5 Things That I Want My University to Know About Autism

Hello everyone,

I am very excited for this first installment of my new blog series titled “5 things that I want my…. to know about autism”. I have decided to begin with my university. I would like to include a small note before this post. Some of you probably know that I attend a Christian university. As a result, both the church installment of this series and this particular post will apply to my university. Therefore, I have decided to focus specifically on social and academic aspects in this post, since spiritual aspects will be covered in the post addressed to the church.

5 Things That I Want My University To Know About Autism:

Just because I don’t seem to have a disability, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

I hear this a lot at my university. I don’t always “appear” autistic to those around me at my university. I understand that it isn’t as easy to look at someone and tell that they are autistic, as it is to look at someone and see that they have a physical disability. So I can understand that you can’t always tell immediately that I have autism. But please, stop assuming that just because I don’t “appear” to be autistic that I can’t be autistic (or that I have very little to no struggles as a result of my disability) once I have decided to tell you about my disability. It is extremely difficult and very discouraging to constantly have to defend my diagnosis when people do not believe me simply because that person has not witnessed me struggle as a result of my disability. Some people at my university may never see me at one of the many moments when I am struggling, yet that does not negate the existence of my disability. So please, when I tell you that I am autistic, do not dismiss it and my struggles just because you haven’t witnessed them.

Along the same line, I can assure you that I am not “faking it”.

I could never put myself through this much pain, stress, and anxiety just to pretend to have a disability in order to get academic assistance and supposed sympathy from people. It is not possible to fake struggles in so many aspects of my life. Think about it. I would have to constantly pretend to feel uncomfortable around people, to have sensitivities to pretty much every sense that I have, to not know how to interact with people, to feel isolated and lonely… 24/7. Pretending to have these issues would not be worth the help that I would get from faking a disability.

To my professors: academics are incredibly tough for me, so please don’t give up on me.

I cannot stress how difficult classes can get for me. There are times when, no matter how much I try, I cannot get my brain to retain information because it is preoccupied with a sensory disturbance, or a worry, or something that it has decided to focus on against my will for an extended amount of time. There are times when, even with testing accommodations, tests stress my brain so much that I cannot truly show how much I have learned. There are times when I cannot focus during lectures because of a noise or smell that is very disturbing to my brain. It is very difficult for you to truly understand what I know. If you question me about my knowledge, by brain could get overwhelmed and essentially “shut down”. If you go by my test scores to determine my knowledge, you are only seeing what my brain can reproduce under stress. I don’t know if you can ever truly understand what I know unless you talk to me in the right kind of environment. Even I don’t understand how much I know at certain times. Just please don’t give up on me.

Acceptance is one of the greatest things that could improve how I feel at school.

It is so important to move past “awareness” to acceptance. Awareness does nothing to help me. It just tells the world that people like me exist. What I need is for people to understand (to an extent) the struggles that I go through and why I experience those struggles, as well as how to better assist me as I work through my difficulties. A campus were acceptance flourishes could make my life so much easier. I would not have to worry about facing judgement or a lack of understanding about my disability. I would not have to hide my disability from those around me. I could be completely open with everyone and receive the support and encouragement that I need, instead of having to live in fear.

Anxiety and depression can become worse when an autistic person doesn’t have proper support.

My anxiety and depression can worsen depending upon what I am going through. When I am facing struggles that I am having a hard time overcoming, they can both become much worse if I do not have access to people who are uplifting and willing to help me. The isolation that can result from social difficulties can also increase my depression. My anxiety can rapidly fluctuate throughout the day, depending upon the sensory triggers, social situations, and other stimuli that I am facing. Even with medication, these issues can still fluctuate. These are issues that, no matter how strong I am and how hard I try, still affect me every day. This is why a good support system is so important. With the aid of a support system these issues can be decreased, although never completely removed.

~Meghan

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Autism and My Christian Faith

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.

~Meghan

There Is Nothing “Wrong” With Me

In the aftermath of my previous post (An Open Letter to Anti-Vaxxer Parents from an Autistic Woman), I have received a wide variety of insults. I’ve been called names that I cannot repeat here, I have been told that I am a disgrace to science, but the insult that has stuck out the most has been the assertion that my autism is something that is “wrong” with me.

My autism is not a defect. It is not an unfortunate circumstance that just happened one day. It is NOT something that is wrong with me.

No, it is not a flaw in my neurological wiring. It is simply a difference in how I learn and experience the world.

Is there something “wrong” with those who learn differently? Would you tell a visual, kinetic, or auditory learner that there is something “wrong” with them?

If someone, through their senses, perceives the world differently, would you tell them that something is “wrong” with them?

If someone has a different way of coping with the world around them than you, would you tell them that something is “wrong” with them?

Yes, I handle the world differently. Yes, my experience is different than the experience that a non-autistic person has. Yes, I am still a human being, despite what a lot of people say.

But no, there is nothing “wrong” with me- but there is something wrong with your warped view of autism.

~Meghan