'It’s hard to be a pretend version of myself': Autistic Vlogger Shares Why

08/03/2021 | Rachel Worsley

Hunter Hansen, an autistic business analyst at Apple, is also the creator of popular Youtube channel "The Life Autistic". His videos have clocked up thousands of views and dozens of comments praising his funny but informative take on common issues facing autistic people in life and in the workplace. Here, he speaks to Rachel Worsley about how he got started.

1. How did you come and start the YouTube channel?

I was hitting a depressive part of my life. I had a writing blog at the time. This was in 2018. I had 40 topics and kept it going twice a week.

I've had to cut back a little bit just because writing is exhausting but it was a good avenue to pivot to a personal narrative and just try for greater vulnerability and transparency with my writing.

Another interesting pivot coincided near my third daughter's birth. As soon as I have another child, I reevaluate things.
With a little bit more time in my day, I had some encouragement from my mentor to just try connecting with my audience very differently.

Instead of leaning on my writing skills, I was taking a step back and going to somewhere where I wasn't skilled, which is making videos, doing the youtube, talking to the camera and trying not to look stilted and awkward and then making it funny. And then editing it and then uploading it and then writing descriptions.

Then I realized, you know what, I'm just gonna do it. I'm just gonna set up a channel and I'm going to say I'm going to do my first video here. I got 100 subscribers before my first episode, which is crazy. I was humbled by how so many people wanted to actually invest in it.

2. What is your thinking process behind the creation process when it comes to picking topics to talk about?

There's like I have a use like a task manager app and I will, as soon as I get like a seedling of an idea, I will just jot it down.
There's some nuggets that will come up or experiences that I may have had where you know, hey, there's a good friction point that I can unbox and talk about more.

For the video on autistic coworkers, that was more of a different angle - how do I act in an accommodating way to my undisclosed autistic coworkers, or “How do I know and how do I act the right way when they tell me.”

I’ll write down a rough sketch of ideas - like common things that could be problematic for autistic people. Sometimes it’s “don’t do x” but then sometimes it’s more of general workplace things and successes.

For example, not all autistic people want to go into coding. Here’s where we can be beneficial in other areas. I was a frontline call center agent. I spoke with strangers on the telephone, like back to back, high pressure and then became a supervisor who took those calls.I adapted to that. How I learn to answer the phone without puking a call, how to get over my fear of dialling people. There’s at least three episodes in that.

I can really formulate what’s the autistic part of this experience and what represents common challenges. I want to share those kinds of things and really give other autistic people during their career that kind of guidance.

3. What's your process in engaging your audience?

I like to think of things as being engaging, that would elicit some kind of response, at least give some takeaway angle to where you may not agree with it. Or even if you do, you want to come away thinking oh that is exactly what I am thinking.

I’m like, I’m weird, I’ve never been relatable. But there’s a lot of commonality in the autism and neurodivergent community broadly. When you explain something in a very specific amount of detail that only neurodivergent people can understand, that creates engagement.

4. Have you found it easy to express your authentic self online?

It’s gotten easier over time. I think there’s a challenge or implicit impulse to show just the highlight reel. To be fair, I don’t always show the mishaps. If I’m having a terrible day, I don’t roll camera on that much. That’s discouraging and I don’t have the mental energy to say hey, I’m having a meltdown, welcome to the Life Autistic.

But I don’t have a good lighting rig. I shoot videos on my iPhone. I wear cheap T-shirts. At least my office can be messy. Like it’s not professionally glammed and done. Like I will shoot some good stuff and somber stuff, like this was a bad day. I’m going to smile through it and try to capture what I feel is my best stuff without glorifying it or glamming it up too much.

But it’s okay that my hair is messy and I can’t put on professional clothing. I embrace that because at least I know I’m not hiding. I just got to be out there on my own merits and people seem to appreciate that which is good because it’s hard to be a pretend version of myself that isn’t counterfeit.

5. Did you have any advice for other neurodivergent content creators out there?

Start with the small stuff. Find your medium. If you like to write, blog. If you have social media, tweet it, use LinkedIn. There's instagram, there's Tiktok, there's Youtube, there's plenty out there to take you out of your comfort zone.

And I think having the right motivation, such as what are you trying to do? Are you just trying to get this out? What are you trying to influence? Are you trying to help?

My best advice is to write all your ideas down. Having an idea pipeline to build as a habit and that will help to build momentum. It’s a practice.

The Life Autistic YouTube channel can be found here.