When Every Road is Uphill | Autism and Resilience

I know that feeling.

I’ve been waiting to use this perfect picture of Zo for a long while now.

Though small, my middle daughter has BIG feelings. There are no in-betweens with her. To my knowledge, she’s a neurotypical toddler, so as an autistic dad, I overlap with her on a few things, but not everything.

This instance here: it reminded me of where I have to be more “dad” than “autistic dad.” Zo didn’t want to trike back uphill. She’s great at it, but she just quit before starting.

My first thought: “Zo, just pedal – let’s GO.”

My second thought: “Wait, let me get a photo.”

My third, best thought: “It’s OK, Zo. This is kinda tough. I understand.”

Isn’t it weird giving the kind of advice that you yourself struggle with?

The hills are always, and I mean — ALWAYS — 100% UPHILL in The Life Autistic. If it’s ever easy, it’s because there’s a dip in a hill that’s still going upward.

But as she sat, as I reflect on this image in time, and on what has been a brutal uphill and disappointing season within seasons at work and in even in this creative endeavor, some truths of the autism experience echo here.

It’s OK to process a disappointing road ahead. I get upset at the efforts spent, the effort I’ll have to spend, and the efforts wasted in trying to do my best and make it. Sometimes you just have to sit on the edge of the trike, work out the sadness, and see it to its end. Sometimes this is not forever.

It’s doable, but it’s hard. And THIS is what y’all need to get. Acknowledge the difficulty. Hard isn’t impossible. I’ve traversed miles of literal and figurative rock, muttering “this is hard” all the while. Keeping focus, enduring awkwardness, working to futility, pouring waters of life into gardens that don’t bear fruit right away — just. because. it’s. hard. doesn’t. mean. we. won’t. do. it.

An upset finisher beats a happy quitter. We can’t always be upbeat when we’re beat. When things affect our sense deeply. When we’re melting down and around along the way. The autism spectrum is an odd thing. But the more authentic we can feel along the way, with each footfall forward, the better off and away we’ll be. Maybe we’ll evince a hint of smile after the finish line.

Five minutes later, Zo charged back up that hill.

Autistic resilience isn’t about holding your head up or grinning through the pain. Despite depression and disappointment, we can still make a routine of “DO.”  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.

Speaking of resilience, I don’t know how I’m still managing not to quit at doing YouTube videos. Here’s my latest adventure back in time and school grades as an autistic student. Interesting times, those.

Where Empathy in Autism Runs Deepest

My daughter has become a bit of a budding photographer, taking a knack to staging, shooting, and recording on her little digital camera.

It’s an adorable and sweet thing to watch as she catches these candids and slices of life; with this being a non-smartphone camera, it’s more observational and less “selfie-focused” (guilty).

What gets me are the videos. She’ll narrate and create these “shaky-cam” montages that hone in on goings-on in the family, beginning with the phrase “Hi, this is me, Madeline.” Already audience-aware — and if you’re following The Life Autistic on YouTube, you’ll see what I’m talking about. 😊

But as with all things digital, she finally had “a moment.”

Inevitably, she discovered that she harnessed both the power create and destroy. After a few too many clicks and menus, she mistakenly deleted a video. It wrecked her poor little heart.

While Mrs. H2 and I assured her that she had the video backed up, Mo remained bereft of consolation.

“But it’s not on my camera anymore,” she cried. “It’s gone and I wanted to watch it on my camera.”

In the moment I was probably too autistically factual and dismissive. It’s on my computer, I thought. It’s not gone. But as I spied her curled up on the cozy chair, sobbing, my heart took a different turn.

Leaning into my “strong-but-gentle dad” mode, I picked her up, cradled all of her nearly 4-foot frame (she’s a tall five year old!), then sat back down with her.

We both cried.

I’m not often as responsively empathetic to where I can both acknowledge and feel things so intently. But I found where those converge strongest in me:

When the sadness is unique.

I’ve been sad before over deleting things. Losing things that I can’t recover. Where I won’t have them in the way I used to enjoy them. Where others looked at me and didn’t understand. Where it wasn’t “normal” to be so upset over something that small.

So in that moment, as my arms wrapped around her, her new sadness profound – I remembered my specific sadnesses of old as well. She didn’t notice the small tear or two, but we spent that 20-second moment in a specifically empathetic embrace.

We autistic folks might have our challenges with empathy. Except when it’s perhaps at its most challenging and maybe misunderstood – it then runs its very deepest.

I’ve learned that my heart responds to misunderstood sadnesses; I’m grateful to be a uniquely empathetic autistic personTo 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 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.