Mario Russo shares a personal and pastoral reflection on caring for those who are neurodivergent in our families, communities, and churches.
I found this very illuminating. My closest neuro atypical contact is with my nephew who is a brilliant young man working for a major publication making complex visual representations to display statistical data.
@Kendel this will interest you too I think. It is certainly something we’ve discussed.
One question I would have involves forming a relationship to the divine. Is that also challenging or perhaps an area of advantage?
Thank you for tagging me, @MarkD. The article is of interest, but I still need to read it.
I was recently involved in a fascinating discussion on the topic of faith and autism in another forum. Most of the people involved experienced some aspects of autism. Their responses were different, but there were some commonalities as well. For some, faith is a lot harder, because it doesn’t fit the kind of highly rational thinkinf they are apt to do. For others it was perfectly reasonable to have faith, but the social aspects of life in a church community are very difficult. I really appreciated their openness and willingness to talk about it.
Those who form relationships with the truly divine are to be childlike, so there might be an advantage for some?
I’ve tried to decide how to respond to this for hours. The best I can do is refer you to those who experience the world from within the set of conditions that are referred to as “autism.”
Don’t expect your categories to fit easily with the realities that many people with autism experience or as they experience.
Mark, you might find this discussion interesting and valuable: Autism, Rationality and Religious Belief — Ship of Fools
You have categories as well (or not as well?)
Although I am not myself autistic, some of my behavioral traits may be close to it. Maybe that is why it has been easy for me to communicate with the ‘Aspergers’, as some on the autism spectrum were earlier called.
Some things I have learned are below, in a direct and simplified form, as may be good when dealing with neurodivergent - depends on the person because there is really much diversity. If you have seen one ‘Asperger’, you have seen [just] one ‘Asperger’ was a common saying earlier.
If you feel these are wrong or too simple, please correct.
Men being on the autism spectrum are easier to identify and to communicate with. Just be honest and direct, that works usually well. Small talk is not needed, lots of words just complicates matters because they exhaust the energy and attention. There is also a need to have enough of space and possibilities to be alone because social situations and talking with somebody consumes really much energy from those who are on the autism spectrum. It is not bad to be silent together.
Girls or women are harder to identify because they are usually more skilled in masking their personal limitations. Many are good in mirroring and copying the behavior of others, and may even seem to be good in social communication. Yet, social situations are exhausting and also the girls/women need much time alone to recover after such situations. They may often be classified as extreme introverts, rather than being on the autism spectrum. The border between being neurotypical or neurodivergent is not sharp or fixed, so many are somewhere on the grey zone.
What I wrote above may seem to be a too direct listing of details but that is the way that seems to work with those that are somewhat autistic, at least the men.
It depends. Each person brings different communication styles, processing skills and methods, and social needs/expectations to the encounter. Awareness and sensitivity help, but are not always enough. A lot depends on the circumstances and individuals involved.
That’s a great question. Based on my conversations with neurodiverse people of various religious (Christian and Buddhist) and non-religious (Atheist and new age) backgrounds, they all express an ability of deeper and more profound connection to the divine. Atheists express a deeper connection to nature, or the spirit of humanity, or something else along this line. So, neurodiversity seems to enhance that deeper spiritual connection, not inhibit it.
I would say advantage to most.
This has not been reflected in my some of my few conversations.
Some of the neurodiverse folks i have talked with are extremely left brained, logical, rational thinkers, who find it incredibly hard to connect with ideas of God, the supernatural or a relationship with God.
I am taking the word of people who live it.
Fascinating topic. I am pretty socially inept, so wonder if I am on the tail end of the spectrum. In looking back, it seems to explain some things.
I’ve wondered if people whose work or schooling or areas of interest draw them to emphasize rational processes and science don’t acquire some symptoms from the spectrum as an occupational hazard. I understand that engineering and philosophy majors suffer schizophrenic breaks as undergraduates at a higher rate than the student body as a whole or of any other majors. Not the same thing as autism by a long shot but both tend toward logic over intuition.
But you sure do not come off as socially inept online.
You should hear me stumble in public sometime! But, maybe that is just normal. Like they say, we are all normal until we get to know each other better.
The underlying truth of that saying is that normalcy is really just a social construct, and normal behavior is really a broad spectrum.
I listened to the article earlier today and found a few things in it unfortunate.
Bringing up “superpowers” related to disability and diversity reinforces the common magical view of “special ability” as if it overshadows the challenges that are part of that individualized package. Some ND (Neurodiverse) people are particularly skilled in some ways or others, because of their natural, individual aptitudes. Others are not.
My own daughters live with different disabilities. They find talk of “superpowers” as well as terms like “differently abled” pandering. I think it’s important to make that clear to the NT (neurotypical) and non-disabled others.
Knor’s point here can’t be emphasized enough.
I appreciate the author’s interview with his wife, but she is one person. The interview section of the article does not emphasize nearly enough the diversity among the neurodiverse and makes some sweeping statements that are terribly misleading about the spiritual life of ND people.
By reading on autism, reading works by ND authors, participating in forum discussions with self-identified ND participants, and working with some ND individuals I have a very different impression of the experience of spirituality of some autistic people. Some of them, even those who have been in churches most of their lives have a very hard time connecting with any kind of spirituality. For some, this is agonizing. Some others, may find fundamentalism works for their way of thinking, but anything that challenges the logical certainty that fundamentalism seems to provide can be absolutely crushing to their faith.
One other sweeping statement was that ND people have exceptional problem-solving skills. Probably some do. The man who worked with me in a library did not. Although he was very intelligent, he was unable to manage library situations that did not fit the normal operational framework. I had wanted to coach him through developing an algorithm for dealing with exceptions, but the opportunity disappeared.
In spite of the problems with the article, I appreciate the second half a lot. Churches do a terrible job in general including those with disabilities and diversities as normal members of the Body of Christ. Normal means that each person is able to exercise the gifts and abilities they have from God in whatever role they are able to fill, including leadership roles. This requires the Church and the churches to start to understand their brothers and sisters in far more inclusive and meaningful ways.
Great observations. The one above hits home as some people seem to connect to God emotionally and spiritually, whereas some of us have to have a more logical or intellectual relationship, and that approach is often disparaged in the church and you hear such things as “You can know all about the Bible and still not be a Christian,” quoting the Bible “even the demons believe.” It can be hard, and often I identify with the father who cried, “I believe, Help my unbelief!”