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    Editors’ Picks: God Loves the Autistic Mind

    We need books like Matthew Schneider’s God Loves the Autistic Mind because, too often, autistic people of faith have been led to feel the opposite.

    By Boze Herrington

    January 19, 2023
    • Lukas Miller

      I’m autistic and was raised a Baptist but no one in my church or family told me I was mentally ill or under demonic influence. However, I did struggle with low self-esteem over difficulty in drivers training as a young man. It wasn’t until I was twenty five that I got my license. If you read Boze Herrington’s blogs you will understand why he feels the need to expound on this. I don’t agree with him on everything, but he’s been through hell and learned to love again and I appreciate that he uses his personal experiences to restore hope to people. I hope he writes his autobiography one day.

    • Shirley

      As an autistic introvert I find the previous comment uninformed, to say the least. Autism is not a disease, and certainly not a brain injury. I do not have restricted diet, but I do work full-time at work that pays well and benefits from my autistic traits (I'm a copy editor and proofreader.) Nevertheless, I am autistic. As a young person, I struggled with religious belief, but have settled into a personal understanding of God that includes attending a church with a liberal (not a bad word) outlook and a traditional liturgy. My church has a lot of music, and the opportunity for the congregation to sing hymns is one of the reasons I attend. A church service where the congregation doesn't sing would never work for me.

    • Jennie Brandon

      Thanks for this book rec, Boze and your sensitive discussion of this topic. We moved to a traditional, liturgical church from a large, charismatic, evangelical congregation for the sake of our autistic son and the structure of the beautiful liturgical services have been balm to both him and the rest of our family. He has not been the only one to gain from that move. We also, not surprisingly, found other members of the congregation were on the spectrum. It is the healthiest church community I have ever been part of as it welcomes in all personality- and neuro-types.

    • Miranda

      As the mother of an autistic son I am so heartened by Boze’s review and will definitely buy this book. My son is kind , talkative, warm hearted and loving and is blessed to have religious studies teachers at school who enjoy discussing difficult theological questions with him . I agree with Boze that some churches do prize emotional responses over quietness and it can be problematic. We moved from going to a big ‘happy clappy’ church to the small one in our village and am so glad we did .

    • Priscilla King

      As a neurotypical introvert, I find the tendency to confuse autism with introversion very offensive and unhelpful to both groups of people. Introversion is a healthy trait defined by having a clear internal sense of right and wrong, and associated with a long healthy life. As such it's probably better understood as the natural condition that would be God's perfect will for humankind, which some people, for whatever reason, fail to achieve. Introverts would rather read a book or take a walk than play dodgeball with the other children. This is frustrating for teachers and often leads to emotional abuse, such as mislabelling introvert children "on the autistic spectrum." Autism is a disease condition associated with brain injury, defined by neurology so abnormal that the patient is unable to communicate with others. While some autistic patients, like Donna Williams, are helped enough by a restricted diet that they do learn to talk or write well, the word means that they really live in their own little world, often a world of pain. Some autistic patients are "high-functioning" enough to be inspired by the stories of Donna Williams and Temple Grandin. More autistic patients either aren't able to understand the stories or are frustrated and disappointed because they're not able to function as well as Grandin and Williams are. If authors like Schneider don't see how harmful confusing these conditions is, it may help to consider extroversion as having enough in common with sociopathy to be placed "on the sociopathic spectrum." Imagine telling parents that a child who runs up to greet other children is not *just* a little pest, but should be thought of as having the same kind of brainquirk as Osama bin Laden. Finally, when autistic patients are able to communicate well enough to be considered extroverts or introverts, they may (like Donna Williams) turn out to be extroverts. This makes it all the more important to make very clear, firm distinctions between the painful isolation neurodivergent conditions produce, and the self-isolation introverts use to reflect, create, and solve problems.

    We need books like God Loves the Autistic Mind because, too often, autistic people of faith have been led to feel the opposite. Written by Matthew P. Schneider, a Catholic priest who was diagnosed with autism as an adult, the book takes seriously the unique challenges and gifts of the spiritual lives of people with autistm. Roughly the first half of the book attempts to correct widespread misperceptions about autism: that there’s something wrong with people with autism because of their condition; that they’re suffering from demonic oppression; that their tendency to be intellectual or introverted or independent thinkers (all personality traits that are common among people on the spectrum) prove maladaptive in a church climate that favors extroversion, obedience, and displays of emotional excess.

    This book lovingly and gently dismantles those misperceptions one by one, continually reassuring readers that the autistic brain is good and designed by God. Autistic people aren’t defective, they are simply wired differently, in ways that often work to the benefit of themselves and others. Schneider enumerates these potential benefits at some length: the tendency toward having logical minds that enjoy exploring aspects of the faith that don’t make rational sense; the propensity to honesty and having a knack for speaking uncomfortable truths; the cultivation of a sense of wonder that challenges others to see the glory in things. These traits, Schneider writes, are gifts to the world and gifts to the church. The most bracing and revelatory portions of the book are those in which Schneider challenges the conformist mindset that sees autism as something to be ashamed of. “Autism is a variation in brain structure, not a demonic influence,” he writes. “It is not a spirit to be broken” but a gift to cherish.

    He calls his readers and the church to accept the diversity of personalities within faith communities and to resist the notion that everyone must be sociable and emotive. The arguments he develops could be applied to other areas of ability, diversity, and temperament in the church. The church is not harmed because some of its members express their devotion primarily through study. The church is not weakened because some people prefer the familiar rhythms of liturgy over the thunder and drama of contemporary praise and worship. Indeed, they too can contribute to building up the church (Eph. 4:12). Today even many neurotypical (“normal”) people are seeking a calmer, more traditional, more reasoned faith; those of us on the spectrum can help lead the way in that. Though prejudice persists, there’s a growing movement toward acknowledging the experience of historically marginalized communities; Schneider encourages those of us on the spectrum not to be discouraged by the negative judgments of others while we continue to fight for a faith in which all God’s children are welcomed.

    Contributed By BozeHerrington Boze Herrington

    Boze Herrington is a mystery and middle-grade novelist. His essays have appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Lit Hub and Nerdist.

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