The Life Autistic: Say This One Thing to STOP THE PANIC

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If you’d like to know how we autistic people think, first, let’s explain what we think.

For me, at the beginning of each day, deep in my subconscious, on a normal day, I’m thinking:

Here is how my day is going to go.

The meetings, the tasks, when the kids wake up, what I’ll have for breakfast/lunch.

I take comfort knowing that this is how my day will go.

Welcome to The Life Autistic, where our comfort is in predictability.

But our discomfort? Well…

Since I take some extreme solace in my day’s order, anything that could jeopardize that order really freaks me out. It just does.

I wish it weren’t the case, but even innocent questions like “When are you off?” or “What all do you have going on today?” or “How long do you think you’ll be in this meeting?” just send these tremors through me.

Like I fear my order will be wrecked, and the nice, cozy routine is about to be altered, shaking my foundation.

SO.

If you want to STOP THE PANIC.

It’s easy.

Start with WHY.

Just start with why!

My family has known me for a while, so they’ve gotten accustomed to it.

“Hey Hunter, since we may be having an uninvited guest show up this afternoon, were you planning on heading to The Cheese Shop this afternoon?”

“Hey Hunter, since Mo’s not feeling too well, what time will you be off today?”

“Hey, something came up over at Dad’s and I might need help – how many more meetings do you have left today?”

Folks, this helps us so much.

And frankly, it helps EVERYONE.

Start with why, stop the panic.

The Life Autistic: Is This What it is to Be Human?

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I was once a colder man who cared far less.

Yet since I’ve thawed, I am still bewildered.

Now I’m less a robot than before. Whether by design, intent, or happy accident, I’m not quite sure; I now find things provoking responses in me that are more human.

To a normal life, it’s “being a person.”

But on The Life Autistic, it is discovery.

For example, I was on a conference call that went so far south, it crossed the equator and beyond the tropic of Capricorn.

One of my customers was put in an extremely difficult spot. The exchange was testy, awkward, and alarming. The palpable tension strung taut among the audience until it finally unspooled, detangling in a nervous mess.

Where the Hunter of years ago would have considered it bad, this time, it evoked a different feeling.

I felt bad.

Not just about the situation, but for the person.

Is this what empathy is? It was as if their discomfort and hurried resolve to save face echoed within me. I went from observation to seeking their consolation.

Mind you, I’m just support personnel. The Business Analyst. The data cruncher. The numbers guy.

I am the robot by role, by design.

But I care now.

The next day, I took a deep breath. My gut said “write a note, be encouraging, use your words and not just your data for support.”

It might have penned one hundred words tops, but it took me almost half an hour: 10 minutes to write, 20 minutes being all anxious about sending it.

And off it went.

It may sound trite, but for me and people like me – this is novel.

It gives me hope.

As the great sages of our age, Daft Punk, reminded me: maybe I am indeed human after all.

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: We Need Exit Strategies

Glass_exit_sign.jpgI completely lost the plot this past Monday.

After just one too many days in a different house, with 10x the amount of people I’m normally around, doing only 5% of what I’m good at, and feeling the walls figuratively closing in, I snapped.

It took me a while to cool off and reflect on where I’d tailspun out of control, devolved into an incorrigible mess, and both shut down and shot back at every living thing around me.

And here I thought I’d become more enlightened this past year, in command of reason, existing in an astral plane above the fray.

But no.

You can’t enlighten your way out of autism.

My attitude is my own, and so are my reactions.

I should have better owned how to handle and navigate around them.

We need exit strategies. 

There are some situations, setups, surroundings where we just can’t simmer down. Too many people. Not enough rooms. Too loud. Too quiet. Too boring. Too busy.

If I’m not doing something I feel has purpose or progress, I get cagey, irritable, and eventually explosive.

If I can’t sneak away and take some quiet time relatively alone to reset, I shake out into a rage.

It’s as if the small pressures build into an overload, a meltdown.

Yes, a meltdown, even as a grown adult.

****

The Life Autistic sucks sometimes.

I’m embarrassed by not growing out of it, not yet unlocking a level of conquering that makes me feel like I can be above every fray.

And while I’ve worked hard to adapt, some situations shred away the armor, tear off the mask, and goad my core in spiteful reminder that, yes, I’m still much the same Hunter within.

But that is the life indeed.

While I discover the ways through, the ways forward, I’ve always got to keep read the way out. 

Sometimes that’s the only way back in.

The Life Autistic: Why We Don’t Do ‘Resolutions’

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It’s New Year’s Eve, and if you haven’t started your parties yet, you should do those and come back to this.

But if you’re here: we autistic folks are not ones for ‘cheap, tacky, trendy resolutions.’

“Gee, that’s odd,” you might think. “I thought you all loved routine!”

We do. At least I do.

Which is why we’re pretty much set in our ways, and resolving to do things differently is a carefully measured choice and long-term effort.

For us, resolution is not a “thing to do” to ring in the New Year.

I’ve carried out two major, life changing actions as an autist, and neither of them could wait until some popular, traditional point in time.

See, we like being unique.

Undergoing (and often failing) some annual ritual of life change is too mainstream, popular, and the wrong kind of normal. For me, I need more successes, and a New Year’s Resolution isn’t giving me good odds on one.

When I resolved to cut down from being a whale to a moderate walrus, I needed to make it personal, not popular – and I needed it on my terms.

By New Year’s, I had something better than a resolution.

I had a habit.

If you’re the type for resolutions, good on you. Maybe you’ve done well. If so, awesome.

But if not, take a page from the autistic playbook:

Snap. Change. Continue. Forget about when and just go with what. Be different, personal, private, but purposeful.

Happy New Year. 

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.

 

 

 

 

The Life Autistic: Why I Made the Mistake of Summer Camp Only Once

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Oh man, Hunter’s got a SUMMER CAMP story!

A poorly adjusted autistic teenager, packed in a bus with a church group who rarely talked to him, going to a camp more than three states away.

What could go wrong?


 

Folks, I hate to disappoint, but the camp story is boring.

It was uneventful.

I didn’t embarrass myself, didn’t fall off a zip line, never had someone stick a lobster down my swim trunks, didn’t sit on a vaseline-covered toilet seat, and didn’t melt down in an awkward, autistic mess.

Not yet.

After a week of camp, my family came to pick me up and drive me back home.

I was elated – nothing went terribly wrong, and I felt like I got along and went along with everything that went on, so I babbled on during the car ride back home.

As we drove, I noticed my folks taking a different way home.

“Mom’s got to handle something at work,” Dad said, as we drove onto the nearby Navy base.

So on we drove, keeping on in conversation, when I noticed something in the distance.

“Oh, look! That person has a New Beetle just like Mom’s—”

At that moment, they all (all six of them) shouted:

“WE MOVED!”

Yeah.

My family literally moved houses while I was gone for the week.

Moved.

Up and relocated without me knowing.


 

On the plus side, at least they came to get me.

I did have my own room there.

Did I have an awful, abject, autistic meltdown and weeping fit?

Yep.

And did I ever go back to summer camp?

NOPE.