Dear beloved church of mine.
You know I have spent 20 years serving you? As an adviser who has co-written Policy for the Archbishops’ teams? As the main lead on autism for a decade? As a speaker, trainer, prayer partner, friend?
You see, I’m autistic. And, well, there’s no easy way to say this. Your words can hurt. They wound. They injure. They humiliate. They dehumanise.
I know. I know you don’t mean to do these things. I know you want us all to thrive. But, well, let me explain.
Yesterday, I opened a new book by a senior church figure. Being Human. Published this year by SPCK, a charity whom I have supported for a time and who do fabulous work with me. The book is written by a fine mind, a person well known for their kindness.
Yet..well, walk with me through this extract...
“I find some of the most suggestive, creative and challenging insights come from looking at how people work with those living with autistic conditions..or dementia..It’s when we see malfunction or challenge of this nature that we begin to see also what we take for granted...what we mean by consciousness...”
Turning to the blog of another senior figure, we read him quoting from a text, “..The autistic or Down’s Syndrome child, the derelict, the wretched or broken man or woman, the homeless, the diseased or mentally ill...to be able to see in them not only something of worth, but indeed something potentially godlike, to be cherished and adored, is the rarest and most enobling unrealistic capacity ever bred in human souls.”
So, malfunction...or an act of unrealistic nobility to see that of God in me.
Well, my loved friends, that hurts.
You may not mean it to.
But I want you to walk with me. The me that is a human like you. With feelings like you. Loved by God like you. Cherished by him like you. Bringing our whole selves to his service, like you. As leaders, as prayer partners, as friends, as people of honour and integrity. You see, it's endless, the list of negative things we wade through in life. Just endless. Example after example in theological writings, from these fine authors and others, using me and my lived friends and family of all autistic kinds as the examples of the monster, the tragedy.
When you write of us, could you try to write as you would write of a friend? Could you write of us as a fellow disciple? Might your words reflect the knowledge that autism never was a lack of humanity, but a misunderstanding of communication and sensory differences? Autistic people are generally kind, caring, courageous, a blessing. But so often placed in great pain and distress through ignorance of our differences.
Could you perhaps avoid comparing us to inhumanness and brokenness to see how close we match up? It hurts. I am sure it hurts all the others in those awful lists too.
Autistic people yearn to read that we are welcome at that table alongside our loved friends, in all the love and sharing that our faith brings.
Thank you for reading.