I have often been asked how autism has had an effect on my faith. The answer is not simple, but I think that it is important for me to try to explain what it is like being an autistic Christian.
I know that, from my own experiences and the experiences of others on the spectrum, that there have been difficulties in how the church overall treats autistics. I plan to discuss this issue further in a later post which will be titled “5 Things That I Want My Church to Know About Autism”, therefore I do not plan to address it in this post.
I have learned throughout the expansion of my faith that the autistic Christian likely has a very unique set of challenges that other Christians usually do not have. One of the major struggles that I have faced is Biblical interpretation. Due to the fact that my mind is extremely literal and unable to decipher the meanings of statements unless they are explicitly stated, I have found it very difficult to systematically interpret Scripture without a lot of help. As most Christians would know, there are literature styles within Scripture that require someone to “read between the lines” or interpret because the true meaning of the passage is much deeper than the literal meaning. As a result, I have had to spend a lot of time devising a method of interpretation that works for me. I almost always have to consult a vast number of resources in order to discover the meaning that I should be taking away from a particular passage.
Church attendance itself has also been difficult for me at various points. There are a number of factors that can cause anxiety or meltdowns during a typical service. The music could be too loud, there could be random loud noises (such as children or anything else), the service could last longer than expected, or interacting with people that I don’t know could send me over the edge. The best way to decrease this struggle has been to attend an understanding church that doesn’t mind if I have to step out for a bit if I’m overwhelmed, or if I choose not to walk around and interact with people if I do not feel comfortable.
Finally, the last big struggle that I have faced is evangelism. Evangelism requires interaction with other people (often in the case of my church, strangers) which can be difficult for autistic people. My church has an evangelism event each month where we go out and help the people in our community in some way. This was something that was a challenge for me at first, because the thought of talking with absolute strangers terrified me. I knew that evangelism is a huge part of my faith, so I took small steps in order to become more comfortable with these types of activities. I went from simply walking around with the group and not talking to people, to approaching people with no help whatsoever.
I have most certainly seen God working through all of these struggles to build me into a stronger Christian. He has helped me to improve in all of the areas that I have listed. It has most certainly not been easy, but it has absolutely been worth it. I used to believe that I wouldn’t be as useful in ministry as other Christians, because of my autism. God has shown me along the way that my impact can be just as great as that of a neurotypical Christian, but that my impact will usually occur in ways that only an autistic person could manage. I’ve been involved in ministries that help spread autism acceptance, as well as one that aims to help autistic people who have been bullied. This would not be possible if it weren’t for my autism.
Overall, I think that an autistic person’s Christian faith is challenging in unique ways that would often not be present in a neurotypical’s faith. Both autistics and neurotypicals are essential to the Christian faith, although those of us on the spectrum tend to have challenges that are usually not understood as well. The Christian community could be helped if there were a better understanding of the possible struggles that autistics face within the church, as well as an understanding of how we can aid ministries in our own unique ways.