My regular readers will know that I have an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) called ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’. I’m Aspergic; I’m an ‘Aspie’, and I’m proud of it!*
I’ve written this piece for two reasons. Firstly, in order to help other believers who have Asperger’s Syndrome, to help them see how they ‘fit in’ to the Church and the Things of God. To help them cope with people who do not see the world, the Church and the Father in quite the same way as they do. And secondly, in order to inform that majority of people who are not Aspergic – we Aspies call them ‘Neurotypicals’, or ‘NTs’ – a non-derogatory term simply meaning that their brains are wired ‘typically’, or ‘normally’, as in, like those of ‘most’ people. I hope that NT readers of this article will be able to gain some insight as to how we Aspies think. I will use the abbreviation ‘NTs’ in this article. Aspies’ brains are, however, ‘wired differently’.
For example, one of the things that Aspies do exceptionally well is to think ‘outside the box’. In fact, for many Aspies, there is no box!
I mention this because it is important that we understand right from the beginning that Aspies do not think like NTs. It means that some NTs may find it hard to follow their lines of reasoning, and may even wonder how they arrive at the conclusions they do. This is all part of it. In fact, I am very blessed in that my boss is great: he often invites me to give my perspective in meetings precisely because I offer a (sometimes very) different viewpoint from everyone else. I think of things that no-one else does. And he likes to take advantage of that. Granted, NTs too can think outside the box, but some Aspies really excel at it.
Anyway, I know how hard it can be to ‘fit in’ to any ‘community’ of NTs, especially in a Church where maybe people have set lines drawn that it is ‘forbidden’ to cross; the Aspie, however, doesn’t even notice these lines! Here, then, I present some ‘tips’ for Aspergic Christians, and indeed for Aspies in general; I do not feel I am being presumptuous in offering these because a) I am Aspie; I wouldn’t recognise presumption if it bit me on the bum, and b) I’m writing from 50+ years’ experience in interfacing with NTs. Here we go, then:
- Despite its name, Asperger’s Syndrome is not a ‘condition’ or a ‘syndrome’ in the sense that it’s not an illness. There is nothing wrong with you; you’re just different from others. You can’t ‘cure’ it because there’s nothing wrong to cure; it’s simply the way you are made. In some ways, it’s the ultimate in individuality!
- Give yourself a break – (as in, ‘Gimme a break, willya!’) – don’t be too hard on yourself! As an Aspie, you may have perfectionist tendencies, but you don’t have to be a slave to perfectionism. Go easy on yourself.
- Remember that other people will not see things as you do. Give them a break too. People might not see or understand things that to you seem obvious. And their points of view will be different. This does not necessarily mean that either of you are wrong.
- Sometimes you might find that you can listen to several conversations at once, or perhaps you find your mind spinning with thoughts and ideas while in a conversation. One of the things I found hardest was finding a way to integrate this into times when I was in a conversation with one person. It’s sometimes hard to stay on track with the conversation because your mind wants to fly off at a tangent, and it’s easy to get distracted, or to stop listening. This is often normal for an Aspie, but it can be disconcerting for the other person. So here are some ideas on how to help others to be more comfortable when in conversation with you:
- It’s best if you think before you speak.
- Try to talk about them and their interests, not about you and yours. This helps to make you concentrate on listening to them, and also people like talking about themselves, so will feel good about talking to you. Make a point of taking an interest in what they say and in them as a person.
- Try not to interrupt people, but wait until it is your turn to speak. This might be signalled by them looking at you while they wait for your reply.
- An interesting trick is to try to hear one point that the person says, and store that up in your mind. Then later, when it’s your turn to speak, use that point to make it look as if you were listening fully. This isn’t deception; this is a learned social skill that can help others relate to you. For example, you might hear that the person is an Arsenal supporter. When it’s your turn to speak, you can ask, for example, how their defence has been playing, or perhaps if their striker is on form.
- Learn how to be aware that you are boring someone. If you have been talking for more than a couple of minutes on your most fascinating subject, and they haven’t been able to get a word in, the chances are they will be bored. And, at that point, look at their body language; that is what boredom looks like! And then give them a turn to speak!
- If you have a pedantic nature – and many Aspies do – then if they say something that your pedantic nature disagrees with, feel free to hold your tongue; you don’t have to refute everyone’s mistakes, and you are not going to change the world – or anyone’s mind – by saying something without thinking about it first!
- As an Aspie, you will have ‘super powers’. They give you a view on reality that few NTs can see, if any, and sometimes, insights that are simply lost to NTs. However, you might not realise that they are super powers because to you they are completely normal. You can’t imagine that others can’t do the things you can do. Your super powers might be, for example, a heightened sense of smell or hearing, maybe a gift for navigation. One of my best friends, also an Aspie, has a gift for being able to feel exactly what his car is doing when he is driving, and his mind projects the best driving line on the road into his mind as a series of coloured lines. Blue line for safe, red line for danger, and so on. Discover your super powers! Rejoice in your super powers!
- Keep your super powers secret if you can; this may sound crazy to NTs, but superheroes in the comics and the movies have secret identities – and that’s for two reasons: firstly, so the bad guys can’t use their friends and families to get at the superheroes; and secondly because if people know that you have super powers, they will expect you to use them all the time (“What do you mean, you didn’t hear the phone ring? You’re supposed to have super-hearing!!”). This way, you get to choose when and where to use your super powers, and maybe use them quietly and in an understated way so that others don’t discover them! And also, some people in Churches will certainly not understand and might even be suspicious of you. This is normal, because they may be afraid of something they a) don’t understand and b) can’t control.
- You think differently from other people. It is very likely that God made you this way so that you can see aspects of Him that most others cannot see. Whether you choose to pass on these insights to others, or not, is for you to decide. But perhaps try the idea out on a trusted friend first.
- In light of the above comment, this means that you will be able to see things about God that others don’t, and/or see things in a different way from others, and sometimes you might be afraid of being seen as an heretic or something. Don’t be. You have been gifted with insight that others don’t have; you can bring people things from God that others cannot**. God is so much bigger than any of our little man-made opinions, and He rejoices in your abilities even if others, through a lack of understanding, can’t or won’t. You may experience rejection because of this, even by – and, sometimes, especially by – other Christians. Remember at the end of the day it’s God’s opinion that matters, not that of humans.
- Remember that you also have the ‘Mind of Christ’ and all the other aspects of the New Nature that Christ gives. You have the Holy Spirit, you have the assurance of His witness in your heart. You are just as much a New Creation as other believers; just because you are ‘different’ it doesn’t negate any of this. Don’t let others convince you otherwise; I have had people question my salvation status because of the way I think, and I was having none of it!
- Remember to love yourself. If you’re to love your neighbour as yourself (Mark 12:31), you can’t really do this easily unless you love yourself properly. This involves being comfortable with who you are, Aspie and all! 🙂
- You decide as to whether to ‘come out’ as Aspie, or not. It’s entirely up to you.
- Although being Aspie has some disadvantages, sometimes (but not always), these can be overcome with a little practice. Apply your mind to the problem. Try to develop coping strategies, like the ones in the paragraphs above about how to hold conversations with others. You will find that with use and practice, you actually learn to appreciate others and what they think, and this makes it easier to relate to them.
- And finally, remember that being Autistic is classed as a ‘disability’. This can give you two advantages in the employment stakes: firstly, it is worth bearing in mind that your employer has to make ‘reasonable adjustments’; and secondly, you will also count towards your employer’s ‘equal opportunities’ disabled persons quota. And for severe Autism, where you need help to get along in daily life, you can get benefits to help with this. At least this is the case in the UK, at the time of writing; other countries may of course differ. There are links on the National Autistic Society’s website about this sort of thing; click the logo below to visit their site, where there is also lots of really useful information about coping with Asperger’s Syndrome.
*For those unfamiliar with Asperger’s Syndrome, or for those who would just like a bit more insight into what it’s all about, you can do no better than to check out the National Autistic Society’s pages on Asperger’s Syndrome; click the logo below to go to the first page (there’s a series of pages to look through but it’s all very informative)
**This is why some of my blog entries represent some quite unusual ideas about God and His Kingdom.
For my own background, I’d just say that I always knew I was ‘different’. All my life, I have learned to adjust to living life in a society where I was not understood for much of the time. We’d suspected I was Aspergic; I’d done some tests online (just Google ‘Asperger quiz’) and I’d always shown as a ‘possible’. However, it wasn’t until I undertook a proper series of tests that I got my ‘diagnosis’, for want of a better term for something that isn’t really an illness. I was ‘diagnosed’ at the age of 50, and it was really a great relief to know just why and how I was different! And I love being Aspie.
If you feel you need to be tested for Asperger’s, or any other ASD, the place to start is with your GP, where you should ask to be referred for the tests. And don’t let them fob you off; you are allowed to insist, or if that fails, ask another doctor.