How Autism Works in My Favor – If You Can’t Be Remarkable, Be *This*

“Hunter, do you mind if I ask you a question?”

It’s not often that I’m surprised — not because I’m “good” at predictions or smart or whatever. I just spin my autistic gears enough to map out the spectrum of human variables, and by and large, people just don’t deviate enough from their norms to dot my radar as an outlier. And that’s good; sometimes my autism works in my favor.

But that question surprised me.

I’ve made an over-practiced art form of interviews – whether it’s for jobs or informational sessions. For the latter, I never expect people to ask questions of me. Like, I’m the one who’s looking to learn — what could possibly be worth asking about me? 

“Wow, uh, sure?” I said.

“Do you always wear clothing with your initials on it?” she asked.

I laughed and looked down: I’d been wearing my Helly Hansen® vest.

“As I’m fond of telling myself,” I replied, “if you can’t be remarkable, be memorable.”

I’m not remarkable. I can’t get by on skills alone. I’m really bad at a lot of things. If I talk without a pre-planned agenda in mind, I unspool after five minutes. I’m well outdone by many in terms of capability. I’m doing the best I can at the table being dealt a 7-9 offsuit hand.

But I can be memorable. 

Autism works in some oddly beneficial ways at times. We’re different out of the box. We’re going to sound different, use different words, think in strange and different ways. We’ll communicate in a way that won’t sound like others.

People remember different.

Since I stopped caring about fitting in, I’ve doubled down on fitting out. I grow out my hair out because it’s a conversation piece. My word choices and diction are unlike most others, to the point where I can’t write “example copy” anymore, because people know it’s mine. I have the coolest custom email alias at Apple. I wear my Helly Hansen® attire because people either recognize the brand or they think it’s because of my initials.

I’m not an autistic savant. No one is going to notice me for prodigious feats of memory, skill, or formidable intellect.

But I am different, and that’s memorable.

What’s memorable to you?

 

Oh, by the way: thank you for taking a few minutes to read this post. You could have spent that time doing something more enjoyable, but you chose to read this blog, and that means a lot. 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!

A Weightlifter’s Guide to Autism

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As you all can tell, I’m training to be Arvada’s Strongest Man.*

This picture was taken right before I hoisted this 250kg boulder clear above my head in a clean overhead press.**

Ok, *not really, and **not hardly.

But with my typical workout routine altered during leave, I ended up rekindling a latent enthusiasm (early 90’s World’s Strongest Man competitions, back when I lived in the same country as Magnús Ver Magnússon) and took up deadlifting the rocks in my yard. I mean, if you’re out watching kiddos, what better way to risk splintering your back build strength and stay fit?

I had to adjust, practice, and study weightlifting a bit, since it wasn’t my typical kettlebell/HIIT slaughter. A couple things stood out.

  1. Rocks can be heavy, and they can hurt
  2. Weightlifting tips apply to the autistic experience

Here’s how.

Lifting heavy, not hard. Weightlifting and powerlifting focus on the heavy and the increasingly heavy — not just high-frequency, high-reps. Heavy builds strength. Going hard, not so much. It’s the same with autism, where some of the heavy items aren’t things we can’t do a lot.

I’ll never be able to manage certain large audiences, environments, tasks, even certain people — but over time, I build strength and I don’t wear out. And that’s so I don’t wear out and buckle and start detesting and withdrawing. We can’t just go hard and full bore on situations and with people who drive deep discomfort and anxieties in us, whichever they are. Enduring strength comes from a paced approach.

Low repetitions, greater gains. You build more strength from lifting heavy over fewer repetitions than lifting lighter over many reps. (Are there some cases where the obverse is true? Yep, and give me until the next post, k?) And similarly in my life autistic, I need to pack on the strength (mental, emotional, even physical) to get through the recurrence of some events.

For my neurotypical audience, this can be hard. We might not be able to manage “visit X” or “event Y” as frequently as you do. And that lack of frequency might make you think we don’t ever want to go through XYZ at all.

That’s not entirely it.

Just let us treat it like weightlifting. We can’t overtrain. We’re often trying to build strength. And it isn’t always about trying it light and often. Sometimes it can’t be light. And if it’s heavy, let us do the heavy lifting the right way.

The Life Autistic: Children are the Best Escape

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Here she is – my greatest little escape artist.

Not just on her own, but for my escapes too.

This is Zo, my youngest, most focused, fierce, determined little girl. Don’t let the eyes fool you: it’s a trick to sucker you into letting her get away with whatever she sees fit to do.

I’ve got musings and a half on my kids and on each of them, but for all of her strong-willed excursions and fate-tempting boundary stretches, Zo has been one of my biggest helps lately.

She gives me a focal point when I need an out

Zo’s still kind of a baby, sometimes the youngest in the room. Depending on the awkwardness of the context, I’ll volunteer to feed her or watch her or (try to) keep her from trouble. Otherwise, I’m stuck at a table making eye contact and small talk, and frankly, I’ll take my chances wandering around with the kiddo.

She runs away, so I don’t have to

Zo doesn’t mind being with people, but she’s way more intent to play with things of interest, like cats and playground equipment. On two days in a row, she sneaked away to both, and — hey, she needs adult supervision with cats, claws, slides, stairs, etc., so I can deftly slip away from the people milieu and engage her without needing to justify a people break

When she’s *done* — I can be done too

Sometimes it’s the best to bring Zo along. When she’s done, she is D-O-N-E. Me? I’m a little more subtle with the meltdowns, but Zo is a baby: she tires, gets cranky, decides to stop behaving. And there are days when I’ve just gassed out my social tank, but I know it’s going to be awkward to haul up and leave. But if the baby is hurling and chucking a tantrum? Well then, that’s the socially acceptable queue to get outta dodge.

I know Zo’s going to grow up, get a little more congenial and mingle for much longer than she does now. But I’m going to miss her at this stage, where she’s my perfect accomplice in escapes on The Life Autistic.