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.