curator would be the type of person who knew a lot about a lot of things — dates, places, people, events.

The type of person who’d find themselves in a museum, or guiding tours, or whatever other paying job out there requires someone to act as a human wellspring of knowledge arcane and profane.

I didn’t like that.

I’ve no disrespect for those who’d choose the occupation of facts curation.

I very nearly went that route (!) in choosing a history major myself.

But the way they phrased it…

“Facts Curators can be useful.”

Some people enjoy learning interesting tidbits from a human encyclopedia”

“Not everyone wants to Google information.”

Needless to say, I fought my way into a different and fulfilling career, one that doesn’t play to what people think my strengths are, but what they came to be.

The Life Autistic might be naturally suited for roles, jobs, and careers that fit our different skill sets.

And that’s great.

But I didn’t let my autistic traits define my career.

That choice didn’t belong to my autism.

It belonged to me.