Smiles on the Spectrum: Autism and Facial Expressions

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You can tell I’ve been practicing getting my daughter to “smile back.” It’s been a fun exercise, in some cases, literally.

It got me thinking about expressions in general.

People say you can tell if someone’s autistic by their facial expression or by this autistic look that they have.

That’s not really true. 

I’ve fooled plenty of people because they say I don’t look or seem autistic, but aye, if that ain’t another topic.

But since learning more and doing more with expression, I’ve discovered some strange and wonderful things about them and how they intersect with autism.

Speaking of doing more with expression, you should check out my latest episode of The Life Autistic on YouTube for proof!

For starters, smiles are inexpensive and easy. They’re unnatural for me (enough to where I joke on camera about “stop making me smile, it’s hurting my face”) and others like me, but not impossible. The fact that it’s almost always voluntary makes it powerful.

Chris Voss — one of my faves — showcases this in the concept of mirroring, and it’s been like a secret weapon for exerting a little tension on my side to erode it from the other side. So yes, neurotypicals, I’m using your “facial and emotional normality” against you to make my life easier 😉

We don’t always “face express” normally. Apparently, we can have a “facial” disconnect in emotional conveyance. I’ve had to almost practice a sad look, a disappointed look, or whatever other look (other than ‘dumb’) to consciously project that “this is how I’m feeling.”

Hunter, what kind of person has to do that?

Autistic people have to do that.

And it’s hard, because, well, when I screw up, and I feel bad, I don’t always look like I do. So you know how that goes:

“You don’t LOOK sorry.” 

“You SEEM like you’re OK with this.”

That’s hard.

I wish I knew why this was the case: I really don’t. We often come across in our own language and inflective variant, and that may be true in our unspoken communication too.

If you don’t know how we’re feeling, but you care — don’t try to read: ask.

And for what it’s worth: yes, it is fun to give my cheeks some workout to coax a smile out of a baby.

For a former frowner perpetual, I have a lot to smile about these days, even if I have to tell myself “SMILE.” 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!

 

 

 

Autism Stories from Autistic People – Why It’s Worth the Exhaustion

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The first things that come up for me when I start typing in “autism stories” to search

  1. autism stories of hope
  2. autism stories from parents

Both are well and good, but we need more autism stories from autistic people.

To that end, I’ve opened up shop on YouTube and launched my first video, where I cover why it’s critical for us to share more from our unique autistic perspectives. I’d love you welcome you as a subscriber there!

That said, I can see why autistic storytelling is in shorter supply.

IT IS EXHAUSTING. 

I think I left that above frame in the video, and I didn’t act that one out. I was spent after sitting in front of a camera for 7 to 9 whole minutes, framing what I wanted to say, and front-loading my most expressive self.

IT IS NOT EASY.

So not only am I “keeping my jets on” for camera, I’m contending with those obsessive, OCD-style things that threaten to disappoint and dissuade me from just opting out of this mess altogether.

Did you notice:

  1. I have a loose hair clinging to my goatee, and I noticed it all too late after I was halfway into editing
  2. I said I cried during all three Toy Story films. There are four. (Thanks a lot, Zach Bowders).
  3. The audio that jumps too high when I read off the numbers to the “five things”
  4. At least three cuts that were a millisecond too quick
  5. How I started reaching for my glasses too early to stage the “expert” scenes

It’s normal to pick at your own imperfections, but when you’re both autistic and hyper-self-aware-critical, it’s enough to keep your story from coming out. And then all the “pre-staging” I’m doing to prep for people who don’t like this content or getting my first thumbs down – it’s like I have to check my anxiety cloak at a door that I keep entering and exiting.

IT IS A LOT.

But it’s necessary.

I’ve been super grateful for the kind words and the feedback and the people who think I’m good at editing (thanks 😛 ). And because it’s worth mentioning, I’ve spent years in front of a camera for virtual work meetings, so it’s something I’ve acclimated to. It still gets to be a bit much, but I can do it a little justice in short bursts.

So what now?

If you’re an ally for autistic causes, support your autistic storytellers. I know it’s hard not to share your proximity and your involvement as a parent or significant relation to an autistic loved one, but their voice matters. 

If you’re autistic, share your story. You deserve to. The platform should be yours, ours. 

It’s exhausting effort, but it’s worthwhile. And I’m going to continue doing so here, in writing (my first love and best skill) and on video.

I hope you’ll do and support the same!

I am glad you’re reading this blog! This is my “easy” medium, and it’s nice to use one of my few skills to do good. Video is my “hard” medium, but I’m giving it an earnest go. 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!

 

Eight Words That Kickstarted The Life Autistic on YouTube

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I can’t believe I’m doing this.

I have every reason not to. Not enough time. Bad lighting. No good equipment. No time, period. A weirdly de-nasal voice. I’m a better writer than personality. I don’t have that many great storiesMy advice is terrible. My experience is too niche.

But after meeting with my mentor this month (a brilliant creator in his own right), he shared an eight-word phrase that finally put me over from “simmer” to “boil.”

The YouTube step has been a long time coming. And I’ve dug my heels in, like, well, y’know, how we autistic people can do.

People have said things. I’ve gotten comments about my presentations at work (“You present like you’re a YouTuber, and I expected you to end with ‘Be sure to Like and Subscribe“), my analysis delivery (“I’m surprised you’re here and not on YouTube”) and about my blog, from my brother (“Bro, you should just do YouTube”).

I began to notice a bit of a trend here.

And while I’d kept it in orbit as an idea meteor, it didn’t start hurtling into my atmosphere until my latest meeting with my mentor: Brandon Vaughn, a professed and practiced statistical impresario and musical aficionado who dual wields two Ph.Ds and sports tie-dye tees as a uniform. He’s as close as you get to a real-life Doctor Strange, but with a lot less mastery of mystic arts, but a lot more grace and humility. He’s the best.

After talking a little bit of shop and some other work changes, he dropped an honest assessment on me and my career, the last eight words of which rang long after:

“You’re an interesting character, and I don’t see you being a company man.

No, I’m not leaving my company. Yes, I’m proud of my career. But I’ve had to reckon with some honesty about where I’m at, what this season is like, and where I’m finding the room to grow.

And that growth, right now, is in what I share on autism and how I share it.

Brandon helped me realize where my message (on the autistic experience and more) would connect with people on a different level, in an area that didn’t lean so much on my own writing skill, but through a medium that might resonate more relationally. 

“That’s why I think you should consider something like YouTube, honestly,” he said.

I think I’d heard that before.

So we’re just “gonna do it.”

The Life Autistic will be on YouTube. In fact, it’s there now. I don’t have all the details or the schedule or the content. And while I’m kinda worried and not looking forward to the ebb and flow of disappointment, discovery, and delight, I am glad to be giving this a go.

And while I don’t have anything just yet (but soon!), feel free to — sigh — Like and Subscribe to Hunter Hansen – The Life Autistic on YouTube.

thanks 🙂

I’m excited about embarking on this “pivot to video” journey in sharing more about autism – but don’t worry, we’ll still be keeping the posts coming here! 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!