She first discovers the term while she’s scrolling through a database of human variation. She’s looking for an explanation for why humans appear so similar but act so differently from each other, and why it’s so difficult for her to figure them out, when the database AI interrupts her.
A window pops up: Are you interested in: Autism? it asks. This inference based on your interests: Human Behavior, Body Language, Social Mores, Nonverbal Communication.
Rey pauses. She is interested in these; she’s been trying to use the database as a crash course in how to interact with humans ever since she got back from Ahch-To. So far, it’s been incredibly difficult to translate the words and holos into real life. Maybe this is the missing piece.
She taps the console to open the page. When it opens, she reads about people who sound like her, people who struggle with understanding and imitating societal norms. The page emphasizes that while autism was vilified in pre-Republic history, it is now understood as a completely normal human variation, and that autistic people simply have different strengths and weaknesses than others. For the first time, she feels seen.
Rey pours over the page, fascinated by the descriptions of people so much (and so little) like her.
Where are the descriptions of being stranded in the wilderness, of lacking human contact for almost the entirety of one’s memory? Why is there no mention of the tumultuous cacophony of simultaneous sensory overload and deprivation that was the hard labor and invisibility of her life on Jakku? Does she fit into this after all?
She pushes back from the console and walks out into the lush greenery of the Resistance’s new planet. She spends several hours wandering the woods that are slowly becoming familiar, relishing the feeling of old leaves squishing under her toes. She hesitantly approaches a towering tree with craggy skin, gently laying her hand on it. She jerks back, surprised by the unevenly-sharp bark. When she looks at her hand, it’s covered in a faint layer of grayish brown dust. She traces the lines in her palm with her opposite pointer finger, noting the difference between how the dust feels sitting on her palm, and how it feels on the tip of her finger.
She decides she doesn’t like the bark; it’s too unpredictable.
She returns to her meandering path, sighing in relief as the trees break enough to let the sun filter down to the forest floor. She loves being surrounded by green, but being in the perpetual cool shade of the tree canopy for too long makes her uneasy.
Where the sun hits the forest floor, there’s a patch of grass growing up around several flat, moss-covered rocks. Rey kneels down next to them and presses a finger to the moss. She finds she loves the texture; it stores moisture but doesn’t leak it back out onto her when she touches it.
She spends a long time with her palms pressed lightly against the mossy rocks, eyes closed, breathing in all the green. She feels like she’s soaking up the moss’s cool stillness.
Eventually, she removes her hands from the moss and lies down on the grass next to the rocks. She spends long enough lying on her back, thinking about the database entries she’s read, that when she sits up, the sun has moved and the sunny spot is no longer so.
She replaces her hands on the moss, trying to soak up as much of its wet calm as possible before she leaves. When she’s done, she bows her head to the moss and extricates herself from the forest.
She eventually decides that it doesn’t matter what the database says; if she sees some but not all of herself in its descriptions of autistic people, she’s just another natural human variation.