Being an Autistic Christian
In The Thing About Apples, the main character, Ann White, is a teenaged girl with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome, an older name for a specific subset of the autism spectrum. While attempting to deal with the many pitfalls of puberty compounded by a mental disorder, she often finds refuge in her local church, St. Dorothy’s. Though she is being raised in a family that has little respect for faith or faith communities, Ann draws her strength through attending services, participating in youth group, and prayer.
As an autistic Catholic myself, I have had a very Ann-like response to my faith. This surprised a lot of people. Other autistics often would berate me for ‘not being logical’, or aligning myself with communities who had historically marginalized, ignored or patronized people like us. People who had only ever had experiences with autistic stereotypes would wonder why I wasn’t more dedicated to science instead (as if the two are incompatible). Some of those who were closest to me were confused on an emotional level. They had seen the toll that being autistic in a world not meant for autistics had taken on my body, my mind and my well-being. They’d seen the scars of automatic self-harm, seen how people had taken advantage of and abused me for my peculiarities, and witnessed the pain I suffered through doing seemingly mundane tasks. “If God loved you,” they asked me, “Why would He make you this way?”
I won’t pretend to understand the answer to that. And I won’t lie to you and say that I haven’t had moments of deep, real anger about that exact question. But that’s the great thing about my relationship with God—I get angry, I get honest about it, and we hash it out in prayer. Because, above it all—God made me this way. He “knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:14). God gave me, in this body and in this mind, to this world. And everything from God is a gift.
There’s a lot of people in this world who don’t think that people like me, or like Ann, should exist. Taking a utilitarian viewpoint on human dignity, those with special needs are often pushed off as either burdens to bear or ‘blessings’ to accept with a martyr’s heart. We are grouped together in light of our disabilities, and categorized according to our ability to pass or behave as neurotypicals do.
But my God, and my faith, says otherwise. As a Child of God I am invited to see myself as a daughter of God—purposefully, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:15). I am called into a deep relationship with an all-powerful Creator-in-Love who chose to make me exactly as I am right here and now. That even I am a member of the Body of Christ, in which the “parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Corinthians 12:22). I may struggle often with what being a disabled Christian means for how I see and accept God and his Church in my life, but He has gifted me with a dignity that no man or institution can take away. And that makes all the difference.
Elizabeth Rose is the fiction alias of a twenty-something Colorado native with a double major in Religious Studies and English. , her first full-length novel, was published in 2013. It is the beginning of the Once Upon a Reality series. She has also had several short works published through eLectio publishing, Hirschworth magazine and Crack the Spine.