Managing Meltdowns: When Autistic Strengths meet Autistic Weaknesses

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“Hunter, this isn’t working.”

Yeah, I’m having the same issue.”

Same here.”

Uh oh.

This may surprise you, but I get tapped for presentations pretty regularly. I’ve gotten good at it over time, and—bizarrely—get great feedback on my presence, style, and humor for hosting over video conferences. I guess if you do something often enough, you skill up to survive.

After doing this one presentation nearly a dozen times, it’s finally gotten “natural.” This is a great feeling for us autistic people: it’s predictable, successful, engaging, and elemental.

Me being me, I plan and plan again — what could go wrong? what can go right? what if A, B, C, X, Y, Z happens? But planning is exhausting: I can’t draw a new map for each scenario, just a “general direction.”

This last Monday, this latest presentation had been going smoothly.

Had.

Until my audience came to my resource and . . . it was broken.

Yikes.

The participant chats rolled in.

My brain scrambled.

Some said they thought it worked.

Others couldn’t get it working.

I have a backup for this, I thought. But not for when it’s half working. What do we do here? How much time do I have? What about the last activity?

My inner monologue ran straight off the monorail and into meltdown territory. Mind you all, I’m on camera — LIVE — this entire time.

But, mirabile dictu, I managed to un-meltdown — how?

Masking for so long to “unfortunate expert” levels. My only public face is the ‘game face’ — so even at my worst, I’ve gotten so used to ‘telegraphing’ emotions by intent. Of course I felt rattled, but I’ve spent hours being rattled and looking placid or being something and looking like something else.

Practice “pre-framing” the Plan B as the Plan A. Things fall apart, and it’s hard to cope. I’ve a few posts I want to do about this, but mentally, I’ve had to practice these “backup plan” scenarios. The key challenge is thinking about that as “the plan all along” and convincing myself that this was the design.

Rent space ahead. I couldn’t dissolve my anxiety internally, but I managed to “act” my way through it — knowing that I’d be able to exhale and process this within a few minutes. I rented that time in advance to will myself along until I could bail off camera and bleed the tension out.

At the debrief, I had my joke ready:

“I’m glad I’ve grown out my hair, because I have plenty left to spare after pulling it out after my session!”

They said I recovered extremely well and that I’m “such a natural” presenter.

And that’s The Life Autistic in a nutshell: natural, unnaturally. 

Not all of the stories are successes. But I’m glad this one was. 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. Thanks!

Autistic People Talk to Themselves, So What? – The Real Talk on Self-Talk

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Judging by the latest two posts, you’d be right to assume I’ve been on a 80’s British synth-pop/new wave kick. But no, that’s not it.

While changing a diaper (which, that’s my life now), my daughter Mo asked me what I was doing.

“I’m changing a diaper.”

“No,” she said. “You’re saying something.”

“Oh. Yeah. I’m talking. To myself.” 

I wasn’t aware I was doing that until she said something.

Why?”

This is a good question.

People talk to themselves. Autistic people talk to themselves.

Like, actually talking aloud. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.

There’s a difference in intentionally talking to yourself and doing it subconsciously. The former is something you probably do, and you know it, and it’s completely voluntary.

But what about when you don’t know you’re doing it? When your 4 year old has to bring it up and interrupt yourself from yourself?

Welcome to The Life Autistic.

I’ll tell you what we’re up to.

Rehearsal. This is probably the #1 reason why I talk to myself and when I’m least aware of it. It’s a certain stimming, coping, preparatory mechanism that kicks in when I’m thinking of conversations I need to have with people, whether real, upcoming, or imagined. It can be hard for us to have “live conversations in the moment,” so it’s our way of laying pipe, roadways, and getting some sort of neural groundwork for when it has to happen.

Reinforcing a sequence. It’ll usually start with “So what I need to do is . . . ” It’s usually when I’m stressed, and when I know I have some crucial things that I need to resolve, do, get right, and comment on. It’s a bit of an inner monologue that needs to be spoken, and thus heard, and if I remember hearing it, I’ll process it like someone is telling me what to do. It’s nice following my own orders.

Losing my memory. My steel trap memory has rusted, so I have to work up some kind of mantra to remember things that I know I’ll forget by the time I’m going downstairs or elsewhere. So if I mutter “Cinnamon Toast Crunch” over and over, it’s not as if I’ve some sugary cereal fixation — it’s that I’m in trouble if I forget to get it for Mrs. H2 on the way up. 🙂

Odd glossolalia. Sometimes I’m stimming on “Planet Hunter” and apparently I’ve narrated or otherwise interjected things aloud that’d only make sense to me and whatever I’m deep in thought and pacing about.

There are other self-talk topics, like positive motivation (which I can’t bring myself to do) and negative self-scourging (which I don’t do out loud). Others like me will do more self-arguing and conversing in dialogue, and I do more of that on the inside.

But as they say, know thyself – and in this case, I know my self talk.

Thanks for reading my talk about my self talk, as if I don’t talk about myself enough! That said, if you still 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.