The Life Autistic: Is High-Functioning Autism just a Shield?

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I recently came across some autism-related news; it’s unfortunate the autism mention came in defending one’s poorly-chosen actions:

“I understand I came off as super rude but I’m rude and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

[Becky] said she suffers from Autism and that having Obregon stand outside her home made her feel trapped.

“As somebody with autism I’m extremely uncomfortable with having strangers in front of the house,” she said. “It’s extremely triggering to have to walk out and see a stranger there. To me, this person might attack me, I don’t know.”

As I read this article (and the, uh, interesting takes that followed), it got me thinking about the all-too-fine lines between ‘autism as a reason for actions’ vs. ‘autism as an excuse.’

I’ve even had to endure some difficult conversations about to what extent I “hide” my negative actions (brusqueness, directness, ignorance, insensitivity) behind my autism.

That line of thinking both makes and misses the point:

Autism is not a shield, nor is it meant to excuse our worst attributes.

I’ve had episodes similar to Becky’s, thankfully with less racist/ableist optics.

I’m not proud of when I’ve yelled and cussed at people, or when I’ve ever lied, or grabbed the last piece of cake.

Some actions are just bad, and autism doesn’t explain them away.

Autism doesn’t justify racism, prejudice, lies, grift, or many hosts of other sins.

In fact, it doesn’t justify anything.

Things like ‘rudeness’, ‘insensitivity,’ and ‘brusqueness’ — now that is where autism gets its bad rap.

But do I get a pass on those? Do I get a “Get Out of Civility” free card?

No, and I shouldn’t. And I won’t use a shield for that.

Instead of a shield, I’d rather have context, something that moves my stance from “Don’t Blame Me” to “Do Understand Me.”

 

 

The Life Autistic: Why Handwriting Sucks

IMG_6384.JPGI remember taking notes for an absent classmate back in 4th grade. That was a mistake.

While I thought I was doing her a favor, it turns out that she spent more time decoding my hieroglyphic scrawl, consulting forensic experts, and soliciting translation assistance for my poorly handwritten notation.

She probably failed the test and never spoke to me again. Typical.

My handwriting sucks. It just does.

I used to think that it was due to an early bait-and-switch in my second preschool, where, as the only leftie, I was forced to comply with the “right” way to write along with the class.

But no, while that may be part of it, it turns out that it’s common for us high-functioning autistic folks! It’s like there’s something that gets lost in transcription there.

“So what, H2? It’s 2018. Get over it. Nobody uses pen and paper anymore.”

You’re right about one thing: it’s 2018, not 3018.

Kids like me still write in school. Visit an elementary class sometime and lemme know how many of them text and type before learning to write. We’re getting there, but we’re not there yet.

You try being one of the sharper kids in class who could be out trying to learn about socializing during recess, but no, he’s stuck miring through a penmanship worksheet. It’s a struggle at a young age. And get this:

Handwriting is a struggle for us autistics at any age. 

And sometimes it does matter.

I don’t like putting down more than just my signature when writing in birthday cards.

I’m not the one you can count on to jot something down.

And my wife would appreciate a love letter once in a while, but I’m embarrassed and taxed in writing her one that doesn’t look like it came from a 1st-grader.

So yeah, if we insist on texting or emailing instead of writing: trust us, it’s for everyone’s good.

The Life Autistic: What’s with the Accent?

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When it comes to autism, sometimes it takes one to know one. The tells, the signs, the idiosyncrasies — our AutismRadar® is near flawless.

“Hunter, I think you need to talk to this guy,” said June*, one of the managers who reported to me. “I’m not sure what to make of him.”

“How do you mean?”

June told me more about one of her new employees, Benjamin Bennett*, who’d started going by B2. “He said he was inspired by you, H2!”

Great. 

She described some of his mannerisms, how he acted in meetings, communicated in email, and then dropped what I found to be the most interesting tidbit.

“He does these . . . accents when he talks to customers. Like, not his normal accent.”

“Ok,” I said. “I’ll talk to him.”

There were two ways that coin could flip.

Some people would smack down with a variation of “Ok, what you’re doing is weird, and you need to stop,” and just make life worse.

The other approach would be that gentle, almost meek, “So, tell me why . . .” style of discovery, unassuming, wise-as-a-serpent-but-ultimately-harmless way of getting him to fess up and explain more.

I went for a third option: make this coin stand on its edge.

Benjamin and I had a great talk a week later, discussing career progression, job skills, how he was adapting to his new team, etc.

As I relayed and related some of my experience, I casually mentioned:

“When I was on the phones, I’d even switch up my accent. Sounds weird, but sometimes it helped, if you can believe.”

100% true, folks.

And I still do it to this day.

It’s a bit of an odd habit, and sure enough, it’s something we autists share to a degree.

My phone habit? An unconscious shift to a Southern drawl, which oozed sweet tea, honey, and biscuits – all of which de-escalated my most irate callers.

And then when out and about, talking to my wife, I take on this almost Received Pronunciation British lilt, as if I have to be overheard with “more intrigue.” Too many William F. Buckley vids? I’ve no idea. Mrs. H2 isn’t ever amused.

And then there’s my lack of accent, an unplaceable affect that I take pride in maintaining. Since I’m half-robot anyway, I find it fitting.

So, what’s with the accent then?

I couldn’t tell you. Stress response? Phoneaesthetic soothing? Who knows.

Back to that talk with B2, my confession loosed a sigh of relief and exultation from him — he didn’t have to worry about being ‘weird’ or suffer the consequences of being ‘different’ in a way that few understood.

But I did.

Takes one to know one.

*not their real names

Image courtesy WikiHow