Managing Meltdowns: When Autistic Strengths meet Autistic Weaknesses

Screen Shot 2020-09-02 at 9.50.57 AM.png

“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!

The Life Autistic: “That Was Fun!”

5596_ColdStone_HeroImage-small.jpg

I don’t know what it is with my oldest daughter, but she finds new ways to amaze me.

We’re all at Cold Stone, about to leave, when she asks:

Can I go up and ask for a lid?”

I double-taked for a second, since, 1) she’s 3, and 2) she’s willingly volunteering to go talk to strangers.

That’s so foreign to me on The Life Autistic – wanting to talk to people.

It’s not that we hate it; it’s not that we can’t; but that’s definitely outside the scope of our wants — and if we can avoid it, we do.

There’s only so much in the tank that we can spare on a given day.

But oh, not my Mo, who’s somehow becoming an extrovert who gets energy from others.

She goes up and politely asks the workers for a “like it-sized lid,” and after they’re accordingly smitten, they oblige and hand one to her.

Mo runs back.

“That was fun!”

Fun, I thought.

I don’t know what it is with this kid. Maybe she’s not the normal one.

But she gives me hope, a jolt, and a new way of viewing interactions. They may not always feel fun to me, yet someone sees the fun in it. Perhaps my eyes can yet stretch to see it someday.

 

 

The Life Autistic: Why We’re Never All That Excited about Anything

Unbirthday.jpeg

My wife, a wonderful human, has come to me quite often before, expressing her jubilation over legitimately awesome things: artwork, design, experiences, even things that happen to me — you name it.

She’ll then turn and ask:

“Aren’t you excited?”

I nod.

I grin, even.

I do try to sell it.

“…yeah….no?”


She hasn’t yet stormed off after asking what’s wrong, or how any normal human could fail to be excited or enthusiastic about things.

But we know.

I’m not a normal human.

I don’t get all that excited about stuff.

While depression is a serious challenge that many of us autistics face in some shape or another, that’s not always the root of our excited-less-ness.

Emotions are tough for us to understand, to process, assimilate, and synthesize. Not that we lack them, but they wax and wane in different ways, and not always for what we should get excited over.

But it’s OK.

We get that you’re excited, and we’re happy for you.

We’re just not always on the same bandwidth. We get excited about different stuff.

My wife chided me for being more giddy over the BattleBots final than I was for when I was promoted at work, or something truly important.

We’d help if if we could.

So am I excited, ever?

Rarely.

But I’m OK.