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:

Lessons in Autism from an Austrian Strongman Legend

Would you just LOOK at the SIZE of the biceps on that dude?

https://youtu.be/zW4y0WzSWiIUnless you also share the same kind of era-specific special interest of strongman, you probably don’t know of the behemoth on the left. That’s Manfred Hoeberl, an Austrian Strongman competitor in the mid-90s, known for his 26-inch biceps. Bandana-clad and big-armed, he cut a characteristic figure among his strongmen peers, making him an eminently watchable competitor.

Of course, being in Iceland, I rooted for Magnus Ver Magnusson, as one does. But Manfred had the strongman LOOK.

And then there’s me on the right. I can barely fit my hair into a bandana, and I’m not as well-known for my biceps.

Through absolute happenstance, I caught an episode of one of my personal favorite YouTubers: Big Loz Official – an English strongman whose commentary, insights, and content just ticks all of my special interest boxes. He finally landed an interview with Manfred, one whom I’d been wanting to hear from for a while.

What does this have to do with autism, HUNTER?

Among the many anecdotes he shares, Manfred recalled being a half-point ahead of Magnus Ver in the 1994 World’s Strongest Man competition heading into the final event. And not only was he leading prior to the event, he led during the event (Atlas Stones).

Until he made a fatal mistake.

Well, not literally fatal.

He looked over.

To see how Magnus Ver was faring. Breaking focus. Checking out the competition. Side eyeing for a split second.

Magnus took the event and the title, winning the event only just, and the competition by a single point. It was the closest Manfred came to a title.

I’m paraphrasing, but Manfred remarked that THAT was the decisive moment. Where his claim to glory was snatched away a glance askance.

I’m guilty of that too.

Where I compare my experience to peers. To other creators. Even to other autistic professionals. To those lifting their own Altas Stones, where I should be focused on my own.

That’s never a winning move.

My Atlas Stones are mine own. I’m my own competition, not others.

My autistic experiences, joys, successes, failures are not a competitive event.

It’s hard not to fall into this trap, for my autistic brain and soul to seek additional inputs, vectors, data to frame whether or not I’m “doing well” or “doing good.” For all my innate hyperfocus, I am equally strong in zeroing in, but also perilous when I zero out and break the turbolaser beam of me and my own word.

Manfred’s advice: “You do you.”

True words there.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see if I can apply some similar wisdom to my biceps.

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.

Speaking of YouTube strongmen and creatives, well, only one of those applies to me, but I hope you’ll check out my channel and subscribe nonetheless. Thanks so much.

New Normal? In Autism, it’s something different.

My hair is back to normal. As you can tell.

Which begs the question: that’s normal? I guess so. These days, my hair is normally longer than it is short.

If I were to walk around town, it’s pretty normal. At work, it’s not necessarily abnormal. At church, yeah, it ain’t normal. Even in the autism community, y’know, it might be abnormal by comparison — I grew this awesome redness and haven’t given myself a ‘normal highlight color’ like most of us else in the neurodivergent community.

What is normal?

I had an abnormal week. I worked only two days, non-consecutive. I spent Monday mostly outdoors. The other days I spent being a stay-at-home-dad, working every trick in the book to get my daughters to nap at the same time, for hours on end — which they did. Yay me. Go Dad.

Was that normal?

I tend to talk more than others do when others don’t and talk less when others expect me to. I’ll answer some emails in as few words as possible, while waxing labyrinthine and poetic in others. I’ll begin meetings with wild stories and pack a rabbit warren of tangents into what becomes my trail. At times I feel like I’m the only one who gets it. It’s not a matter of smart/dumb — it’s just different, and I feel my lens to be clearer.

Is that normal?

I’m finding more and more people who share the same ‘abnormalities’ I do. The obsessive lateral interests. The hyperfixations. The same categorical social miscues. The similar toolboxes of coping with people and environments and life. The penchant for prolixity. The aversions to contact: eyes, handshakes, proximity.

Aren’t those normal?

Autism is my normal.

It’s normal for me to overexplain, to conjure obtuse analogies, to confuse literalities, to cringe at a lack of specificities, to walk in unpredictable gaits as my mind cycles through ideas, to rehearse conversational possibilities before they happen, to analyze details that you’re uncomfortable with me knowing but you’re just not mindful enough to obscure, so of course I’m going to ask about that reminder to give Richard a heartworm pill and comment on how unexpected it is to either have a dog by the name Richard or a person named Richard who requires a heartworm pill.

It’s normal for me to forget things in front of my face, to ignore things beyond the periphery of my routine, to seize up and shudder at a full sink, to spend hours emptying my dishwasher, to want to help so bad that I become an annoyance, to earnestly come back with details about episodes and events that impact you, to reach the apex of achievement and wallow in pity within a day, to cry at random and have nothing to explain the rare and strange event.

This is normal.

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.

As for what really sparks joy, join the many others who’ve followed my exploits on my channel. But watch out: I don’t have “casual fans.” If you dig it, YOU DIG IT. This episode is a GREAT affirmation of the autistic experience. Hope you enjoy.