The Life Autistic: Stand and Deliver

This last week I had one of the most intense, searching, and revelatory experiences of my professional life.

EXECUTIVE PRESENTATION TRAINING

Even for you neurotpyical folks, this would have been a daunting ask. Getting each “uhm” clipped, every extra qualifier pounced upon.

For me, I knew what was coming.

I’ve polished my “presenting version” of Hunter Hansen down to where there’s only one thing left to refine.

Me.

I’ve cut out all the big words when I need to present to directors, leaders, etc.

I don’t ramble in circumlocutionary, concentric circles of narrative excess.

But eye contact?

Oh man, if I had a nickel for every time I was reminded to keep my eyes up, eyes down, eyes on the audience, I’d have a lot of nickels.

It’s so hard for me.

It’s like I need a BREAK, because I can only hold a gaze while speaking for so long.

And I almost need a stopping point to look away and “download more content.”

It’s a lot to process!

*But before any of you would cry foul here or think this is some attempt to change part of what makes Hunter, Hunter*

Here’s why I was given that advice.

I’m extremely expressive.

Apparently my face alone does so well to read, reflect, and react to an audience that it draws people in.

And it’s good enough to where I shouldn’t kick them out.

Imagine that. Young H2 would never have believed I was in any way captivating.

In fact, I was told I couldn’t Botox my forehead because of it.

In the end, I was happy. Exhausted, but happy.

The best piece of advice I got?

“Stop performing and just be you.”

Ok, I’ll be me.

You ready?

The Life Autistic: Here in the Dark, Gone in the Light

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I fear this may be one thing I never conquer.

There is a peril of a thread that runs through The Life Autistic.

An ice-cool needle leads it through, unrepentant, coursing through the fabric of our lives and needling us at the intersections of thought, actions, emotions.

Logic. Reason. Frigid. Rigid.

In some ways we are too ordered for our own good.

And as such, we think the world should work in that order.

I remember being younger, more impetuous than I am now, thinking that I should have advanced further based on the strength of my skills, my accomplishments.

“Oh, that’s not how the world works,” I’d correctly surmise.

“That’s how it should work,” my autistic self would clap back.

He’s as wrong as he is right, but I’ve since convinced him to play the hand.

It’s not about the strength of your cards, but the strength of the player.

But this is a game I cannot play.

At my lowest, I face the conundrum value.

My own value, to my family, families, friends, acquaintances, and those beyond.

The ice-cold needle and perilous thread wrap and warp my mind away from the altruistic reasons that I fail to grasp, to comprehend.

So I ask:

If I no longer serve a purpose to those around me, what then?

Out of a heart and mind perhaps misguided, I seek to be of some benefit to others, whether for my family, friends, those I know.

Something tangible, brilliant.

A needed light in darkness.

What if the darkness fades, and there is no need for me in the light?

It’s a daring, haunting question.

It’s a frame of mind and feeling I’d rather take apart and rebuild into something better.

Perhaps I’m the accent to otherwise perfect interiors, the blazing comet to balanced galaxies, the shady cloud above compact forests.

“This is how your value should work,” my autistic self asserts.

But this is not the way it works, I continue to repeat, hoping to believe.

The Life Autistic: The Wrong Way to Fish for Empathy

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Over the span of three wintry weeks, I went from beloved teacher/saint Mrs. Wieler sobbing, hugging me before I left her third grade class in Fairfax, Virginia, to wandering the barren white halls of A. T. Mahan Elementary School in Keflavik, Iceland, and finding my new facilitator, Mrs. Baldwin, staring indifferent daggers back my way as I sneaked into her class for the first time.

She arched her head back just so, resigned to pausing her lesson to make a perfunctory introduction.

“Class, we have a new student – Hunter Hansen,” Mrs. Baldwin stated, as if announcing an upcoming maths test.

I paused. Everyone glanced my way.  That was it. Nothing more.

New class, teacher, school, home, and country.

Still 3rd grade, still awkward Hunter.

But let’s back up a couple of grades, because I’d discovered a way to help cope and win friends.

So I thought.

I’d stumbled on something that brought out an empathetic response in others when I encountered an awkward or embarrassing situation. I’d sigh and say:

“I’m stupid.”

Without knowing the emotional mechanics behind it, I found it brought out kinder, gentler, sympathetic responses from my peers, like fellow penguins who’d huddle closer when they knew I was cold.

Let’s skate back to Iceland then, for my first day at my second third grade of the year.

I forget which incident brought it about, but I went quick to my tried-and-true.

I’m stupid,” said I.

To which young Daniel Merman pointed and clapped back:

“Yeah, YOU ARE!”

….

Needless to say, that was the last time I tried that.

It wasn’t the best approach.

Since then, I’ve not tried fishing.

Instead, I try for honesty, vulnerability, transparency, and hope for the best. 

It’s hard, because it is a hope.

It is not an impossible hope.

If you’re still with me, I’ll share one such moment.

In the midst of a conversation, I tucked in a small-but-honest phrase about “not having the heart” to discuss something, then kept going in my talk.

As if a crimson flag was raised atop a snowbank, I was paused and asked:

Don’t have the heart? What’s going on?”

It is a long, slow lesson, but I’ve learned it isn’t so much about seeking and prying, but letting yourself be your truest self and letting that elicit the truest, best selves from others.

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The Life Autistic: How I Survived School

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How did I manage through school?

Easy, I was homeschooled. Next question.

Ok, so there’s a little more to it than that.

Due to a variety of factors that included moving every 2.5 years, cost, flexibility, religious reasons, you name it — most of my schooling ended up being done from the comfort and constraints of my own home.

My parents hadn’t quite cracked the code on my autism yet, but they did find that I took to the setup of this ACE curriculum, something that suited my independence and autodidactic attributes all too well.

“You mean I can just rip through all of this at my own pace? I don’t have to slow down for anyone? SOLD!”

Oh, Hunter, if only you knew.

It explains a lot of where I mined out advantages and ran into disadvantages in The Life Autistic.

Sure, it freed me to flex my skills in almost unimpeded (even if narrow) learning.

But I had to navigate social skills elsewhere.

Would I recommend the experience for others on the spectrum?

It’s hard for me to say.

It would have been nice having friends, even if it meant maybe making enemies.

It’d have been good to learn how to adjust and adapt to others sooner, rather than later.

Perhaps I’d have hated the regular school experience more, but I’d have hit the obstacles then and not later. I might have had a shot at passing as “normal.”

But I didn’t.

I remember the day I finished my last test. I was 16.

That afternoon, I told my boss: “Hey, so I’m like, done with school? Can you flex me up to 40 hours now?”

I was a free man and ready for life.

So I thought.

 

The Life Autistic: Say No More

IMG_5762.JPGYou’ve been quiet today, H2.

Yeah, I know.

It happens.

Even to the most adapted, “high-functioning,” disciplined folks in The Life Autistic.

Sometimes we just stop talking. 

There’s a condition that some autistic folks either have or express: selective mutism, which is more or less a way of clamming up, shutting up, and shutting down.

I honestly can’t speak for those with selective mutism; the only experience I can speak to is mine own.

There are days when I’m embarrassed about how much I talk.

There are times when I feel I’m the only one speaking in turn, turning a conversation into a monologue.

There are instances where I say something I shouldn’t and feel the sting of embarrassment flooding my face.

There are topics in which no one responds.

Those things mute me.

Like a locking vice on my jaw, I feel myself close down and shrink in those moments.

And I say nothing or less than nothing.

Not that the words aren’t there.

Not that I don’t want to contribute again.

The Life Autistic has with it an odd voice, sometimes blistering, boisterous, effusive, monotone, polyphonic.

But when shuttered, it is withdrawn.

It doesn’t last forever.

And in fact, sometimes it brings out the voices of others.

You’ve been quiet today, H2.

Is…everything OK?

That is the start to making things OK.

The Life Autistic: Our Kind of Christmas

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I’m taking a break for the holidays.

To my usual readers – catch you later!

—-

To those of you out there on the spectrum with me:

I feel the irksome woes of routines being all askew this season.

I don’t like that much either.

Christmas and the holiday season should be fun, but I get it, it’s just different. The shake-ups can shake you up.

They’ll be doing the same to me.

Hang in there.

Cheers,

H2

The Life Autistic: Why We’re Never All That Excited about Anything

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My wife, a wonderful human, has come to me quite often before, expressing her jubilation over legitimately awesome things: artwork, design, experiences, even things that happen to me — you name it.

She’ll then turn and ask:

“Aren’t you excited?”

I nod.

I grin, even.

I do try to sell it.

“…yeah….no?”


She hasn’t yet stormed off after asking what’s wrong, or how any normal human could fail to be excited or enthusiastic about things.

But we know.

I’m not a normal human.

I don’t get all that excited about stuff.

While depression is a serious challenge that many of us autistics face in some shape or another, that’s not always the root of our excited-less-ness.

Emotions are tough for us to understand, to process, assimilate, and synthesize. Not that we lack them, but they wax and wane in different ways, and not always for what we should get excited over.

But it’s OK.

We get that you’re excited, and we’re happy for you.

We’re just not always on the same bandwidth. We get excited about different stuff.

My wife chided me for being more giddy over the BattleBots final than I was for when I was promoted at work, or something truly important.

We’d help if if we could.

So am I excited, ever?

Rarely.

But I’m OK.