The Life Autistic: Why I Made the Mistake of Summer Camp Only Once

290708_10150285452658563_2537368_o.jpg/reads title

Oh man, Hunter’s got a SUMMER CAMP story!

A poorly adjusted autistic teenager, packed in a bus with a church group who rarely talked to him, going to a camp more than three states away.

What could go wrong?


Folks, I hate to disappoint, but the camp story is boring.

It was uneventful.

I didn’t embarrass myself, didn’t fall off a zip line, never had someone stick a lobster down my swim trunks, didn’t sit on a vaseline-covered toilet seat, and didn’t melt down in an awkward, autistic mess.

Not yet.

After a week of camp, my family came to pick me up and drive me back home.

I was elated – nothing went terribly wrong, and I felt like I got along and went along with everything that went on, so I babbled on during the car ride back home.

As we drove, I noticed my folks taking a different way home.

“Mom’s got to handle something at work,” Dad said, as we drove onto the nearby Navy base.

So on we drove, keeping on in conversation, when I noticed something in the distance.

“Oh, look! That person has a New Beetle just like Mom’s—”

At that moment, they all (all six of them) shouted:



My family literally moved houses while I was gone for the week.


Up and relocated without me knowing.


On the plus side, at least they came to get me.

I did have my own room there.

Did I have an awful, abject, autistic meltdown and weeping fit?


And did I ever go back to summer camp?



The Life Autistic: Things You Need to Know About MELTDOWNS

atomic-bomb-2621291_960_720.jpgPictured: Me, after more than an hour of forced socializing in cramped quarters

Meltdowns are not tantrums.

Remember that phrase. Recollect this comparison. Recall the equation.

Meltdowns are not tantrums.

“Wait a minute, H2, I thought we were getting some quirky, offbeat story about you like usual, like how you broke down after your parents moved away while you were at summer camp?”

You’ll get that story.

But this is important. Your autistic kids need to be spared the ignominy of misunderstanding. Your autistic acquaintances want you to know the difference.

Tantrums are an explosive reaction, an output to an unfulfilled input. 

When I was younger, I remember finally getting the chance to go out for Indian food in Reykjavik, something I’d been looking forward to for years. That was the plan.

Until, due to whatever-the-heck-probably-something-stupid, it wasn’t. We ended up going for McDonald’s at the Kringlan, where I sulked, whined, and griped all the way through a meal that topped the Big Mac Index (no lie!)

I didn’t get what I wanted, and I pitched a fit. That’s a tantrum.

Meltdowns are either explosive or implosive, a response to overstimulation that defies consolation. 

For starters, I’m going to shout-out to all the parents who have kids who melt down.

These are hard. 

They’re stressful, embarrassing, and the stares you can feel from behind your back — I’ve only small words of comfort that I hope will apply:

This too shall pass.

But let me share what it passes on to.

After my promotion to “Big Boy Manager Job” at Apple, I joined the other organizational leaders in the group for a summit out in California. First time traveling. First time seeing so many of my extended peers at once. 

On the third night, we all went out bowling. It was a blast, we had fun, other people had drinks, and I pulled out all the stops to be just as social and cool as everyone else.

But after about an hour, I ran out of gas. Folded. Catatonic. Zombified. Shot. I just . . . couldn’t anything anymore. People are exhausting. Firing on all cylinders just to keep up with the malaise, cacophony, I could only maintain for so long. I don’t see how you neurotypicals do it, all told.

I melted down to a sedate, sullied, burnt husk of a man, utterly spent, like a robot who’d lost its charge.

As I sat in the chairs at the bowling alley, pitcher of water all to myself, sipping away aimlessly, a Senior Manager caught my thousand-yard stare and cocked her head.

“You OK?”

“Yeah yeah,” I nodded.

See, I’ve learned a bit about meltdowns. They’re far less violent now. The fuse is longer. The combustion is more of a slow burn, cratering in the chaos. Not a bang, but a whimper.

I’ve outgrown the explosions, but I’ll never escape the meltdowns.