A Weightlifter’s Guide to Autism

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As you all can tell, I’m training to be Arvada’s Strongest Man.*

This picture was taken right before I hoisted this 250kg boulder clear above my head in a clean overhead press.**

Ok, *not really, and **not hardly.

But with my typical workout routine altered during leave, I ended up rekindling a latent enthusiasm (early 90’s World’s Strongest Man competitions, back when I lived in the same country as Magnús Ver Magnússon) and took up deadlifting the rocks in my yard. I mean, if you’re out watching kiddos, what better way to risk splintering your back build strength and stay fit?

I had to adjust, practice, and study weightlifting a bit, since it wasn’t my typical kettlebell/HIIT slaughter. A couple things stood out.

  1. Rocks can be heavy, and they can hurt
  2. Weightlifting tips apply to the autistic experience

Here’s how.

Lifting heavy, not hard. Weightlifting and powerlifting focus on the heavy and the increasingly heavy — not just high-frequency, high-reps. Heavy builds strength. Going hard, not so much. It’s the same with autism, where some of the heavy items aren’t things we can’t do a lot.

I’ll never be able to manage certain large audiences, environments, tasks, even certain people — but over time, I build strength and I don’t wear out. And that’s so I don’t wear out and buckle and start detesting and withdrawing. We can’t just go hard and full bore on situations and with people who drive deep discomfort and anxieties in us, whichever they are. Enduring strength comes from a paced approach.

Low repetitions, greater gains. You build more strength from lifting heavy over fewer repetitions than lifting lighter over many reps. (Are there some cases where the obverse is true? Yep, and give me until the next post, k?) And similarly in my life autistic, I need to pack on the strength (mental, emotional, even physical) to get through the recurrence of some events.

For my neurotypical audience, this can be hard. We might not be able to manage “visit X” or “event Y” as frequently as you do. And that lack of frequency might make you think we don’t ever want to go through XYZ at all.

That’s not entirely it.

Just let us treat it like weightlifting. We can’t overtrain. We’re often trying to build strength. And it isn’t always about trying it light and often. Sometimes it can’t be light. And if it’s heavy, let us do the heavy lifting the right way.

The Beautiful Changes

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Of the stanzas of poetry I have read, forgotten, and re-remembered, there are few.

This one, from Richard Wilbur’s most notable verse, stands out today:

the beautiful changes / In such kind ways
I often cringe at change, as is the predilection of autism and my experience. It is far more brace than embrace.
But many things have changed since I last wrote. The time away put distance to my eyes—and despite my physical nearsightedness, I’m a farsighted soul, and the steps away sharped and focused things both outward and inward.
Here are three changes that came into view.
Fatherhood is a changing endeavor. Now with three kiddos, I at last embraced that I’m less in control of the routines. It is OK. Where I more often found comfort in control of the minutia, I had to reframe my autistic experience to find peace in the larger parts of the map.

“Sleep? This might not happen at this time, but it will happen at night.”

“Breakfast? Ugh, it’s late, but at least it’s happening.”

Even the good things are stressful. Can I confess a thing? I stopped all my blog work for the last four weeks and it vaporized my stress and magnified my peace of mind. 
How?
I enjoy creation, but the stress of delivering for and on a time was more impactful on my autistic psyche than I thought. In a way, this very blog is its own stressor.
Obligations are taxing, and I’m in a higher tax bracket than I thought. But now I know.
My autistic experience is comparatively easy. Since the murder of George Floyd, I’ve had a bit of a reckoning, a sobering one:
“What about the black autistic experience?” 
My perception changed for the better, where I realized more clearly that I still benefit from some privilege being a generic white dude, despite being patently autistic.
I don’t want to leave that change as is, and I’m more earnestly exploring ways to be a better ally, and a better one for people of color, especially on the neurodiverse spectrum. While I might suffer a bit from a bias that kicks in once people interact with me, I can’t imagine it kicking in as soon as people see or hear me.
And that needs to change.
The Life Autistic will change, too. It already has. There are plenty of topics yet to explore. Challenges to confront. Causes to support. Cadences to adjust.
But from here, perhaps it’s time to brace less and embrace more these beautiful changes, in such kind ways.