woman with computer,
image by GraphicMama-team, on Pixabay, modified
You know those awesome moments when you hear church leaders and Christian influencers take the time during their message to be inclusive of autistic people,
and speak to their unique gifts and challenges?
I’ve never seen that happen.
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean it never happens. But if anything,
it seems extremely rare. Autism and neurodiversity aren’t things most people
think about, and the most well-intentioned preachers are no exception. And
when people do think about autism, unfortunately, they frequently think of
myths and stereotypes. Somehow, there is still so much misinformation in
this day and age and it has only recently started to get pushback.
But that’s a different conversation.
What does this mean for Christians? I almost guarantee that there are autistic
people in your church. Maybe you don’t know they’re autistic. Maybe they don’t
know it yet themselves, like I didn’t for most of my life. Many people, especially
females, aren’t diagnosed until adulthood.
It can be hard to tell, when we become really good at masking or if we don’t fit
into the infamous, stereotypical “Rain Man” image.
The result of negligence in the church is that we can feel invisible, invalid, or like
we’re extra bad sinners because we’re different. A common trait is that we tend
to hyperfixate on things and develop special interests. The church often frowns
upon this. The things we love are called “meaningless,” and sinful by extension.
A preacher may say things like, “Video games, TV, manga, etc., are a waste of
time and don’t glorify God.” But what does that communicate to neurodivergent
people whose special interests frequently are video games, TV, and manga?
What if God actually is glorified through those things? What if we connect with
Him uniquely through them?
These messages are usually well-meaning, and the speakers probably aren’t
thinking about individuals who are different from their overwhelmingly
neurotypical crowd. Regardless, these negative messages can cause us to feel
like we have to stop doing everything that isn’t spiritual or evangelical (excluding,
of course, the hobbies that are socially acceptable within church culture and
society as a whole, like sports). We start believing that we have to “repent” of
our literal neurology.
I tried to live like this at one point, and wanted to scream and die because I
couldn’t do it.
Okay, so I’m not gonna watch any TV. Not gonna play any games. Not gonna go
on social media. You know what? How about NO screen time unless it’s to read
the Bible. No reading in general unless it’s a Christian book. No socializing unless
it’s a church activity or unless I’m actively trying to evangelize. No fiction. Can’t
even THINK about fictional characters. No daydreaming. Can’t go out and exercise because that will inevitably lead to daydreaming, and that’s not allowed.
Okay, okay… I read my Bible for a long time, I went to church, so now I’m sitting
here, not doing anything meaningless, not thinking about anything… not doing… anything.
Hmm… I wonder what Kakashi from Naruto would do in a scenario where—
NO! Stop it, brain! Okay, thinking about God again… Oh, remember that part
on Pokémon Mystery Dungeon where—STOP. IT. Evil, meaningless thoughts!
Forgive me, God. I’m disgusting. Please don’t cancel my salvation. I beg of You.
If anything, I’m understating that season of my life. Regardless of neurology,
I don’t know if anyone can honestly live like that. Maybe monks and nuns. But
the rest of us laypeople? I would have a hard time believing someone if they
claimed to be successfully living this kind of life. I would also feel sad for them.
Before I knew I was autistic, I believed there was something seriously wrong
with me because no one else I knew “struggled” in these ways (at least, no one
was willing to admit it). But things like hyperfixation and special interests aren’t
exclusive to autism. And it’s actually okay to enjoy life. I usually love to turn to
Ecclesiastes to fight against toxic theology in this area, but recently I’ve been
looking to Colossians as well:
“Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels,
going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous
mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished
and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is
from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as
if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—'Do not handle,
Do not taste, Do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—
according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance
of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the
body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
Paul actually speaks against trying to live in extreme self-denial like I was in the past.
It’s crazy how I missed that, even with all my intense Bible reading at the time.
"Let no one disqualify you."
Jesus is sufficient. Legalistic living does nothing except prevent us from holding fast
to the Head. And, more often than not, it makes us proud. To be clear, I’ve had really
good church experiences for the most part. I love the church I’m in, as well as
ministries I’ve been involved with in the past. I have nothing but respect for my
church leaders. But that’s the thing: if I still picked up toxic and misleading messages
as an autistic in positive church environments, I can’t even imagine how it is for other neurodivergent Christians who haven’t been so lucky.
God loves us and the brains He gave us. We are His creation—His diverse masterpiece.
He wants us to enjoy the gifts He gives us. A good parent who gives their child a toy wouldn’t turn around and say, “Why are you wasting time with that meaningless thing? Throw it away! You ought to be ashamed!” Different context, but Matthew 7 could arguably be used here.
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
Church, we need to do better. I include myself in that because I also am always
continuing to learn. However… Be careful as you search for information about autism.
There are a bunch of stereotypes and harmful propaganda out there, wishing to erase
us from existence and promoting traumatizing practices that force us to act more neurotypical. Instead, listen to real autistic people. Support their content. Read their memoirs. Utilize resources they recommend. Let them reflect God’s glory to you in
different and unique ways.
Some sources I recommend are:
Autistic Self Advocacy Network (autisticadvocacy.org) and
NeuroClastic » The Autism Spectrum According to Autistic People
Autistic Christians exist. We want to grow in the Lord just as much as you do.
Please don’t forget about us.
[Editor’s note: Spirit Fire Review does not represent or endorse these organizations,
but is glad to share resources that may be of use.]
Miya Sae (MEE-yuh SAI) is an autistic Christian,
a blogger, and an aspiring author. Diagnosed at
age 26, she has become an autism supporter and strives to bring hope and encouragement to other misunderstood, neurodivergent Christians like
herself. Miya became a willing Christian at age 14 after a dramatic and unforgettable encounter with God. Since then she has been passionate about sharing the love of Christ with anyone who desires
to listen. She believes in fighting shame that often comes with religious legalism and replacing it with Christ and who He is. Miya strives to contribute to bridging the neglected gap between autism and Christianity.