Autism: created in God's image

Dearest readers, 

Having now finished my exams (endlich!) I'm finally back to the world of blogging and feeling more human again. I have to admit I have no idea how well I have done at this stage but rather just glad they are over and ready to continue with my research project and case studies and other projects I am involved with.  It has come to my attention through groups I am in, discussions I have seen and people I have listened to that there is an interesting concourse in regards to autism, healing and it's origin in the church. I would like to put my tuppence in as this is a very sensitive dialogue that needs a autistic voices as well as non autistic voices. 

I believe that we are all made in God's image, and this includes autistic individuals. I firmly believe that I do not need healing, for I was created the way I am for a reason. The reasoning for this? There is not one group of people of individuals that are made more in God's image than another group. Not only does this encompass ethnicity or gender, but neurology and difference, which here does encompass and include autism. But where does this dialogue of a healing culture feel relevant to autism?

I believe this in part an oversimplifying of what Jesus did and what it says in the Bible. We need to remember the culture, attitudes and environment of the time that the Bible was written, in particular who was regarded as worthless in society at this point in history: women, children and those who were considered 'dirty' (note the inverted commas). This is society placing this view upon those who may not be able to 'contribute' to society as society dictates, not seeing their intrinsic value as an individual. When Jesus comes, this is to change: we see this in the way Jesus hung around with all sorts of people that would be deemed 'inappropriate' or 'dirty' in the very historic, Jewish culture, including women! He challenged people's perceptions of cleanliness and showed great love and compassion towards those who 'other children of God' had neglected. He did heal people, but do we know exactly how he healed people? Do we know what was meant by healing - making right in the eyes of God? In the eyes of society? Just 'making better'? I think this itself has quite a complex answer.

But what does this mean for autism today? This notion of 'healing' being more complex means it is not so black and white. Autism is such a vast spectrum of individuals with differing interests, insights and perceptions of the world: there is no one image of autism. We also need to be sensitive to adversities that individuals and their families may encounter: fads, theories, convincing research, anecdotes, clinical advice, numerous appointments, judgement and prejudgement, social isolation alongside sweat and tears. There is no 'one' experience, although there tends to be overlap. There is almost a language of its own used among those who study, work and live in the autism field and community. Some of us have been hurt by churches in the past hinting we are 'not complete' or 'broken' and need to be healed. This couples alongside the challenges that may be faced in day to day life. Think of what it does to your self-esteem to be told you are 'broken' or 'need fixing' or 'wrong', when you are created the way you are. You just happen to see the world through a different perception. No wonder some have turned their backs on the church - seeing these behaviours as representative of all or being unable to tolerate this. It breaks my heart that individuals and churches have done this.

Why doesn't autism need 'healing' in a church sense? Because it is the way we are wired. It is nearly impossible to speak on behalf of every autistic person as we are all so different, but healing suggests that to be God's children and to be worthy, you have to be a certain way. And that not being autistic. Which is nonsense. Everyone is worthy, there is no hierarchy. Also 'healing' suggests that something is wrong. Wrong that needs to be 'fixed' and 'made right', but the only way we are made right is by going to God via Jesus, not having hands waved over you in a healing vigil or finger pointing that you are wrong. In terms of autism, we are made right by coming to God via Jesus, just like those who are not autistic. Autism is not an illness, it is a neurological difference. This is where I believe the confusion to be. It is not like the common cold, or tuberculosis, or cancer, which can be attempted to be rectified  Autism describes a manner of experiencing the world, which is just as valid as every other manner. It is not wrong.

Healing is not the correct word. Things that help autistic people to thrive include the right environment, acceptance and empathy, thinking ahead to what could be a challenge, clear communication and the correct attitudes. These aren't healing. This is showing love as Jesus would have done. This is also in a more scientific manner actually helping to make church more accessible. Things that are empathetic. Empathy is so important, as is an open dialogue.

It is obvious to note there is no 'one' autism experience. We are all different and all have different needs, and some do feel as if there is something wrong with them. This complex dynamic does need to be respected and the best way to help someone is to get to know them (and their family), getting clued up on autism and being open to advice from other autistic individuals, as they might pick up something small that could be potentially very helpful. 



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