Pretending to Forget (and other autism masking tricks you don’t know)

“And you said you just got a new dog — I forget which breed. How’s she doing?”

No, I remembered.

It was a Blue Heeler. I remembered laughing inside, thinking it was ‘Blue Healer.’ And I also remembered, because I’ve seen them before. Their color isn’t actually blue. It’s like a blue French Bulldog. Or the color ‘merle.’ It’s a pattern. And I remember them (Blue Heelers) as Australian Cattle Dogs. I often think of them as Australian Blue Heelers. On this one, I wasn’t sure whether the full name was used. But people seem to just go with the shorter version.

Point being: I remember.

But see, that could scare people. It often does. People mention these throwaway details, the appurtenances of the story, like they’re the barely noticeable accessories of the narrative. The “big thing” I’m supposed to remember.

And that’s the expectation: when we go through the small-talk dance, I am expected to go through the motions. To remember “new puppy.” No – she was adopted. So, “new to them.” It was important enough to mention, but not critical that I remember.

But I do.

Pretending that I don’t is just autistic masking.

It’s almost like an anti-mask. Either which way, there’s very little room to wear it right.

If you remember too many details, you’re a creep. Too few, you’re a dummy. Too precise, you’re a robot. Too imprecise, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

The Life Autistic is an exercise in finding when to pull back or pull over this mask. And that is a tiring endeavor.

I’m working my way out of that.

The other day, I asked a stakeholder how their newer cat (a Hemingway, which I knew, but didn’t mention) was getting on with Louie (whose name I did mention). Those are specific details. It’s specific enough to be off-putting to most, especially since those two cats don’t come up in every conversation.

But I remembered. And I’m going without that mask more often.

Here’s some of the masks you’ll likely never notice — except now you will.

Feigned imprecision. People ask me about numbers. I’ve learned to be more “round.” It’s 25%, even if in my mind I know it’s actually 24.73% and am thinking that in my head. It comes out as 25%.

Limited depth of interest. You ask about my current favorite artists: I’ll stop at three. If I’m feeling my more autistic self, then I’ll check my list and give a dozen. That’s too many. Then it sounds like I’m just showing off. I’m not. I just listen to a lot of music.

Simplifying. I’ll try to use simpler words. I don’t always say strident or vituperative. Bitter is fine. And, y’know what, no — strident is a good one. I’mma use that.

Unmasking is an ongoing thing for me, for other autistic people. It’s been such a long exercise that it almost feels part of me — too much so. I’ve used the phrase “drill in” and almost forgot that I’d reflexively say “inculcate” instead. My ambient music lists would often once run deeper when compelled; now I’ll usually just say “Steve Roach, and, well, stuff like that.”

This is a process.

The dog’s name was Velvet.

To learn more about autism from an autistic person’s perspective, follow & subscribe to The Life Autistic here and on YouTube — and follow the more whimsical, spontaneous, and amusing content on Instagram as well.

If you want to know more about masking, you’ll enjoy this:

Boring is a Great Privilege

If I were a drink, I’d be tap water served eerie still, unshaken and not stirred. As a cereal, I could ‘outbran’ bran. And as ice cream, I’m the kind you get when “Plain Vanilla” just seems a little too adventurous.

I’m a boring guy.

I eat dinner earlier at a time where even senior citizens would make fun of me. I prefer muted colors. The hardest thing I’ve had to drink was Mike’s Hard Water® from my shower. I haven’t had a birthday party since age 8. The last time I went out after dark was to check the mail.

I’m boring autistic.

So not only am I boring, I’m an autistic boring. Even among autistic advocates: I’m not “hip,” I don’t have cool multicolored hair, and I still think “vibe” is a noun and not a verb.

I’m old, I’m a homeowner, I’m a dad, and I have a job and career I’ve held for over a decade. And I’m autistic. That doesn’t really connect with a lot of the autistic audience who is younger, still finding their way around themselves, their lives, their present and future. Of course you “vibe” with someone more like you, only cooler. Not “less like you” and “way uncooler.”

But that’s not every autistic audience. That’s not every autistic advocate and ally.

Some groups, companies, organizations: they’re boring too. They’ll nod inside when you bring up autism advocacy, but they’ll recoil as soon as they see a visible face piercing. They’ll say they embrace and support autistic initiatives, but whoo boy hold on, not if it means, you know, “having weird colored hair.”

It’s not bad to be boring. It can be bad to want boring.

Boring is my privilege.

For all the uphill traction that genuine, authentic, “weird,” hip, and otherwise non-boring autistic advocates would face in the boring bastions — I don’t face that. I love that many passionate autism allies are authentically themselves, acerbic, and colorful, and dedicated their voices to bettering neurodivergent lives.

It’s a shame that many more boring places and spaces aren’t ready to embrace you.

But they embrace me. They see my straight laces, my straight edges. They think, “Well, he looks like a put together young man with a well-tended rolodex. THIS is the kind of autistic advocacy we can tolerate.”

Boring privilege is my weapon.

Because guess what they hear as soon as they make the mistake of letting me in the lobby? Of thinking that my plainer-than-vanilla, more-boring-than-bran veneer would somehow let them off the hook? Of assuming that I’ll have “more institutionally friendly” autism guidance fit for people who wear collared shirts?

EVERYTHING YOU WONDERFUL, WILD, ANTI-MILD AUTISM ADVOCATES AND ALLIES WOULD TELL THEM.

To learn more about autism from an autistic person’s perspective, follow & subscribe to The Life Autistic here and on YouTube — or follow the more whimsical, spontaneous, and amusing content on Instagram.

Oh, latest episode! Enjoy.

A Strong Back: Lessons in Autistic Resilience

I guess this is what passes for self-care.

When I need to “be in the thick of it,” but also catch a break, I’ll find some space and lie down in the prone position and rest. And then comes my scamp tot Zo, who insists I “stay right there.” I brace myself.

She then begins to walk up my calves (which, ouch), then tiptoes delicately from my lower back, spine, with her stout little feet planting square betwtixt my shoulders. She stops, pauses, kneels. I wince. She then springs into a jump from atop my shoulders clear over my head.

Whew. Glad that’s ov—

“Again, again!” she pleads. And on I lie for another calf-back-shoulder-jump walk. I like to think it’s some sort of walking massage, but with a tiny person who occasionally jumps on your head when it’s done.

After a spell of injuring my lower back and being laid up multiple times, I’ve since built back my back, forging weakness into strength, soft dough into cast iron. As a kinda-tall dude and a dad of three, I’ve had to shape up and ensure I can withstand backbreaking activities. Like whatever this thing is that Zo does.

I’ve had to build a stronger ‘back’ in my autistic experience as well.

Thanksgiving week is always tough, but this round taxed both my literal back (with perpetual kid-handling, toting, baby-propping, etc) and my figurative back.

What do I mean by that?

Autistic resilience is withstanding things. With some major back-to-back episodes in my home life, I ended up doing a lot less but bearing more: late-breaking changes to plan, unexpected purchases, a wild Thanksgiving day, and then some. I only wished to be called to action to focus and fix things, but instead, I had to endure a lot of uncontrollable variables with a smile. In autism, active calamity feels more purposeful; passive calamity is painful.

Autistic resilience is isometric. If you’re into fitness, words, or both: you know what I’m talking about. In both exercise and autism, I prefer plyometrics: where I can jump or otherwise create momentum. But isometric workouts, like wall sits, planks, or (my grudging new favorite) hollow body holds, require a painful amount of positional endurance. It looks easy, but it isn’t. This has a distinct autistic parallel, to where things like “sitting and small talking without being able to escape” are the psychological equivalents of a 2 minute wall sit. Ouch.

Autistic resilience is a hidden strength. When it comes to “prominent muscle” – one’s back isn’t the first thing to pop out of a shirt or in one’s physique. It’s not something you can often show off ahead of time. The metal is there, but you only see it in the effort spent. I feel that way a lot, where going through events and holidays with a smile, shreds of congeniality, and maybe a pinch of small talk — that can be extraordinarily taxing. It may not look like I have the “guns” for such, but I’ve had to work up the back for it — it’s there when it counts.

Maybe someday I’ll write about the autistic equivalent of deadlifting! To learn more about autism from an autistic person’s perspective, follow & subscribe to The Life Autistic here and on YouTube — or follow the more whimsical, spontaneous, and amusing content on Twitter / Instagram.

Oh, if you’re still here, would you consider subscribing to my YouTube channel? I write because it’s my one talent, but apparently The Life Autistic videos are pretty entertaining as well, and I think you’ll enjoy them. Thanks so much!