Autism in Church

David Rush

18 Feb 2022

In response to a Facebook post in a private group, I wrote the following (with names and other identifying material filed off)...

...this is almost entirely unrelated to your experience, but was thoughts brought up by your context. You see, I just recently got my diagnosis [as an autistic person]. At 57. All through my 20s and into my 40s i was not merely a regular church-goer, but a very active god-botherer, serving in church leadership and on the missions field in America, Asia and Europe. I met my wife and started a family within this context.

But I feel like neurodiversity is a big problem in communities of faith. When I broke, a lot of it was from being told how I was "wrong" for failing to mask adequately. Of course, I didn’t understand it like that at the time, but I now recognize that those "deficiencies" were strongly tied to the way that *I AM* in the world. On top of that, the way that NT church groups communicate empathy and good will just completely fall flat when filtered through my autistic mind.

Had I known and understood autism - in particular autistic masking and how it is driven by shame and the need for acceptance - things might have worked out a lot differently. Or maybe not. If God is, then God is a god of ALL of Us, and of course my autistic mind has its own SpIn about God which doesn’t line up very well with anyone’s orthodoxy. Perhaps I would have found my way into a different sort of community of faith, or maybe sooner, or with less trauma for myself and those near and dear to me.

Now, *all* of my kids self-identify as ND in various ways (that’s part of why I went to the effort of a formal diagnosis for myself), and none of them relate to the church in anything that looks like a conventional way. I’m a little bit sad about this, but also a little bit glad. My partner and I are more-or-less together-ish, but we’ve been through some very difficult times and they still don’t think that neuro-diversity is much of a thing, and certainly not one that has any kind of value in understanding either my experience or our experience together. I guess that’s just life.

But communities of faith have conformity pressures that are not immediately obvious. In fact, they can look like acceptance in the early stages. That pressure later builds up over the course of life, and I think that autism tends to mean that we take it more to heart than neurotypical folk do.

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