Managing Change and Autism: When There’s No ‘Back to Normal’

I returned to work after a four-week baby leave, thinking I’d re-adjust to my gig and get back to normal.

That didn’t happen.

“This is why I don’t take time off work, ever, for any reason, for any length of time,” I joked.

For obvious national security reasons, I’m going light on details, but I returned to a flurry of changes whirlwinding me under a new team, new manager, a new direction on my role (possibly), and maybe a new role altogether.

You know how much I love change.

As an autistic professional—an autistic person—this was a bit to process.

When change happens to you, it’s tough enough for neurotypical people. With autism, those effects amplify. They blast the hyperintrospective signals from sound to screech. They’re pitched at you like a taut fastball of steely twine that you at once try to untangle all while trying to recover from the shock.

It made for a week.

Routine and repetition are autistic foundations. We can operate through a lot of intraday and day-to-day stress. Having the same job, customers, tasks, people, and environment — that helps. I know where to go when things go sideways. I (usually) know what I’m doing as my day job, whether it’s tough sledding or downhill skiing.

But what about when that all changes on you?

It’s not easy, but here are some things that made it easier.

Advanced notice. I found out ahead of time, with ample time. That helped drain out a lot of the anxiety and unknowns with space to spare.

Sequencing. This was a complex move, and I didn’t find out everything all at once. While it was a lot to work through at each step, the bite-sized chunks were manageable.

Explaining the ‘why.’ I felt like this happened against me at first, but it helped to learn the logic and the why behind the change. Everyone was open, and it helped fill in the unknowns without me spinning off the track.

Talking out all the angles. This was the catharsis. I had to go beyond trite things like “look on the bright side.” That doesn’t help. What does help is looking on both the bright and the dark sides, to balance that holistic landscape, to acknowledge both the positives and negatives, and then to navigate the new landscape with a good understanding of all the landmarks.

Believe it or not, this kind of thing has happened before. I didn’t handle it well then.

I do better now.

I’m interested to hear if you’ve had to handle similar: whether you’ve had to make the change, or whether the change made you.

As always, thanks for stopping by! This was an interesting reflection for me to share, so I hope it was worth the few minutes of your time. 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!

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!

“Greasing the Groove” for Autistic Strength

My family holds a pull-up contest every Christmas Day. I’ve never won.  Last year, I only cranked out four and embarrassed myself. The most pull-ups anyone has done to win was ten.

This year, I’ll be doubling that and embarrassing everyone else instead.

If there’s a “one easy trick” gimmick, it’s this:

If you want to get better at something, do it more.

Yes, I know, I literally said sort of the opposite.

Before you read any further and get this confused for some flabby rando’s barely-passable exercise blog — remember, we’re talking The Life Autistic. I’m trying to figure this all out and do my best, and part of that is figuring other things out.

Like ‘greasing the groove.’

If you want the explanations, read Pavel Tsatsouline’s hilarious primer or this Art of Manliness adaptation.

Either way, I realized I’d been doing this since before I learned about doing this.

There’s a way to grease the groove and build strength in your autistic experience.

These days, I can handle public speaking. All day training sessions. Long trips to the grocery store. Leading and hosting meetings back to back. Making phone calls.

I don’t possess the innate autistic strength to manage those. It came over time. It took a little bravery. Some of it was doable. Some of it I’m still daunted by — especially when it comes to visiting people, having guests, or even doing meals (which I enjoy) with people I don’t know.

But sometimes you can grease that groove. Starting slow. Jumping on video. Saying hello. Trying to hold a two sentence conversation with a stranger. Practicing a fun introduction to yourself.

Some of the hard things in the Life Autistic just remain hard; they’re heavy, and I only attack them every so often to better handle them.

Other things need more frequency, and while they’re not always easy, they’re not the heaviest things — there’s a groove I feel I can build here. Maybe you can, maybe you can’t — whatever, be you!

If anything, I know what I’m going to be: The 2020 Hansen Family Christmas Pull-Up Contest Winner.