Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My Autism and My Faith

I have heard from some people with autism that faith can be difficult. I have also heard from parents concerned about how to explain Christian faith to their child with autism. I have blogged previously about autism and faith. What I would like to do now is just talk about my own experience.

How can I as a person with autism hold on to such an abstract thing as faith in an invisible God?

What I need to make clear is that I do not have a blind faith. Some people can be just told the Jesus story and feel such an emotional connection that they instantly believe. That is not be.

I believe because I see that there is evidence for Christianity. Between the historical evidence for Jesus and my experience of answered prayers, I am forced to go where the evidence leads. It is not the emotional faith that many of my friends have but it is just as real.

Even as a church-goer, I was always annoying to my friends. While they would automatically accept what was said from the pulpit (even if it contradicted the guest speaker from the previous week), I would notice the biblical and logical mistakes. To some it looked like I lacked faith, whereas I felt it was the faith God wanted me to have.

I continue to be a skeptic in many ways. While I am a Christian and a pastor, I do not automatically believe everything I hear. I want to see the evidence and I am okay with that.

My autism does not prevent me from having faith, rather it pushes me to have a more reliable faith.

If you are interested in my reflections on Christian evidence, you find my other blog here.

Monday, September 28, 2015

An Autistic Person or a Person With Autism?

Stephen and Amanda Bedard
As I became more involved in autism awareness, I quickly noticed that there was some sensitivity toward phrasing. While many will talk about autistic people, the preferred wording is a person with autism. It is more politically correct.

I am not super-worried about being politically correct. If you communicate in any way, you will offend someone. Still, I tried to keep to the preferred phrase out of respect for people with autism. But I'm sure if you dig deep into my blogs, you will find references to my 'autistic children' rather than my 'children with autism.' Sometimes it just gets wordy.

Then I was diagnosed with autism.

I would hate to be introduced by my wife as her 'autistic husband' or to be described as an 'autistic author.' I am not embarrassed to have autism, but autism does not define me. Autism is just one part of who I am.

Having the diagnosis, I must confess that I now see the importance of the the right phrase. It is not about being politically correct. It is about respect.

Inside Autism

Autism Studies (Distance Learning)

If you are looking for training in autism studies, there are a number of options. One is to study at the University of Kent in the UK. They have a few programs, that seem to include both distance and some attendance. If you are interested in what they offer (which includes an MA), you can find information here.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Can I Be a Pastor and Autistic?

One of the reasons that some people are surprised by my autism diagnosis is my history of Christian ministry. I have worked as a pastor, chaplain and Bible teacher. All of those roles require social interaction. Since autism affects social interaction, I shouldn't be able to do those things.

Except I did and continue to do so.

I suspect that the problem is that many people have a stereotypical view of autism. They assume that people with autism are completely anti-social and are not able to connect with people emotionally. My children with autism are both on the severe end of the spectrum and yet are very social. In fact, it is usually more of an issue to get them to act appropriately socially rather than seeking interaction. They feel and show emotions. They care when someone is hurt and when someone is happy.

And so do I.

What does this look like in a pastoral context for me? I will admit that writing sermons and preparing Bible studies come the easiest to me. I love to preach and I love to teach. My gifts allow me to do these without too much effort. Pastoral care does not come as natural to me but I can do it. When I visit a person in their home, hospital or nursing home, I genuinely care about what is happening in their life. Chit chat does not come easy, but I know how to talk to people about their challenges and struggles. I can listen and ask probing questions. I can pray. Basically I can do my job.

What I am saying is that pastoral ministry is no different for a person with autism than it is for people without autism. Each pastor has strengths where things come naturally and other areas where more effort is required.

I have high-functioning autism and I am a pastor/chaplain/teacher.

Friday, September 11, 2015

How Can I Have Autism When I am So Normal?

I have had a number of people find it hard to believe that I have been diagnosed with autism when I am so normal. There are two errors in this thinking. One is a misunderstanding of autism and the other is that I am normal. Close friends can see the latter more clearly.

Three points on the autism spectrum
What people need to remember is that autism is a spectrum. Yes I am very different from my children in some obvious ways. But those who know my family well might see some of the similarities. For example, I made sure to arrange our family's five finger nail clippers in a row, smallest to largest. My daughter would be proud of me. I need to manipulate something in my hands, somewhat similar to my son.

The type of autism I have is what was once called Asperger's Syndrome. That diagnosis is now gone and all there is, is autism. I have high functioning autism. My autism does not limit me in my education or career. I would suggest that my autism has allowed me to accomplish much of what I have.

Why many do not see the autism in me is because I have learned how to act appropriately. For example, I have strong interests and would be happy to talk about them all the time but I know most people don't want to hear it. That is why I blog. I can explore my interests and if people want to read they can, if they don't, they can move on.

Autism is not just about lack of eye contact, flapping hands, trouble communicating or meltdowns. It is something deeper. Instead of focusing on those outward signs, they should be asking why people with autism are doing it. Some of it I understand, some I still am learning about.

So if you are having trouble believing I have autism, just take the time to get to know me.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Autism Behavioural Science Graduate Certificate

I am always on the watch for educational opportunities for people working with people with autism. Mohawk College offers an Autism Behavioural Science Graduate Certificate. This certificate is available online but you can also take it through full-time studies at the college.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

I'm Not Unfriendly, I Have Autism

I can only speak for myself, although I have heard of similar stories from other people with autism. I can sometimes come across as unfriendly. I seem eager to end the conversation and move on. Why don't I like people?

I like people just fine and I'm not unfriendly. What is difficult for me is chit chat. It is hard for me to understand the point of talking just for the sake of talking. I will respond but I can't keep up chit chat for too long.

But wasn't I a pastor?

Yes I was a pastor and I spent a lot of time talking to people. I hope I never made anyone feel uncomfortable. I am happy to talk to people within a pastoral context. There is a reason for such conversations and there is a topic to discuss. Even if the person just wants to get to know me, I am happy to talk about my family.

But when it comes to light conversation about nothing in particular, I am going to struggle. Please don't feel that I don't like you. It is just the way I am wired.