Why we must keep an open dialogue on autism in the church
I wrote this article for my local methodist circuit magazine following on the work I have been involved in on the 'Attentiveness to Autism' project. This is a project I am very passionate about, I hope this can be gauged from this short article. Happy reading:
Autism: it’s a buzzword that we often hear in the news, in schools or maybe on social media. Maybe we know a little bit about it, or know someone on the autism spectrum. But as autism becomes more discussed in mainstream society, is it something that the church should be discussing?
The short answer is: yes! The current prevalence figures are set at 1% of the general population; this includes people from all ages, genders, ethnicities and social backgrounds. Autism isn’t fussy in that way. This means we are all bound to know someone or have a connection to autism somewhere down the line, including those of us that do not think we have a connection. This high connectivity is part of the reason Deacon Pru and I have been working on workshops for the church - for us all to learn more with relevance to a faith based setting. As humans we are all social beings can flourish best when listened to and our experiences and emotions validated, therefore it is crucial that we show this to our neighbour.
Consider the scenario of the service having just finished:
People milling around... chatter... unable to tell people’s voices apart, only a blur of white noise at normal chatter volume... lots of people moving around… feeling disorientated… feeling alienated... wanting to reach out but do not know how... the prospect of someone who is not a good friend approaching as terrifying… someone approaching… not knowing where to look… eye contact as piercing… panic rising… strong smell of perfume… the strength of the smell as vomit inducing… brain feeling jumbled… being unable to articulate the panic… microphone being tested for next service… a jolt of pain stabs straight through… using all strength not to scream… how much longer will you take… wanting to have friends but brain so jumbled…
Similar stream of consciousness have been included in the training sessions we ran, showing how someone on the can perceive certain environments and situations.
Jesus loved all through his actions of acceptance and support and we need to do the same. Church should be a refuge and welcoming environment. We need to make sure that it is an accessible refuge for all, including those facing barriers we cannot see, to truly show God’s love.