Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

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An Overlooked Generation

One of the benefits of the Internet is interacting with people you never might have met otherwise. It has been wonderful to get to know some autistic adults who have quickly become my friends.  I love to hear about their experiences of church because I learn from those.  

My friend Hilary is a woman who was diagnosed as Asperger’s just a few years ago. She is a talented Astronomy lecturer, passionate about her subject and very able to communicate her passion to others. 

I asked Hilary about church and she spoke about all the capable autistic people that are in our churches that we are ignoring because of their social and sensory awkwardness.  Here is what she writes….

  

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An Overlooked Generation

A friend of mine once wrote a six page letter to the leadership of his church expressing his valid concerns about a topical news story that he felt needed discussing and responding to. The leadership did not read his letter. They collectively perceived this man to be intense, obsessive and too difficult to communicate with even to try. In truth my friend had a deep love for the Lord, was able to express himself with the written word but not as well verbally, and he had an insightful perception of pastoral issues. Why were his views dismissed?

If my friend had been diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum, or having autistic traits, would he have been listened to? Would there have been a recognition that this was someone whose views were valuable, just as those are valued who have more obvious physical disabilities?

The social disability of able adults with Asperger’s who have not been diagnosed is quite simply often not recognised or realised. It is a largely overlooked generation of people. A group of people who are able to speak eloquently and publicly, hold animated discussions, teach, debate, write, have careers and jobs, and have solid friendships, relationships and marriages. The consequence of this ‘ableness’ is that our intensity of focus, not letting up on a particular issue till resolved, our social awkwardness, our difficulties of experiencing sudden changes – of leadership or of the pastor, the seats being arranged differently, the unexpected event in a service – the sensory overload and resulting exhaustion of the after service coffee/tea socialising, the absence from church social events, the disorienting experience of being in any group of people of more than three, the need to sit on the end of a row and at the back, are all seen to be simply odd and antisocial, not a disability. Our opinions and views are then often and perhaps even subconsciously, dismissed. This was often my experience before 2006 when I was assessed and diagnosed officially as ‘an Asperger’s adult’. I have seen many others being perceived and responded to in the same way before and since. 

There are likely to be such people in your church.

It is obviously and highly likely there were autistic people in Jesus’ day. Consider the apostle Paul! He was intense, academically brilliant, expressive in writing but not apparently so or as much in speech, and was totally and passionately focused. Of course, I’m not putting a case that he was, I am suggesting it is a possibility. If reading this provokes thoughts such as, “but Paul was an apostle, he couldn’t have been…” then that might reveal an interesting prejudice that has not come to the surface until now.

Church is a place where we all can strive to make one another welcome, accepted and loved, The best outreach is to have said about us, “By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” John 13:35

  

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