In many ways, there are a thousand different rules of conduct that I either forget or am not aware of when I go out into the world. In most cases, it’s no big deal, but I usually manage to mess up at least a few times. For example, the racks of gum and candy at checkout stands are like the most addictive drug to me, and I have to arrange them by their displays or I can’t stand being there with empty hands. If I see a rack of gift cards inside a store, it’s unbearable to NOT arrange and organize them neatly. I am really stuck on routines, so to enter a grocery store and follow a new route is truly uncomfortable. The safety and reliability of a known path through a store brings comfort in a very sensory-strong environment.
But life isn’t reliably consistent or forecastable, and so I have to adjust my routines every day. Just now, for example, we were driving my sister to practice, and that was the second time today that we made the trip. It was not a big event by any measure except we went home by a different street, and it bothered me that it was not the same. When I was little, this deviation would have thrown my day off. Now it nags at me like an itchy tag on a shirt sometimes, but it doesn’t ruin my day.
I think the thing that helps me is having my discomfort acknowledged and the circumstances related to the change explained to me. This validates my feelings and lets me predict what times might require more flexibility on my part. It is hard for most non-disabled people to understand how hard it can be to navigate a world that is So. Constantly. On. It’s like being in Times Square in the hours leading up to New Year’s Eve. It’s like a too-loud movie playing in a theater, except it’s everywhere around you. It’s all man-made noise and function with no inclusion of nature. Rather, it represents our domination over natural resources and how removed nature is from our daily lives. I mean, we study science through books, take interesting field trips to look at caves and wild animals, and even send our middle schoolers to outdoor school for a week. Nature is no longer built into our day, it seems. Removed from our instincts, nature is hardly a priority for many, and I find this to be a sad intersecting link with disabled people.
In fact, there is much in common between disability justice and environmental justice, as each struggles to show its value beyond what dominating parties (usually white men who stand to profit by exploiting another less powerful group) have been assigned to it. It has always been about money and making as much of it as possible. Disabled people are so undervalued that our employment rate is one-third that of people without a disability, and sits at a mere 17.9%, which means a lot of disabled people are sitting around at home with little to do. Our environment, on the other hand, is so overworked and neglected in terms of remediation that climate change is alarming everyday folks who haven’t been concerned about it before because it is starting to affect them too. We are seeing the results of our parents and grandparents’ quests for bigger-better-faster lives in exchange for a planet running out of resources and entire populations being purposefully kept in poverty so there will always be worker bees.
Much is depending on whether we can get political pressure to begin removing all the ways we contribute to the climate crisis. It will require looking at our environment differently, and who better to ask than autistic people who have an intimate understanding of all the ways their surroundings are affected unnaturally? Asking poor families to share the ways how bad housing in tree-less communities is impacted by higher temperatures will reveal discrepancies wealthy neighborhoods don’t share. Indigenous communities have a century and a half of proof regarding how white settlers changed this country’s landscape for the worse. In other words, this is the exact time to involve those who have the most lived experience and memories of what was done to them in the name of progress in determining how we can return to a more natural world.