"Nothing about us, without us".
That's a phrase we hear, often. Yet, we get a lot of people writing books about autism and faith who are not autistic, and who do not write with us. We also get a lot of people who are not disabled writing faith books about disability, without disabled people. Or, giving conferences about disability with whole teams of not-disabled people. Or, even worse, with anti-disabled-people groups, whose job is to make us invisible, without our permission. Using us as tragedy stories. It's great to have allies. Collaborative working is great. Being written about, without our input, not great.
I'm a strong believer in the right of autistic people to choose for themselves. To choose whether to follow a good faith. To choose whether to worship. To choose not to. To choose, with the best possible information to allow that choice. My own faith is Christian.
Faith books written by parents of autistic children are great, but they are not by us.
Faith books written by 'Experts on Autism' are great, but they are not by us.
I'm mindful of some of these expert academics having huge influence. If they write that autistic people cannot possibly be Christian unless they can speak, well - lots of people are going to believe that. Then, we have a problem. Because once we have said that autistic people can't be Christians without speech, it's easy to move to, 'Well, they're not really humans, are they. Why would God have a relationship with them'. We know what happens when we dehumanise populations. Autistic people already die on average 16 years early because of the lack of understanding of our needs.
The lack of understanding of our faith needs is a part of that.
I was aware of God well before I could speak. Well before I could work out what other people were. God has no difficulty at all in communicating with people of all kinds.
It is so important that the faith, the understanding, the prayer, the leadership and the worship of the wonderful autistic population is heard. Heard without being filtered out by non-autistic people. Heard without being altered. Heard, authentically, richly, powerfully. One of Jesus's good friends was autistic. And even after Jesus died, Nicodemus was still autistic. So much for the need to pray for our cure, eh?
I have been honoured to be alongside Helen Tyers, Theologian and friend, for some years. We met when co-running disability theology retreats at Sarum College, next to Salisbury Cathedral, with many fine others.
We are setting up a theology project around autism. Its title, "Joining the Feast". A website, an 'Appetiser' paper, a book.
Others are of course doing their own work on this. We are not claiming to be the first ever.
It is a starting point for collaborative working with others. For others to explore the ideas, to grow in confidence to say how their faith journey is. To be able to share with others who want to hear and read what they want to say. For them to build in confidence that they do indeed have something to say, or write, or draw, or use music or dance or movement to express.
It will not be about getting awards, or being cited in academic documents, or winning funding. It will not be about getting our names in the media, or earning money.
It's about God, Jesus, autism.
It's about love.
It's about the banquet for all.
More in a week or two.
The picture at the top is of a stained glass window, showing a lit candle, bread and wine. Around it, a circle showing rainbow colours.