The Life Autistic: Learning to Drive (or “Quit Planning, Start Doing”)

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“Hey Hunter, we’re going to get your learner’s permit — now.”

And that’s how I learned to drive. The End.

Let me put this story in Reverse for a quick second.

During a trip from Iceland back to the US, my parents thought it’d be a good idea for me to study up for a driving test. I was 15, and the thought was that I’d eventually get around to needing a car, driving ability, all the essentials.

I wasn’t going to be able to do much once we got back to Iceland, but at least I could cram for when I returned to the states for college in a couple of years.

But nope. 

Either Mom got antsy, or there was some kind of discount being offered for learner’s permits, but with almost zero notice, I was hustled to Waynesboro, Virginia’s eight circle of Hell known as the DMV.

Yeah, there’s a more suspenseful story here, where I missed my maximum number of questions and had to guess my way through the last five, but lemme zoom out to the moral of the story:

I’ve done a lot by being pushed to do.

It goes against 95% of the very fibers of my autistic being. My careful planning. My hedging against risk. My detailed preparation. My manifold situational calculations.

Those skills have served me well, in interviews, tests, speeches — you name it. If I can plan it, I can (usually) ace it.

But that’s only if I get around to doing it.

The Life Autistic is a balancing act, where all that analysis leads to paralysis. My best laid plans were often just that: plans.

Getting over the anxiety to do is the toughest part of the plan.

And yeah, I prefer when I can pull that trigger myself.

But I know me. I’m not the quickest to act even in my own interest.

Sometimes it takes a “50% Learner’s Permits – TODAY ONLY” deal to drive it.

 

The Life Autistic: Oh, No, not EYE CONTACT!

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This one’s almost made it to the “common knowledge” domain: Autistic people typically don’t make eye contact when they’re talking to you because blah, blah, reasons, difference, awkward, reasons, etc.

Ever wonder why?

I’ll tell you!

It’s hard for us to process multiple senses at once.

Unlike the rest of y’all, we autistic folks devote significant mental resources to engaging in conversation. Saying the right thing, planning our next sentences, avoiding awkward pauses, trying to guard ourselves from over-talking, and reading your face.

Making eye contact? That’s like the camelback-breaking straw.

It often feels like too much at once. It’s not that we’re too shy – we just need to devote more to our conversations with you.

We’re intentional, so we can’t just “rest” our gaze by making eye contact.

I mean, we could make eye contact.

If it were a staring contest.

If the goal is “maintain eye contact until predator backs down” or something weird.

If we were talking about, well, your eyes.

Lastly, we’re on our guard and averse to being “analyzed” 

I’ve a lot to learn about myself, but I know I’m different. 

Whether it’s true or not, I feel that, and I feel others can see it.

So the eye contact thing? It doesn’t help – it’s like people stare straight into my autistic reaction, that visceral feeling of “stop gawking at me.”

That said, I do have a way I’ve worked around this.

You might notice that, at times, I have no problem holding a conversation and looking right back at you.

How?

I’m practically blind now, y’all. Without my glasses, I can stare straight into your face and be A-OK with the blur.

No eyesight, no eye contact, no problem ^_^

 

The Life Autistic: Why Apologies are Hard (and how you can help!)

Screen Shot 2018-07-11 at 10.23.45 AM.pngSaying “I’m sorry” is hard for neurotypical people.

It’s not that hard for us.

“What?” you say. “Dude, you just said apologies are hard!

Yep, they are.

What’s the phrase, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it?” It’s different for autistic people, because there’s an added dimension that defies our solving:

It’s not how we say we’re sorry; it’s that others cannot tell if we’re sorry or not.

I’ve spent a good bit reading up on how to voice apology without qualification, excuse, keeping it simple enough to admit wrong and relay why it wronged another.

But for us autistic people, it doesn’t matter. Why?

People assume we don’t feel sorry.

I get when it’s a hasty apology, or when it’s just words coming out to diffuse tension, or something insincere and excuse-laden.

But we hear things like:

“You don’t sound like you’re sorry.”

“I don’t think you understand what you did.”

“You should feel worse about this.”

People, people, people — help us out here.

If we’re owning our blame, conveying that we wronged you and elaborated on why, and we’re apologizing, without qualifications, to make peace and seek genuine restoration in doing better, then please accept that.

Please.

It is difficult enough for us to navigate emotional and empathetic gaps, but we’re not heartless people. Please don’t assume our heartfelt apologies are any less sincere because we’re half-robot.

There’s a line that sticks with me in Moana, when Maui apologizes to Te Fiti.

“Look, what I did was …. wrong. I have no excuse. I’m sorry.”

The sad reality: if Maui was autistic, no one would believe him.