Hi. I am Monica, and I am an autist.
I’m a grown-up, too, according to the calendar anyway, and have been Orthodox for about six or seven years.
Diagnosis came late, in my case, only about a year ago, so for most of the time I’ve been with you we’ve not known this. However, even before I knew this, I noticed there is a serious lack of knowledge in the Church when it comes to adults with autism.
Mind, that’s hardly surprising. The world in general has only just caught on that autistic children grow into autistic adults, and it’s not a childhood condition only. Still, we have always been there, you know, even though neither you nor we knew what was the matter. You just never saw us, because we couldn’t cope, or you saw us and thought us weird.
I write about autism, but this goes for many more people than just us autists. See, the Church is in many ways inclusive. No one can be turned away – that would be a serious ignoring of commandments. Excommunication is no doubt at times abused, but it is recognized that abuse is abuse, and it’s not supposed to work that way. It’s simply a flaw in human nature that these things happen.
Might I draw your attention to another flaw? You see – Church is inclusive in that there are no statements made regarding salvation of people with brain differences, people with mental problems, people whose IQ scores do not reach triple digits etc. Quite the opposite, it is frequently stated that the Church believes that Gods mercy most certainly extends to people such as us, and He’ll know what to do with us.
I fully agree, He certainly will. Yet by stating that God will know what to do with us, you make it abundantly clear that you do not. By stating that because of a disorder, there’s no responsibility for our salvation on our part, and God will know what to do, you basically absolve yourself of responsibility as well.
God will know, we can be sure of that and freely depend on His mercy. Yet what are you doing in the meantime? Church is for those who are already healthy in many ways, or those who can be made healthy. But I will never not be autistic.
Many of us have at least difficulties in services, and some do not manage at all. If anything is done to help, it is usually a tolerance towards the things that we, ourselves, have come up with to survive. You don’t realize how much we need predictability and reliability, and how disabling sounds and smells and touch and all the things we see can be, once we get overwhelmed by them. You may misinterpret our substandard social skills and trouble with emotions as ‘not caring’, but I assure you, we do care. We express it differently, or not at all, but given the chance, we will show you, once you know what to look for, that we do care.
Still, all that is only a minor issue, all things considered, compared to the bigger problem of our relationship with God. Yes, God will be merciful. But in using such a statement as an excuse, you rob us of the means to develop what relationship with God we can, the best way we can. I know you probably mean it as consolation – that our salvation is not hampered by our disorder. That is good. Using that consolation as an excuse yourself to not help us find ways in which we can connect to God and grow spiritually, as a way to keep things exactly as they are because to help us do that, you might need to change more than just sticking us in a quiet corner of the church building with some earmuffs on, that is saying that you don’t want to invest the effort. That you are throwing us entirely to Gods mercy, not because you have such unwavering belief in Gods mercy, but because you don’t know what to do with us.
You know what? It’s okay. It’s okay not to know what to do with us. We don’t know what to do with neurotypicals most of the time, so it’s only fair you get to be confused about us in return. But please, help us. Our way into the heart, our way towards God goes via a slightly different route – but we still want to take it.
And autist or no, disorder or no, disability or no, everyone’s life improves by growing closer to God. Not in some distant future when all of this won’t matter anymore anyway, but HERE. And NOW.
Include us. We want to grow closer to God, we want to get into the heart (as soon as we figure out what on earth that means), we just don’t always do well with the available tools, and need a hand finding those that do work. We want to be a part of the Church, and part of our churches. We need your help.
We will thank you (well, probably you will have to remind us to thank you, but we will anyway) for your patience and assistance in this matter.