Church Stories: Embracing Faith as an Aspie (by Erin Thomas)

What’s it like to live with Asperger's Syndrome in the Church? Today we find out from the talented Erin Thomas. Erin is a self-styled mix-up. Advocating for the end of the modern slave trade, she hopes to open a small intentional community retreat for exploited youth in Canada. Her blog, The Underground Railroad, is a small rag dealing with human trafficking and other justice issues. When she’s not writing creative non-fiction, short stories, and poetry, Erin spends her time working on her Masters of Arts in Urban Studies online through Eastern University, fighting for the last carrot in the house with her two rabbits, Bug and Sage, and enjoying mentoring time with local youth both in and out of church settings.

I hope you learn as much from her perspective as I did! 

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Transient

It’s my faith that marks me as peculiar.

Oh I see the looks when I stand off by myself—(thou shalt not interact unless thou art commanded to come)—but my interpretation skills can be a little off, so that group of women at church I see as a minefield might actually want me to come and chat. Seriously? This is making friends? You’ve got to be kidding me.

I tremble at night when my synesthetic mind brings to life eternal torture… damnation… how the flames of Hades are seven times hotter than the hottest fire on Earth – seven times! I learned these things during a week of Bible camp when I was nine. But I played by my unwritten rules—(thou shalt believe the Bible as it is taught so thou shalt avoid God’s eternal wrath). The night terrors began soon after; the fixation on paganism, Satanism and witchcraft after that; and the hallucinations by the time I was twelve—(thou shalt believe what thou perceiveth with thy senses; they are measurable references proving truth). 

Break the rules?

Never!

To ask an Aspie to break her rules would be to ask her to stop breathing. Often, not even she knows her own rules, much less the game being played.  And on a daily basis, Christianity is most definitely a game – and the players play for the win, or burn in hell. There is no second place. Evangelism is critical, with the blood of the unredeemed on our heads—(if they die because I have not shared the Gospel, I am to blame.)

Make relationships.

Build relationships.

Cultivate relationships.

Nurture relationships.

Initiate relationships.

No matter which way you play it, Christianity is a social extrovert’s game and no amount of self-help preaching of “accept thyself” will change that—(thou shalt shake every hand of every person entering the church building in order to be a devout Christian).

Do they know? Do they know that small talk is next to impossible for me?

Oh sure, I want to know about your views of social justice within the first five minutes of meeting you, but your name? I will remember it about as easily as your face—for shame! A good Christian knows names and faces so people always feel welcome. 

Do people know how long it takes me to recharge after social functions?

Do they understand the guilt and shame inherent to losing the Christian game day after day?

Do they perceive the confusion they cause by saying “You don’t look like someone with Asperger’s…”, or “everything you experience, NTs go through too. You’re only labeling attention-seeking behavior with a flavor-of-the-month name”, and “Jesus has the power to heal your mental illness.”

1. Anyone who knows anything about the autism spectrum knows that like NTs, no two Aspies are exactly alike,

2. If I was seeking attention, I would strip naked in a bar on $3 Mojita Night; besides, I had never even heard of Asperger’s Syndrome until my diagnosis, and,

3. Asperger’s Syndrome is not a mental illness. It’s a neurobiological condition, a PDD – Pervasive Developmental Disorder. We are born this way. We can learn to be socially bilingual, but we are out of the spectrum of “norm” (who’s Norm?). Even so, we are your engineers, inventors, poets, artists and dreamers. The need for support is great, but the need for healing as Christianity defines healing isn’t.

We Aspies are notorious for literal thinking – taking at face value what is said, read or written. Thus, it is often recommended that we not participate in organized faith practices because we are too vulnerable to depression, severe anxiety, and even suicidal ideation because of faith-based guilt.

Maybe if my parents had known this growing up, things might have been different (not that they preached the hell-&-damnation Gospel, despite taking us children to evangelical churches). I was clinically diagnosed when I was 30 years old, after months of investigation, careful study, and gentle probing.

Yet faith had already literally rooted itself into my life. Was I now to let go?

No.

As logical as it seems to stay away from teachings that cause such debilitating fear (so much so that the thirteen-year-old me created escape plans for the inevitable AntiChrist Army that would march down our street to shoot me after the rest of my family had successfully been raptured), it would be even less logical to believe that God would create a group of strange people created to be forever distanced from Jesus because we can’t know Him in the right way. 

Processing the world differently, stilting about awkwardly in social groups, saying things at the wrong times or not saying anything at all can be hallmarks of being an Aspie. However, my three-dimensional visions of faith in Jesus Christ stamp me as more odd than any PDD. 

Want to support an Aspie in faith? Stop playing the game. We want to be a part of family, but for that to happen, we need to help create new rules. Who knows? Your weirdness might find a home in the Aspie world.

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