Saturday 27 January 2018

Church. Autism. Trans. Safeguarding. Love.

The Church of England is deep in debate about Trans lives.  Their 'Parliament', General Synod, had asked that the church consider services for Trans individuals.  That was voted for by a huge majority of the Synod members.  

We now learn that a small group of Bishops has decided that will not happen, without reference to any of the Trans Priests and advocates involved.  A mystery indeed. This may be helpful as a commentary. 

Why is this anything to do with autism?  Because...

There are two million autistic parishioners in the country.
Autistic people are as likely to be Christians, and want to go to church, as anyone else.  Many already do.  Some are our leaders now.  Or in our choirs, our pastoral teams, our musical groups, our PCCs, our Synod.
Autistic people are more than seven times as likely to be Trans as other people.
A full 30%+ of autistic people in the country are part of the LGBTQ communities.  That is some 600,000 people. No, really.

Why is it anything to do with safeguarding?
Autistic people are amongst the most marginalised and 'at risk' groups in the country.  Autistic individuals die, on average, 16 years early, because of the horrific lives many are forced to live.  Little access to healthcare.  Little access to social opportunity.  Little access to love, to friendship, to fellowship, to being able to share their gifts and humanity with others.
Autistic people are nine times as likely to take their own lives, because of how bad a quality of life they endure.

8 out of 10 autistic people endure extremes of bullying and poverty, often because of myths and misinformation, trying to link all autistic people to a tiny number of 'shock headlines'.
Most autistic people struggle to identify who is a friend and who is a predator.
It becomes a safeguarding matter when those battered and bruised - spiritually, emotionally, physically, sexually - stagger to the door of church, and find it shut in their faces.  With the people inside saying, "You're nothing to do with us".  Or... make it inside to find a barrage of hate, othering and ostracism.    That final straw...and such a missed opportunity for the congregation and leadership to find a new friend, a new prayer partner, a new pair of hands to help share all the load within the church.

Why it is anything to do with Jesus?

Because Jesus, it appears, had an autistic friend, Nicodemus.  Approaching Jesus in the quiet of night, misunderstanding metaphor.  Jesus helped him to understand.  He didn't tell him to go away.  He didn't tell him it was too much bother, too much cost.  There was Nicodemus, reaching for a rule book to try to solve a tricky social dilemma and danger for Jesus.  Staggering up a hill with an imponderable and socially-awkward amount of herbs and spices, to Jesus's tomb.  We cannot 'diagnose' people no longer alive, but we can affirm the autistic-like nature of Nicodemus.  Still as autistic at the end, still a friend of Jesus.

We know we're made by God.  Part of the Body of Christ.  Loved as the honest, dedicated and justice-seeking people we are.

We know that many of our number are gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, non-binary...and many other identifiers.  A rainbow of diversity.  Each bringing a piece of that-which-God-has-created.  Each, a vital part of the picture of humanity.

We, as a church, need to do better than to shut the door in the faces of the Trans autistic people.  Or any other Trans or autistic person, of course.  In fact, anyone at all.  We need to do better than to condemn them to a life outside of the church walls, a life apart from God.  

We need to do better than to leave some of the most vulnerable outside, as too much bother, too much cost, too 'scary'?  Did Jesus not say that the good shepherd goes in search  of the lost sheep?  

As one of the country's leading autism experts, my life has been so blessed with meeting autistic people of every kind, every gender identity and sexuality, every faith and of no faith.  Each loved by God. Goodness me these are fantastic people.  I'm autistic and part of that same community.  Such depth of faith in God, such depth of love for others.

I look forward to the day when all share in the one banquet, share in the one love, sheltering in the safety of the presence of God.  Each and every one, safely in the fold.

The picture is of a Cross in a church.

Monday 22 January 2018

"But you can speak on the phone sometimes"

(This is a picture of a woman wearing a pink dress, talking on a telephone).
"But you can speak on the phone sometimes!"
I get that a lot, when I explain that I can find speaking on the phone very difficult.  Most autistic people do.
Some days I am partly or completely non-verbal for part of the day, and I simply cannot speak at all.  That's rare, but it can happen.
The rest of the time, I'm relying on 'stock phrases' when I pick up the phone.
"Good morning, this is Company X, how can I help you?"
"Yes, I'm fine thank you.  What about you?"

"Of course.  I'll put you through."
I can do that.  Not a problem.
But, listening to complex instructions for a long time over a phone line is really, really difficult for me.  Some autistic people can do that.  Me, I'm worried that I will miss intonation that turns out to be really important, for example.  Let me give you an example of voice tone, and how it changes the context:
"I SAID you must move the money".
"I said YOU must move the money"
"I said you MUST move the money"
"I said you must MOVE the money"
"I said you must move the MONEY"
I have put the emphasis on different words in the sentence.  All those mean something different.  But if you can't hear voice tone, that becomes tricky. To me, if spoken, they all sound the same. 

That's just one sentence.  By the time people have used voice tone for nearly every sentence they speak, it can get mighty confusing.  And exhausting.  And I get in big trouble if I fail to get stuff right afterwards.   If it's business-critical stuff, I can't afford to rely on interpreting voice tone and bizarre expressions.  What do I mean by bizarre expressions?  "We shall completely mesh the emerging systems, and holistically explore the boundaries, whilst pushing the envelope on timescales".  I think someone actually said that to me, last week.
Here's a picture of me pushing an envelope...

Written instructions tend to be easier.  Certainly easier to query.

If it's a casual phone conversations on a topic I know really well, I can do that.
If it's a totally new topic, with people I don't know well, that's a big ask for me.

So, I work in writing where I can, as a personal preference.  Or I ask to meet in person with others of my team who can be additional listeners.  

Each autistic person has their own best way of communicating.  We need to respect it as much as we would a Blind person asking for audio, or a Deaf person asking for things in writing.  It's not a joke, it's not a way to annoy organisations.  It's vital to ensure that there is meaningful and accurate communication.

Is this a 'deficit'?  Let me ask you a question.  If you went to lawyer to write a Will for you, would you hope that they wrote something vague?  Something that could be misconstrued?  Gave you a quick chat and nothing in writing?  How about if you were doing your tax accounts and went to an Accountant who did the figures in a vague way that could mean almost anything, with you just taking notes and hoping for the best?  Suppose you went to a Doctor, and they gave you a set of vague instructions for your medication, scribbled on the back of an envelope?  Some things require accuracy.  We're the accuracy.  There are endless autistic professionals whose brains are simply superb at making sure words say what they mean.  That's what my Professional Practice does.  It's done it accurately, for £billions in properties, for 18 years and counting.  That's a benefit. It's a business advantage.  It's what keeps clients of all kinds safe and well looked after.

Find out what autistic people do differently, and why it's sometimes a lot better than others can do.  Then, make use of us.  But respect that we need communication to be clear.
Thank you for listening.

Sunday 14 January 2018

Is love political?

This week, I've been blessed with so many things.

The love of family, wonderfully autistic.

The caring of autistic friends and colleagues.

The caring of non-autistic friends and colleagues.

The chance to collaborate together on plans for a wonderful event for disabled and neurodiverse people.  About our Christian faith, and what we bring each day to it.  In prayer, in love, in compassion, in friendship, in skills and work.  About what it is to be representing Jesus, embodying that-of-God-which-is-like-us.  What people learn of God's nature by walking alongside us, listening to a wisdom arising from the journey.

In quiet moments of reflecting, sat with autistic and disabled friends as they tell their stories of life.  Of sharing hope, and pain.  Of encountering such depth of feeling and yearning for a life made easier.

In heartwarming moments, looking at autistic art, poetry, scuplture, essays, research.  Of all kinds, from all manner of people. Each shining a light into the human soul.

In preparing a simple worship session for a church group, as I often do, working with materials from our Bishop and reflecting on God's message for us.

In patiently caring for those in my family who rely on me to guide and support them, as they do for me too.

In sheltering those who return from 'the front line' of autism work, bruised in spirit, not sure if they can go on.  And receiving that same shelter during exhausted times of my own. 

I'm one of so many autistic people who yearn for a world of caring and love, where autistic people can thrive alongside our non-autistic friends.  

That's my motive.

Just that.

Is it political?  Perhaps.  But no more than any other love could be.

Will you join people like me, as we walk towards that goal together?

The photograph shows a wooden shed door, faded and worn.  On it hangs a heart shape made of rough twigs, and within that heart shape, another pale smooth pottery heart hangs.  Why did I choose that image? Because it speaks to me of the unexpected places to find love, in all its forms...if only we look.