Your Autistic Year

Over the course of our pandemic year, neurotypicals kept running into things—such as zoom fatigue and a need for cognitive transitions—they’d do well to remember the next time they encounter an autistic person just trying to get through their day-to-day lives. I’m not sure what you’d call it, but recently I ran into some more.

“For the last year,” a friend recently wrote to me, “a lot of us have been enjoying unaccustomed courtesy and understanding from the world.” When people asked how you were doing, no one expected you to say “Fine.” Instead, they asked, “How are you holding up?” and you’d answer, “Well, you know.” […] You could admit that you’d accomplished nothing today, this week, all year. Having gotten through another day was a perfectly respectable achievement. I considered it a pass-fail year, and anything you had to do to get through it […] was an acceptable cost of psychological survival. Being “unable to deal” was a legitimate excuse for failing to answer emails, missing deadlines, or declining invitations. Everyone recognized that the situation was simply too much to be borne without occasionally going to pieces. This has, in fact, always been the case; we were just finally allowed to admit it.

Emphasis mine, but it’s tough not to emphasize the entire paragraph. Many autistic people have trouble with the expectation that being asked how we are isn’t meant to be taken as a literal inquiry born of true interests, but merely as the opening line of an exchange of social lubrication.

In the rush to get back to “normal”, neurotypicals could do worse than to take stock of how the disruptions of the pandemic affected them, and consider the ways in which the day-to-day of what they consider normal itself can be a daily disruption to those of us burdened with very different brains.