Five Easy Ways to BEST Work with Autistic People

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The other day, I was in discussions about taking on a project, a talk going so swimmingly that I joked about ending 45 minutes early..

Then we came to an item where I wouldn’t budge. But neither would they.

*brakes screeching*

I’m either one of the easiest people you’ll work with, or I’m one of the most difficult. There is no in-between. But the good news?

You can choose the easy option.

You might have autistic co-workers or other autistic relations in your life. If you’ve ever thought “I wish it were easier to get along/work with/handle this person,” then the answers are:

  1. We wish that too.
  2. Don’t wish when you can understand and act.

So here are my five easy ways to best work with (not against) autistic people like me.

Don’t play to win on your terms. Remember Words with Friends? I was unbeatable, not because of my vocabulary. I played an impenetrable defensive strategy. Everyone lost when they tried to win their way. We autistic people are often more guarded and defensive; if you try to break that down, we’ll hunker down. But if you’re willing to let us be as guarded and defensive for you, then that’s our win, together.

Work harder on the setup. In my printing presswork, the majority of the effort was setup — if we got that right, we could crank out jobs seamlessly for hours. My autistic tendency is to bristle when too frequently interrupted, intruded, steered. If you approach work more up front and just let us run with things thereafter and remain focused, we’ll work great!

Be ready to be curious. We have probably thought out our “defense” more than you have your “offense.” We’re not trying to be difficult or intractable – we’re just reflexively protective of our comfort, capabilities, and competency. The people who get the most out of me are those who engage my curiosity, trick me into wanting to solve a problem, and give me the liberty to work in a way where I’m comfortable and not conflicted. (If you’re one of my stakeholders/customers, please don’t abuse this, LOL)

Resolve — don’t flatten — objections. As a teenager, I once pitched a fit because my mom shot down my request to go to a Thai place instead of her idea: The Cheesecake Factory. I thought they just served cheesecake, so I objected. While I was happy to discover I was kinda wrong, I’d have LOVED to have had this more thoughtfully solved, like “Hunter, you probably want spicy Asian food — the Cheesecake Factory has enormous portions, with deserts, and a substantial Asian food selection. I’ve been there, and none of us have been to Thai Cafe whatever – and I know what you like. We should go.”

Take our side first – trust me. Like FBI Lead International Kidnapping Negotiator Chris Voss would advise, get a “That’s right!” out of someone, not a “You’re right.” Like many other autistic people, if I need convincing, the “appeal to people” aspect often falls flat. But get us bought in on an idea, something we can internally acknowledge, assent, celebrate — and then incorporate — we might even defend your side of things better than you can! The hardest ones to face across the table are the ones you want most on your side.

We are definitely more different than we are difficult, and I hope these five steps help explain that difference. They help us. To learn more about autism from an autistic person’s perspective, follow & subscribe to The Life Autistic – or follow the more whimsical, spontaneous, and amusing content on Twitter / Instagram. Thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autistic People Talk to Themselves, So What? – The Real Talk on Self-Talk

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Judging by the latest two posts, you’d be right to assume I’ve been on a 80’s British synth-pop/new wave kick. But no, that’s not it.

While changing a diaper (which, that’s my life now), my daughter Mo asked me what I was doing.

“I’m changing a diaper.”

“No,” she said. “You’re saying something.”

“Oh. Yeah. I’m talking. To myself.” 

I wasn’t aware I was doing that until she said something.

Why?”

This is a good question.

People talk to themselves. Autistic people talk to themselves.

Like, actually talking aloud. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.

There’s a difference in intentionally talking to yourself and doing it subconsciously. The former is something you probably do, and you know it, and it’s completely voluntary.

But what about when you don’t know you’re doing it? When your 4 year old has to bring it up and interrupt yourself from yourself?

Welcome to The Life Autistic.

I’ll tell you what we’re up to.

Rehearsal. This is probably the #1 reason why I talk to myself and when I’m least aware of it. It’s a certain stimming, coping, preparatory mechanism that kicks in when I’m thinking of conversations I need to have with people, whether real, upcoming, or imagined. It can be hard for us to have “live conversations in the moment,” so it’s our way of laying pipe, roadways, and getting some sort of neural groundwork for when it has to happen.

Reinforcing a sequence. It’ll usually start with “So what I need to do is . . . ” It’s usually when I’m stressed, and when I know I have some crucial things that I need to resolve, do, get right, and comment on. It’s a bit of an inner monologue that needs to be spoken, and thus heard, and if I remember hearing it, I’ll process it like someone is telling me what to do. It’s nice following my own orders.

Losing my memory. My steel trap memory has rusted, so I have to work up some kind of mantra to remember things that I know I’ll forget by the time I’m going downstairs or elsewhere. So if I mutter “Cinnamon Toast Crunch” over and over, it’s not as if I’ve some sugary cereal fixation — it’s that I’m in trouble if I forget to get it for Mrs. H2 on the way up. 🙂

Odd glossolalia. Sometimes I’m stimming on “Planet Hunter” and apparently I’ve narrated or otherwise interjected things aloud that’d only make sense to me and whatever I’m deep in thought and pacing about.

There are other self-talk topics, like positive motivation (which I can’t bring myself to do) and negative self-scourging (which I don’t do out loud). Others like me will do more self-arguing and conversing in dialogue, and I do more of that on the inside.

But as they say, know thyself – and in this case, I know my self talk.

Thanks for reading my talk about my self talk, as if I don’t talk about myself enough! That said, if you still want to learn more about autism from an autistic person’s perspective, follow & subscribe to The Life Autistic – or follow the more whimsical, spontaneous, and amusing content on Twitter / Instagram. Thanks.

What Every Autistic Child Needs to Hear: The Autism Talk We Don’t Talk about Enough

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If you’re a parent of an autistic child, then I can relate.

Not with you. With your child.

And that’s hard. I wish I could empathize with what it’s like to raise autistic and neurodivergent kids. But I do wish to help.

I’m an autistic adult who was once an autistic child. See above for proof. 

The ‘doing’ of parenting, so I’ve discovered, is hard as a whole. That said, some things are easy.

Talking is easy. 

But for all we do and learn about talking about your autistic kids, or getting them to talk, or figuring out why they talk to themselves, or (as it was in my case) getting them to stop talking — we don’t think about what autistic kids want to hear.

Here’s what we need to hear:

“I’m glad you’re different.”

It gets better.”

“I’m sorry.”

“How can I help?”

[Not yelling]

“Help me understand.”

“I’m still learning. This is OK.”

Here’s why [literally any change, reason, direction, etc]. . . “

“I know you’re worried; here’s what we can do.”

“Normal is easy, but it’s boring. You deserve better.”

“[DEEP SIGH]. I’m not mad at you. I just need a deep breath to be my best self here.”

“You know we’re both still learning?”

“Could you tell me more? It might help, and I’m listening.”

“Take some time; it’s OK to need some space.”

[Precise, sequential, unambiguous directions]

“That’s a good question – I don’t know.”

“Here’s what I appreciate about you.”

“Thank you.”

“I won’t make you feel bad about this.” 

You know, I struggled with this too.”

“This might be hard, but I believe you can do it.”

Would you like to try [xyz]?”

“Here’s what I mean by [idiom].” 

“It’s OK to need help; it really does.”

“What are you looking forward to today?”

I can negotiate on x, and y, but not z, ok?”

“Here’s what I’m thinking, and I’m just thinking here . . .”

“This is why I couldn’t tell you about [x] sooner.”

“I’m sorry this didn’t go as expected – it surprised me too.”

“You’re not wrong about this.”

I’m glad you are you.

“Can you help me understand why [xyz] makes you upset (or happy)?”

“I love you — and here’s why I do.”

 

If you’re a parent of autistic children (or even if you aren’t!), I’m glad you found this blog. Parents like you have told me it has been helpful, and that’s encouraging to hear. If you want to learn more about autism from an autistic person’s perspective, follow & subscribe to The Life Autistic – or follow the more whimsical, spontaneous, and amusing content on Twitter / Instagram. Thanks.