New Normal? In Autism, it’s something different.

My hair is back to normal. As you can tell.

Which begs the question: that’s normal? I guess so. These days, my hair is normally longer than it is short.

If I were to walk around town, it’s pretty normal. At work, it’s not necessarily abnormal. At church, yeah, it ain’t normal. Even in the autism community, y’know, it might be abnormal by comparison — I grew this awesome redness and haven’t given myself a ‘normal highlight color’ like most of us else in the neurodivergent community.

What is normal?

I had an abnormal week. I worked only two days, non-consecutive. I spent Monday mostly outdoors. The other days I spent being a stay-at-home-dad, working every trick in the book to get my daughters to nap at the same time, for hours on end — which they did. Yay me. Go Dad.

Was that normal?

I tend to talk more than others do when others don’t and talk less when others expect me to. I’ll answer some emails in as few words as possible, while waxing labyrinthine and poetic in others. I’ll begin meetings with wild stories and pack a rabbit warren of tangents into what becomes my trail. At times I feel like I’m the only one who gets it. It’s not a matter of smart/dumb — it’s just different, and I feel my lens to be clearer.

Is that normal?

I’m finding more and more people who share the same ‘abnormalities’ I do. The obsessive lateral interests. The hyperfixations. The same categorical social miscues. The similar toolboxes of coping with people and environments and life. The penchant for prolixity. The aversions to contact: eyes, handshakes, proximity.

Aren’t those normal?

Autism is my normal.

It’s normal for me to overexplain, to conjure obtuse analogies, to confuse literalities, to cringe at a lack of specificities, to walk in unpredictable gaits as my mind cycles through ideas, to rehearse conversational possibilities before they happen, to analyze details that you’re uncomfortable with me knowing but you’re just not mindful enough to obscure, so of course I’m going to ask about that reminder to give Richard a heartworm pill and comment on how unexpected it is to either have a dog by the name Richard or a person named Richard who requires a heartworm pill.

It’s normal for me to forget things in front of my face, to ignore things beyond the periphery of my routine, to seize up and shudder at a full sink, to spend hours emptying my dishwasher, to want to help so bad that I become an annoyance, to earnestly come back with details about episodes and events that impact you, to reach the apex of achievement and wallow in pity within a day, to cry at random and have nothing to explain the rare and strange event.

This is normal.

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 Instagram.

As for what really sparks joy, join the many others who’ve followed my exploits on my channel. But watch out: I don’t have “casual fans.” If you dig it, YOU DIG IT. This episode is a GREAT affirmation of the autistic experience. Hope you enjoy.

The Life Autistic: Be Cool, and Talk Like a Normal Person

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“That’s really cool,” said Mo, describing one of her cool toddler things.

“Mo,  try to find a better word than ‘cool’,” Mom (ever the teacher) suggested.

“Yeah, like . . . fascinating.” I up-sold from a 5¢ word to a $2.50 descriptor, something that would befit a typical 3-year-old.

She tried it out. “That’s really . . . fa-sci-na-ting.”

While my wife and I grinned about that, I backpedaled on the thought.

“Actually, Mo,” I realized. “Just go ahead and say cool.” 

*******

Just the other day, someone shared a compliment on my readout on a conference call: “Hunter – eloquent as always with many nice compound words and phrases.”

Some of my coworkers jibe me on how they “can tell I have an English degree” and “feel like they need one themselves to follow me.”

And in chats, I’ve more than once delighted folks when they mention that they didn’t have to Google a word I used.

*sigh*

For those of us on the hyperverbal, overlexical side of The Life Autistic, the journey is fraught with more dictional peril.

So, funny enough, I’ve made strides. Over time, I’ve taken a few mots justes (here, don’t Google it) from the bottom shelf.

Fam. Y’all. Blooda. Thx. Yo. Dude. LOL. IKR? Like. Roll with that. 

And to my surprise, people don’t think I’m dumb when I use words like that.

Sometimes they think I’m normal.

Maybe even cool. 😉

The Life Autistic: Why We Wear the Mask

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For those of us on the high-functioning side, we’re sometimes accused of faking our autism.

But more often than not, we’re having to fake being “normal.” 

That’s where ‘masking’ comes in.

Masking is where autistic people drastically adjust their behaviors to mask their symptoms. Some of us do it more than others.

Things like finding a spot on someone’s face to stare at to approximate eye-contact. A painstakingly-rehearsed repertoire of small-talk to give off the appearance of social comfort. Mimicking normal behaviors. Finding places to sit or otherwise be occupied so we’re not caught pacing, flapping, or otherwise repetitively twitching while we talk. Reaching out to others out of the blue. Doing research on people we’ll be meeting so we can find ways to get them talking so we don’t have to.

Why? To pass as normal. To retreat from awkwardness. To fit in. To be accepted.

It’s exhausting. I don’t know how you neurotypical people do it.

But I know how do it. I’ve needed a mask, something that goes beyond Hunter.

My mask is practically Batman (or Daredevil, as befits the image). It’s become its own thing nowadays.

You may have seen it.

It’s why some people think I’m a great raconteur, an entertainer, and (at work anyway) a well-connected, gregarious individual who can light up a room and spin the conversational wheel of fortune around the table.

But that is itself a mask, an emblem, a symbol.

My mask has a name: H2.

. . . to be continued