“Adult, Autistic, and Ignored”

There were 2 comments on the October 9th post, Orthodox Christian dvd on autism and worship

The first: “what about autistic adults?”

The second: “While I think this is wonderful, [the dvd] what is EVEN MORE needed is advocacy for the MANY MANY adults with autism in the Orthodox Church. Children with autism grow up to be adults with autism, it does not somehow magically vanish at age 18. As an Orthodox autistic at age 53 I have had some HORRIBLE experiences in parishes across the United States, some real mistreatment. I hope and pray that this changes.”

This Orthodox Christian autistic man is sharing a very disturbing message with the American Orthodox Christian community. Now while the Orthodox Church is the “fullness of the faith,” the vast majority of us are beginners in the journey to appropriate this fullness, and we often fall into sin. But we are called to repentance from our sins, from unloving behavior such as this man describes. 

I will tell you a personal story. Many years ago I was involved in what was known as “the Jesus Movement;” unfortunately the group I joined was a dysfunctional one; we were strict and harsh with one another, and pushy and selective in our efforts to win converts; we sought young people. One evening, on the streets of Manhattan, I initiated a conversation with a man walking beside me, seeking to evangelize him. He turned to face me, and I saw that his face was unusually large, and distinctly displeasing to my eye; he was also older. He responded to me, seeking to engage me in conversation, but I responded with a short Christian platitude and ended the conversation. 

I felt guilty for what I had done to this man; and I still feel shame over my unkind response. I imagine that many people this man had encountered in his life would have done something similar to what I had done. But this man would remember my response in conjunction with empty Christian words. 

The Good Samaritan, who belonged to a group hated by the Jewish people of Jesus’ day, proved to be a neighbor to the Jewish man who had been robbed and beaten and left lying along the road half dead. He did not allow the prevalent religious animosities between his people and the Jews to dictate his response to the victim he found along the road. Instead, he fulfilled completely the law of love in his provisions to the man, despite their differences.

People with autism in the Church will not relate to us in coffee hour in the same was as a fellow neurotypical person will. And they may do things during Divine Liturgy that we may not think are appropriate. Nevertheless, they are our brethren; and as we are called to love our brethren, our neighbors, and even our enemies, we are certainly called to make every effort to try to understand the situation of our autistic brethren and visitors, and be there for them to the best of our abilities, to resist the temptation to criticize and condemn the differences they manifest, that they may feel welcomed and loved.

There is a prevalent misconception in the general culture that autism is childhood condition, something one can grow out of; we are more tolerant of autistic children than of autistic adults.  Many of the government support programs for them end when they become adults. According to a September 5, 2015 New York Times article (which can be accessed below) 90% of autistic adults are unemployed or underemployed. This factual article is also a personal story; the life of an autistic man, Joshua is inter-weaved with the facts presented. 

While reading the article, reflect on how you might respond to an autistic adult in your Parish, in light of Joshua, the 53 year old Orthodox Christian man, and the facts of American adult autistic life.

To access: New York Times: Adult, Autistic, and Ignored 

Picture from: crawltothemoon.wordpress 

4 Responses to ““Adult, Autistic, and Ignored””

  1. 1 Monica October 28, 2015 at 4:35 PM

    Yes, exactly – many of us have the same experiences. And it is not just a matter of actually being in the service (and the horrors of coffee hour), but also our spiritual lives. Our brains process things differently. We are able to connect to God, for the simple reason that autism won’t stop God connecting to us. But the way in which we can do that may vary from what is ‘normal’. I have currently about 20 pages of article on various things we, as people with autism, encounter in church, and we’re still not done yet.

    There may be more tolerance towards the children, but the majority still focusses on controlling and accepting their behaviour – not on any meaningful spiritual progress.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 2 Monica October 30, 2015 at 2:27 PM

    There’s just one little niggle I have about this article – while it is of course great that people are called to exercise their Christian love and tolerance, I would be a bit upset if the focus is only on any odd behaviour we may show – certainly befriending us is not just a sacrifice? Is there no joy in our company? Is being loved by us a burden? Our way of worship and our way of connecting to God may be different from mainstream, but is that not something we may offer to the Church at large as our contribution?

    Don’t make the mistake of generalizing, of focusing only on our odd behaviour, and of merely tolerating for the sake of practicing your own virtues. (Do remember that to us, YOUR behaviour is just as odd!)


    • 3 armsopenwide October 31, 2015 at 4:43 PM

      I see your point, Monica. My comments were made as a response to the writer of the article, meant for the majority in the Church who are not autistic, some, perhaps most of whom would steer around someone who is different. I’m telling them to repent of such behavior. Yes I think it’s worth the time to get a fresh perspective on life and the Faith, and that having friends in your life who give us this fresh perspective enhances one’s life. It’s easy to stay in one’s comfortable clique of people, but this limits one’s growth. So people who are neurotypical can benefit and grow by developing relationships with people on the autism spectrum. Seeing the array of God’s gifts to the Church, to the local Parish community, does bring joy. In our Church, we have a young man who is autistic, and I talk to him from time to time; these conversations tend to be brief, as he gets right to the point about things. He is also a great benefit to our Church in that he is gifted with mechanical ability and is very technologically savvy.

      Liked by 1 person

      • 4 laume79 November 1, 2015 at 9:54 AM

        Thank you for your reply. I suppose for neurotypicals to engage with autists must be about the same experience as the other way around – feeling as if you’re on a different planet.

        Reason I am responding with my wordpress account is that I’ve started posting what we collected as blogs – some hopefully helpful bits by people with autism for people with autism (although neurotypicals are free to read along if they wish, of course).

        Communication is a problem – we’re not always very good at that – but maybe we can get there by mutually sharing our experiences. Babysteps.

        Meanwhile, I am glad to see the realization that we’re out there.



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