Diary of an Autistic Father: Week Three

I think I’m starting to get used to her being here. 

That’s the big takeaway from this week. Lola Faye has lived in my house for almost a full three weeks and I’m starting to expect her here. The sound of her voice, the way she feels, the ghastly smell of formula are all normalizing for me and that’s a good thing. It’s creating a new normal in my life and new normals are important. 

It’s letting me enjoy her too. Lola Faye is a funny little creature. She’s fattening up and very pink. Her face contorts into the oddest expressions. She snorts and grunts, especially when she eats. Is she a person yet? Far from it. What she is is great company though and I like hanging out with her.

Lola had a busy week seeing lots of family and friends. Amanda’s grandmother and aunts dropped by Sunday. My mother, sister, and her kids visited yesterday. Our friends Jancen and Melissa swung by last night. Less fun was the trip to the dr to see about getting her skin tag off. That’ll come next month. 

As for me? Well I’m better. It helps that I’ve been honest. This is stressful at times. Of course it is. I worry about the future and always will. I’ve also been sick this week, which I hate. But I’ll rebound.  

I’m in this. This little person is slowly but surely becoming my life. 

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Lost Jokes: The Perils of Literalism

There’s a popular figure on the internet, a writer, who has a hobby. She likes to throw out inaccurate information on twitter and waits for people to “correct” her. It’s a logical practice in her situation. She’s a woman in a male dominated field and faces men constantly assuming she’s not an expert in it. I don’t fault her for baiting trolls for this reason. It’s a game she plays constantly

But there’s another angle to it. My friend @erabrand, a fellow autistic, watched the latest round of it and saw it differently. To her, it was extremely awkward and painful to watch as people “corrected” the writer. Why? Because it occurred to her many people might not get they’re being played with. Many of them are earnestly trying to correct information and being made to feel foolish. In her eyes, making people look stupid for not getting a joke was cruel and bullying. This led to her unfollowing the writer and after hearing her reasoning, I not only agreed but decided to write.

See, all have been in that painful place of not getting a joke no matter their neurotype, but autistic people fall into that situation more often than most. After all we’re less cognizant of social cues. It’s harder for us to grasp sarcasm. Often humor carries with it increased nuance that we’re not as able to grasp. We’re prone to taking people at their word. As a result we’re often frustrated.

This might seem like a small thing, but it serves as a prime microcosm of how our minds work. We’re very literal people which means that if something is said, it is meant as serious, unless the context is loud and clear. Sure, we get common idioms and some measure of metaphorical language, but if someone announces something that makes perfect sense to us, we’re going to buy it without blinking. Why wouldn’t we?

At the least, this is a quick moment of humiliation that will fade for us over time but in the moment reminds us of our differences. It’s a funny thing to find frustrating but humor is a social glue. Not grasping humor means not fitting in with others. Literalism is also often a trait associated with small children. We suffer enough stigma in terms of how others look down on us. This doesn’t help things at all.

At worst it can be weaponized against us. I had a couple of kids growing up who used to claim they had movie novelizations (I’m a collector) that I’d never been able to find. Every day they’d claim to bring them in but something would happen. Over time I realized I was being played for a fool, but not until I left the city I lived in. This was a childish act admittedly but many of us find ourselves falling for similar things as adults simply because we believe those involved. I hate to say it but unless we’ve been burned enough, we’re easy marks.

Furthermore, this small thing, not getting a joke, reflects a much larger issue. We are often utterly adrift regarding how society works. I’m serious. To us, things work a certain way. Pay money, get goods. Do good work, get rewarded. The biases and inherent inequalities of our world make sense to those who grasp things in life don’t follow a literal system of rules. But we don’t have that within us. Yes, we learn it in time, but I’d argue it’s an awfully hard system to disabuse ourselves of. Inevitably we live with a lot of frustration.

We are literal people and we can’t help it. Perhaps the best way we can cope is this: We need people to stop thinking our literalism is a joke. When we don’t get something figurative, have patience with us. We can’t help that our OS lacks the context you have. Once we get what’s going on, we’ll react the right way.

Literally the right way.

Diary of an Autistic Father: Week Two

The second week brings the most beloved thing for any person on the spectrum: sweet, blissful order. Once more I am able to be on some kind of schedule as I’ve returned to my job. Just the familiar routine of going in and running through the motions of my job, which I deeply love, helps me return to a homeostatic state. 

Then there’s the matter of sleep. I got some! I’m still not at 100% but welcome to the job. I’m much more rested now. I’m not as delirious as I was. Only really been angry once. 

I have been keeping to some routines. I’ve read as many comics as I can. I’ve spent a lot of time at the library. I write incessantly. These are habits that ground me. 

Lola is slowly waking up more. She still mostly sleeps and will for several months. She’s looking more person like as she gets fatter. The kid eats well, makes lots of baby noises when she is up. 

She’s had an eventful week for sure. Lola went to dinner for the first time at Olive Garden and Cheddar’s. (She slept) She also went to work on Monday to see our coworkers where she was well received. Most importantly, Lola went to Conway to see my extended family.

That trip was for Father’s Day, which raises the question of do I feel like a father yet? No, not really if I’m honest. I mean, I’m certainly growing in that area but it’s still too early to say I feel like one. Most of my interactions are feeding and lulling the baby back to sleep. She’s a distant thing yet to me. 

But this will change with time. She’s just so very new yet. 

Diary of an Autistic Father: Week One

This has been the longest week of my life. There have been few weeks as trying, as eventful, as exhausting as this one. Every cell in my body is fried. 

Wait I’m not supposed to lead with this. I’m supposed to lead with some exaltation of how wondrous life is now that I have a daughter. How I see things so much more clearly. How this was a trial but it’s worth it. And sure, the last is true but if I start on any other note except the honest one, I do you a disservice. 

After all, you’re reading this because you want to know how it feels to be an autistic man and a father. You want to know exactly what I’ve felt. You don’t want the polished Hallmark nonsense. So I owe it to you to tell the truth. 

This week started with a trip to the hospital Tuesday night to get checked in and start the induction. We were placed in a beautiful room where Amanda was hooked up to monitors and the process began. Then we waited. And waited. And waited. At some point the next day, I left for lunch. We waited some more. Couldn’t sleep much due to constant doctor visits. 

But finally Lola Faye Shinn, all 5lbs 11oz of her, arrived at 3:59 pm on Wednesday. This was when the conventional moments of joy hit. We had the miracle hour. The grandparents came in to see her. There was much rejoicing. 

That all doesn’t last very long though. After a few hours, we were wheeled to our final room, a much smaller, much less comfortable room with almost no AC and constant light. It was in this room we spent roughly 42 hours and I have to concede it was extremely hard on me. I never achieved REM sleep due to constant stimulation. I certainly couldn’t sleep on the glorified bench I was placed on. The constant intrusion of (the extremely sweet) nurses hardly helped. 

Sitting in this situation drained me. It didn’t take long for the mild psychosis that comes from such a sustained lack of sleep to set in. I became wildly irrational and moody. I started crying at random moments, which didn’t stop for several days. I was frustrated and angry. 

The worst part of all of this? You think you’re not supposed to feel this. You’re supposed to be overjoyed because you have a baby. You have to be strong for your wife. And I tried with all I could to get there but in truth, I often fell short. There were a few epic meltdowns this week. 

Things did get better once I was home. There is nothing like the comfort of all your stuff to ease your stress. But a new stress sets in. That baby is here forever. Everything I know is upended and it’s not an idea anymore. Reality sets in.

There’s also the stream of visitors. Countless friends and family have dropped by to look in at miss Lola Faye. That’s been nice. It’s fun to show her off.

As for her, well she’s a week old. She’s not exciting. But I am enjoying having her here. She’s cute, fun to watch. I’m figuring out how to care for her. I’m not doing too bad. 
Trying to judge how this will go based on this week is impossible. I’m still recovering after all and she is learning to open her eyes. It’ll be fascinating to see where it goes. But I have hope. 

Til next week. 

State of Every Single Project I Have Going

I am a busy man.

I work 40+ hours a week as a page designer at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, a job I still love. Nothing unexpected, but it occupies much of my time.

I’ve done a weekly hourlong podcast with Albert Wiltfong intermittently but far more frequently for the last three years. It keeps me very busy, watching films and doing research for it.

I am currently operating no less than three blogs. Yes, three. There’s this site, there’s The Film Room Lobby, and there’s my fiction project Mountain Ridge Chronicles. I’m currently trying to see what can happen there. All of my Fiction is going to be housed there instead of here after next week, I’m hoping. I’m trying to write for all of those still.

Oh, I’m also still running a research project into Arkansas movie theaters too. That takes up time.

And then there’s the baby who arrives on Wednesday and knocks all of this awry.

So here is the state of everything I’m working on:

My job: I’m taking 5 days off with two weekends directly adjoining.

The podcast: We have enough episodes banked to run until August. Shouldn’t notice any absence.

A Flickering Life: Will be intermittent as always. I only write here when I feel I have something worth saying.

The Film Room Lobby: I have a number of 300-400 word reviews ready to go on comic book movies. They’ll come out over time. I have a new column I’ll be starting for it when I end Comics For Rent. Bonus: Albert is going to contribute a few pieces.

Mountain Ridge Chronicles: This is just starting. It may yet fade. I have a storyline I’m considering though. It’ll be fun.

Arkansas Cinema History: A lot of my travel plans hit the skids when Lola entered the picture. However, the beauty of this project is others can and often do contribute. So I’m feeling satisfied here.

As for any thoughts I have on Lola, I’m deferring to the cast I did with my friend Shaun Lau for those. I said all I have to say here. See y’all on the other side of this.