Sometimes I have an awkward conversation with church folk.
I ask to join in, saying that there are an awful lot of autistic people, and our voices count too.
For example, some 10% of LGBT+ people are autistic. Are we represented at the Shared Conversations on CofE LGBT matters? No-one knows. No-one has asked, it seems. Maybe we are, maybe we're not. Who can tell.
And normally there's someone who says, "Why should autistic people get a special mention? If you get a place, what about me? After all, I have diabetes, so why don't we have a special number of places for diabetic people? Or people who enjoy going to the theatre? We can't cater for every group, as it's just ridiculous".
Is it? It betrays an extraordinary lack of knowledge of autism. And of God, I'd argue.
Autistic people encounter God and faith differently. We have a different sensory system. We see differently. We hear differently. We are affected by texture, smell and physical contact differently. We process words differently. We see people differently (often being faceblind for example, and not able to recognise folk from their faces alone). We are rule-driven, not social-relationship-driven, and that means that our reading of the Bible is different. We socialise differently. We form relationships differently. Not in 'broken ways', but ways that represent something new, something amazing to learn about. Truly amazing.
What of God is represented in what we encounter? What of His word can we learn anew by listening to our 'take' on the Bible?
How does the word of Scripture sound to autistic lesbian ears?
How do faith images impact on eyes that see colour and texture differently?
What is it like to live with multiple disadvantages, from birth - in church life?
Is 10% of a group 'too small' to think about including?
What do we lose by not asking, by not including?
It's tempting to see autistic people as just asking to be included in order to make a point. In order to be a nuisance. As some annoying group asking to be 'catered for'. But it's not that.
It's about having something so worthwhile to contribute. It's about us hearing something really important about how we fail to see really big groups of people (some 300,000 of us in the country who are autistic and LGBT). It's about who has the right to decide things for us, without asking us or consulting with us. It's about who gets to impose pain and fear on us, quite accidentally, because they failed to ask our needs too.
No, it's not like leaving out people who are keen on hockey, or those who prefer the 8am service to the 10am service. It's about a group of people who are routinely bullied, excluded, assaulted, marginalised, forgotten and mostly live in abject poverty. And about a church that needs to do better than, "Well, your voice doesn't matter". If no-one has ever listened, how do we know?