The pandemic is a generational changing event. It has highlighted inequity built into our society and has given us a chance to rebuild the world better than it was before. But, instead, there is a push in the United States to move forward as if we have learned nothing.
During the pandemic, the world met on zoom and other virtual platforms. Neurotypical people had to learn a new way to communicate, which evened the playing field for those of us on the autism spectrum. I no longer had to sit in a room wondering what body language I was not reading. If someone wanted something communicated, they had to express it.
I worked in an environment that I built for my own needs and not for a manager insecure in his ability to manage. I was able to move during the day and fidget while I was working. I did not need to worry if I was disturbing my co-workers in a cubical next door. I was not bothered by all the distractions happening all over the office.
I have thrived, become more productive, and am less stressed. While I still may not love my job, I no longer hate it. While I still may not be on an even playing field, I am at least closer.
Except neurotypicals, especially those that have risen to the ranks based on their ability to socialize more than their ability to implement logical and practical measures, are uncomfortable. They are no longer in their element. So, instead of reinventing the world to provide a place for neurodivergent individuals, they are trying to push us to go back to business as usual. A world where they thrive, and we fail.
Autistic people are supposed to have difficulty with theory of mind. Yet, I find that neurotypical individuals are more impacted in this area than we. They have never had to live in a world where it is hard, so they invalidate our experiences since it does not line up with their own. We are pawns here to serve their needs or to ignore us when we do not.
During the pandemic, a conversation about mental health emerged. It is not a new conversation. Those of us with mental health challenges have been trying to explain our truths for as long as time. For a brief moment, the world listened. The world had sympathy. Except now it is no longer convenient.
At my day job, we are now back in the office one day a week. We are told that we should be happy to be back where we are with other people. We are told that our year and a half of virtual office communication was not valid because it is only face-to-face that we become people. I have been told repeatedly, in many different ways, that the way I perceive the world is invalid. It is the same language they used before. Only now, I know that the tools that made the world more accessible for me have benefits for everyone. I do not want to go back.
Yet, I did. It was loud. My desk area was arranged wrong. I was full of anxiety about the safety of my office. I could not even find a bathroom because they had not opened the gender-neutral bathrooms yet due to the reduced working population. I had a panic attack. I stood on the side of my building, trying to breathe, trying to put myself back together so that I could walk back inside and shove myself back into the mold they want me to fit. And everyone just pretended my panic attack didn’t happen – because it was uncomfortable for all the neurotypicals.
There are so many lessons that we should have learned from the pandemic. We learned, ever so slightly, what it was like to have our mobility impaired. This knowledge should give us greater empathy for those with mobility disabilities. We should build the world around them. By doing so, the world as a whole will be better.
We learned that there was inequality in technology access and food security. We learned that grocery workers, healthcare workers, delivery drivers, childcare workers, teachers, and many others are all essential to the functioning of our society. We learned that we racially profile and punish BIPOC individuals for the color of their skin. We learned that our world is flawed, and seeing those flaws; we could tare it down and make the world a better place.
Except, we did not learn all this because of the pandemic. We knew it already. It is just easier for those with privilege to go back to how things were.
I say this as a white person. It is so much easier to ignore the injustice that happens to BIPOC every day and everywhere. I could “forget” my privilege. After all, having conversations about our privilege is hard. It is uncomfortable. It should be.
I do not have the answers.
I do know that by giving power to individuals who are not privileged, everyone benefits.
So we should step back and listen to those that have different life experiences than us. This does not mean that we should expect them to teach us – we should teach ourselves. We should put in the work. It is work that will never end.
But, as a Trans Non-Binary Autistic person, I know how much it means to me just to be acknowledged. Sometimes it is small actions that mean the world of difference. I am uplifted when someone else corrects my pronouns when I am misgendered. I am validated when others acknowledge that some aspects are harder to me than they are to them. When I have a panic attack, I would appreciate it if someone would say, “How can I help” instead of walking away like it never happened.