The Love Compels Us   4 comments

When thinking about the situation a person on the autism spectrum faces when walking in the doors of a church building, you could say it is up to that person to change himself and make things happen.

You could say there is not a disability here that we need to accommodate.  If we can’t see the disability it does not exist.

You could say if he is a child, the person’s parents should explain in advance to other people that their child needs certain special treatment.

You could say the person with the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who didn’t make friends and ended up leaving a church should have made more of an effort to involve herself in group conversations and to introduce herself to others.

You could even say the church is not here to cater to different special interest groups; rather, the church’s goal is to share the gospel with as many people as possible.


These are some of the trains of thought which confound those wanting to make the rough places plain for those individuals who do not fit the template of “church” that has been laid out by popular Christian culture in the United States.

I’ll take a look at each one.

I think that demanding that the person who is new to the church and on the autism spectrum bridge most of the gap toward other people is almost as illogical as stating that people who use wheelchairs should get out of their chairs and drag them along, in order to get into a building that doesn’t have a clear, smooth ramp.

Sometimes people assume that because a person with an ASD which can include diagnoses like Asperger’s syndrome, high functioning autism and so on, does not appear to be different or to have a disability, that he does not in fact have a disability.  If you see someone with no physical differences, who is able to walk around, and is seen talking to his family, people can assume that whatever problem this person is supposed to have is no major problem at all.  Other times, when parents of a person with autism explain to those in leadership what things are hard for their child and where he will need a little extra guidance or help, or, when they explain what is not working for their child about the way things are at church, sometimes people can’t seem to understand that there is a problem.  It’s as if because it appears that all is normal, they think there will be no problematic situations later.  Or maybe it’s because they are people who are already truly committed to reach out to others, so they feel like they are truly doing that.  Maybe, this is why they can’t see that there is a problem sometimes–because they believe they’ve already met the need.

If someone comes in who is a child or teen, it may be thought that somehow the parents will convey exactly what other people are supposed to do, and nothing need happen until then. There are a couple of reasons why this is not a good assumption.  First, in a new setting, it can be unclear to the parents that it is either appropriate or acceptable for them to make special requests of other people in a group setting.  It’s awkward.  If a parent is just making his or her own way in a new church, it can be difficult for her to know if it is all right to ask for specifics.  Parents don’t want to be demanding, as that probably isn’t going to help them make friends either.

Also, the parents may not know that their child needs an entrée into youth group or conversations with other people in the body; they may assume welcoming overtures will be made to their child by adults and other children.  Or, they may know that he could use help, but they may not be sure how to help provide that extra assistance in a way that will be both effective and workable.  In any social environment, nobody wants to feel like a special project, or like somebody is being paid to be her friend.  You can’t manipulate genuine friendship, and people with ASDs do not want you to.  That’s fake.  People want to be wanted, because.

While it is always true that more effort could be made by any individual to reach any desired goal, the question becomes, how much is enough?  For people on the spectrum, and honestly for any person who has trouble getting to know new people or trusting them, there’s a chasm between where he is now and the desired community on the other side.  He’s not being difficult; he’s not being selfish.  Relationship building is painful work for him.  Sure, there are times when she’s not making much of an effort.  There are always times when individuals don’t make enough of an effort.  But, in general, a person with an ASD is probably doing her best to interact with others.  To say that if she had just pushed herself harder she could have been welcomed is obviously wrong.

And I would agree that the church’s goal is to share the good news with as many people as possible.  That includes the people who are already in the church building, not just the ones on other continents.  I’m not saying those who have never heard are not important.  They are priceless and valued by God.  But so is each person you see as you come and go on a Sunday.  If the church cannot love those who are sitting in its figurative lap, how is that church living out the gospel?  Would you want to come every week to a place where others assume that you should be working at full steam on your areas of weakness, or would you like to come to a place where on a foundation of love first, you can grow stronger?

To know Christ is to know his love for us.  His love for us bridges the gap and draws us in.  So we bear with others’ weaknesses, knowing that they too are bearing with ours.  We reach out to each other because.

The love of Christ compels us.


Posted June 9, 2016 by swanatbagend in autism, the church

4 responses to “The Love Compels Us

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  1. I really feel for your “anonymous blogger.” And for you, based on some of your other recent blogs.

    It is hard to walk the path of the Outsider.
    I don’t know if it is easier to walk that path if it is freely chosen. I never had that choice either.

    Hindu Temples are very conservative places, and there are no “small groups” or other steps taken to bring people into the community in concrete ways. Hindu priests are not counselors – often they don’t even speak English very well. Attendance at a Temple is not a required part of our religion – so really it’s all up to you. As the weirdo introverted, homeschooled kid of an Indian father and American mother, I was never made unwelcome… just… ignored.

    However, there are rarely other options for Temple/Hindu-community attendance in the USA. There was just the one where I grew up. There is only one in Kentucky. And other Temples are the same anyways – closed to Outsiders, though friendly if you are clearly a Guest (schedule a visit, you’ll feel very welcome and get a great tour).

    It’s important to note, however, that being an Outsider is part and parcel of life. My mother – an extreme extravert – was never able to be less than an Outsider in the Indian community (or in other ethnic communities she had been involved with as a folklorist), no matter how hard she tried. My father – also an extreme extravert – once expressed a wish that I would marry the “right” person (an Indian MD) so that he would be completely accepted after having married a white American woman. My younger sister – another extreme extravert – was able to create the community she needed around her, but it required constant maintenance and attention and a lot of “letting stuff slide” in ways that the Natural Insiders didn’t seem to have to put up with. (Of course, maybe they do. We just don’t see it.)

    My mother died after many cycles of trying and failing to become part of The Community – at her funeral all these people spoke up about how important she had been to the community and how they admired her. It was touching – and it made me angry. If only they had actually spoken TO her instead OF her…

    And I decided to be married in that Temple – in part to “show them all.” But I am grateful to live far enough away that a yearly visit for my dad to show off the grandkids isn’t too painful.

    One should note that it is still possible to find “your tribe” as an introvert on the spectrum. But you may have to consciously look for situations where “our people” congregate – even if it isn’t what you yourself are interested in. I wanted to study Biology and went to an Engineering university only because it was close to home and safe (we’d been on and off the campus my whole life)… but I found that a lot of *our people* were engineers. They thought I was crazy for studying Biology, but they understood how I thought… other groups include gamers, comics-fans, and so on… finding these people and hanging out with them while they did their thing (even if I didn’t because it baffled me) was a Gift.

    It is still possible to learn some of those skills that let you participate and even create community around you. I have seen it done. I have done it myself (living with all those extreme extraverts may have been useful… if painful at times…). Our Nature is not our Destiny – or we’d all be peeing all over the floor and smearing food all over our faces, just ask a toddler!

    It is NOT easy. And the worst part is you have to keep doing it. Over and over again as friends move away, become busy, die, and sometimes become un-friends.

    It is hard work. But learning these things and practising them, painfully over and over and over… It can be done. And it can be the difference between walking the path alone but with companions and being lonely in a crowd.

    I am still fighting myself to do this stuff. (I spend a lot of time crying and stressing before I go out.)
    But I tried giving up and it got me nowhere but miserable.

    And… now… I don’t think I would give up the struggles and the loneliness. Even (mostly) the embarrassing stories. I am stronger for it. I am more sympathetic for it. I am more tolerant and accepting for it. I learned to find other resources than the obvious ones – and sometimes I suffered because I didn’t. I learned to ask for help – and that it doesn’t always arrive or if it does, not in the desired format. I learned who I can depend on – and how far I can push them… and myself. And I learned how much there is in me to give and – hopefully – something about how to give it.

    (I really need to get my own blog, hunh, Jenny? 😉 )

    • I think you could. When you can fit it in to your life. I really appreciate all you said and the reminders. I do know those things. But it helps to hear it again from someone else.

  2. Thank you for posting all these things. Some of it comes out when we talk, but there is so much more depth than one can cover with kids running around.

    I’ve realised from talking to you and reading your words how many of the people I know – self included – would probably have been diagnosed on The Spectrum if our parents had sought it. Most of them are successful scientists, engineers, artists, authors, programmers… but I know a few who never found their way and live a smaller life than their dreams and abilities would have predicted. Now I can see more of where they were lost – I cannot do much to help them, but I can at least see and nderstand, and hopefully be more helpful to others in the future.

    Your words also make me see things about myself that I had not realised were “on the Spectrum” – which tells me also that many of the people I grew up around and went to college with were there as well. Which makes sense…

    • Assuming I’m correct about most of what being on the spectrum means. I could be wrong. But I just find that the spectrum explains a great deal of things about me that never had any good explanation…so.

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