Something to Think About
by Tracey Cohen
Far too often, people approach difference with fear and anger, no matter if it is a difference in opinion, lifestyle, way of doing something; the examples are endless.
Individuals on the autism spectrum, by nature, see and experience the world different from the norm. We are the quintessential ‘square pegs’ doing our best to function, fit and succeed in a world dominated by round holes. And because of our differences, we are often considered by others to be weird and rude, callous even.
2020, ‘the year of the COVID-19 pandemic,’ I think most will agree has been dominated by change and challenged each and every one of us in ways we could never have imagined.
What is interesting is the reality that many of the practices and rules put into place and widely observed for our own safety, would otherwise be considered impolite, offense and downright strange.
Born on the autism spectrum, despite my lack of knowledge of the existence of autism and late diagnosis at the age of 39, I can attest that a number of these newly established norms, have been commonplace and favored for many of us on the spectrum as a means of self-preservation for as long as we can remember.
Challenged by sensory issues as so many of us are, touch has always been a major barrier for me, thus the requisite handshake with colleagues and acquaintances and the obligatory physical affection for friends, family and significant others, largely causes me a great deal of discomfort and often physical pain much to my dismay.
But pre COVID, to not offer or reciprocate a handshake or physical gesture of affection, even if the gesture is disingenuous, only serves to alienate and encounter harsh criticism and assumptions.
The same is true of “social distancing,” a concept and term many of us I am sure are ready to abandon and see disappear.
For myself, prior to the pandemic, the need to keep a safe space between myself and others, had nothing to do with my dislike or disdain for an individual, but the unfortunate reality that I get overwhelmed and confused socially very quickly and easily and allowing a little bit of space helps me to cope better.
Now I am NOT suggesting that it pleases me to have these new mandated measures in place or that I would like to see them continued in their strictest sense once the severity of the pandemic subsides.
What I do hope to come about is less negative judgment for behavior that is different from the norm; more compassion; a healthy curiosity for things an individual finds foreign to their own line of thinking and behaviors; and if nothing else, more acceptance for diversity as a whole.
Despite societal norms, every individual, on and off the autism spectrum is unique. These differences should be celebrated, not feared or ridiculed. And despite these uniqueness’s, we are all really much more similar than we are different.
Peace, love, health, acceptance, knowledge – give this winning recipe that keeps on giving to yourself and every person you meet making our world a better place to be.
Tracey Cohen, author, autism advocate, educator, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and lifelong competitive runner, was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at the age of thirty-nine. Sharing her own struggles and discoveries, she aims to empower others to learn, accept and find peace in an ever complicated neurotypical world. Tracey is also the author of Six-Word Lessons on Female Asperger Syndrome, My Life on the Autism Spectrum: Misunderstandings, Insight & Growth, and Six-Word Lessons on the Sport of Running.