Posted in autism, encouragement, love, patience

The positive aspects of having an Autistic/Asperger’s person in your congregation

The puzzle pieces in the autism awareness ribbon
represent the complexity of the disorder,
as well as the diversity of people
living with autism. (Wikipedia)

As an autistic person, I often wonder about God’s plan for me. I did not come to faith in Jesus until I was 43 years old. I did not learn I was autistic until I was 48 years old. I’m 53 now. As I progress in sanctification by God’s grace, sometimes I’m relieved to know what is “the matter” with me, and other times I’m frustrated because I wish I didn’t know.

All people sin all the time but most people have a particular sin that they need God’s daily help to conquer. For example, I don’t covet. I don’t care about ‘stuff’ that much. Therefore I’m not especially mired in that sin, while others covet constantly. Some people struggle with wanting alcohol, and battle a daily temptation. In these cases, it is to the obvious glory of God that we can resist, thanks to His Holy Spirit. What we cannot accomplish on our own, Jesus helps us with as our High Priest,

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

With me, it is love. Autistic people are not known for empathy, and feel and express love differently than neuro-typical people. Our brains are literally wired differently.

The Diagnostic Statistical Manual 5 (DSM-V) defines autism in part as a person having

deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, and deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships (source)

Because relationships and emotions are so difficult for us, we’re also loners. This need to be alone isnecessary survival mechanism, because we take in all stimuli and can’t screen any of it out. Neuro-typical people readily and unconsciously dispense with incoming stimuli that they don’t or won’t need. Their brains do that automatically. Ours don’t. So it all comes in.

not a lifestyle preference. It is a

Being among lots of people (and to me that means more than one) who talk at varying volumes, wear different colors, speak at different rates, and all incomprehensibly too, is just overwhelming. It’s easier to stay home and be quiet. Some Sundays, attending church is easier than others. On the tough Sundays I have to make myself go, and I come home exhausted and sleep for hours, and I’m groggy the rest of the day with what I call Aspergers residue.

Yet though I’m wired not to love in the same way as others and dislike being among people, I must love and be among people. Why? Jesus said so. It’s that simple.

And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:39-40, cf Galatians 5:14)

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1).

Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:10-11)

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. (1 Peter 3:8)

So you see, it is a necessity to do the things I’m not wired to do but to do what Jesus demands anyway. Sometimes I wonder about the difficulty of being wired not to do the things that He commands us to do but then I realize that in so doing, HE gets the glory.

If I can usually not do these things on my own steam, and yet I do them, it should be obvious that it is the precious Holy Spirit sustaining me and my wonderful Savior enabling me. Romans 12:9a says,

Let love be genuine. …

The NLT says “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them….”

If an autistic person can really love a person deeply then wouldn’t it be to the glory of Jesus that He enabled me to do this?

So I focus on the positive. He made me this way so I can give Him glory by being grown in the Spirit, and I can edify the Body with the particular personality that He knit in me operating in the gifts of the Spirit. I focus on the positive rather than bemoan, “Why am I like this?” That answer is simple too, because God wants it that way.

On the plus side, an autistic person’s penchant for always telling the truth, if combined with the Spirit’s deliverance of the gift of exhortation, is literally a match made in heaven. A further plus is that we are already on the edge of the social milieu, and we don’t mind telling the truth even if it means rejection. (It hurts, but our allegiance to the truth dominates, and this becomes full-flower when Christianity enters the scene).

All autistic people have one life-dominating special interest, and mine is the bible. That means I study it relentlessly. This subject is also a relief to me, because all man-made subjects eventually are exhausted. I’ve gone through King Arthur, (teens), heraldry (20s), mollusks (30s), and journalism (40s). But I will never exhaust the bible (50s—>eternity). We have good memories, so remembering past discussions in class, a sermon from a year ago, or a bible verse comes more easily to us. In this way we can often knit a larger truth or set something in context for ourselves or in discussions.

We generally don’t care if a person is rich, poor, socially high-end, or down and out. We mostly care that a person listens when we have something to say. That’s it. We truly live out James 2:1, showing no partiality.

There are pluses for neuro-typical people to have an autistic person in the congregation and there are pluses for an autistic person to be there. Each person in the faith is gifted by the Spirit, as He wills. We function as a unit. As much as we like to be apart, it is not good for us to be so. I’m sure as much as NT people may desire want us to be apart sometimes, it is not good for them either, lol.

Make an effort to be patient if there is an autistic child in the congregation. Say hello to an autistic person in your group, bible study or congregation, (but don’t hug). A simple hello goes a long way. We do not know how to initiate social contact, and the church greeting time is especially hard. There are a great many things we learn to be patient with in church, and I would hope that the NT people would also learn to be patient with us as well. We are one body, learning to function as a unit. With the help of Jesus, we will be beautiful to Him as we grow together, one flesh, one body, one church- but each of us lovely in our own way.

This snowy landscape is beautiful in harmony of the season, but it is made of billions of individual snowflakes. That’s His church, each unique, each filling in their part in the landscape of Jesus’ heart.

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:4-8)