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In the World

  • Posted on March 7, 2014 at 10:00 AM

If being “of the world” means giving into worldly temptations to behave unethically, than being “in the world” means living in and interacting with the world. If you’re familiar with autism, then you can see how this might be a problem for children with autism.

When Alex was little he didn’t live in the world. Sure, he shared the same physical space we did. But he was rather unobservant of the things and people around him. He assigned such a different sense of importance to the things around him that it was very, very difficult for others to relate with him and to interact with him in a way that he would appreciate.

Even now, after extensive therapy, my boys assign different senses of importance to the things and people around them than “normal” people do. This, in and of itself, isn’t a problem. However, this tendency to perceive and interpret the world differently makes it hard for my children to relate with others. It makes it hard for them to interact with the world around them. It makes it hard for them to tolerate (from a sensory perspective) the world around them. In short, it makes it hard for them to live “in the world.”

When I first started delving into the autism community there was a rather large and seemingly significant group of self-advocates with autism who said they felt like aliens from another planet. This metaphor seems to have died down, in part because it tends to justify exclusion tactics and reinforces the idea that people with autism aren’t “human enough.” Yet, it did help, in some small way, for me to better understand “where” Alex “was,” or perhaps, “where he was coming from.”

People with autism aren’t aliens. They are human beings and part of the range of normal human divergence. That means they have every one of them has the right to live “in the world” just as much as anyone else. To achieve this goal, one thing “we” do is devise and utilize therapeutic services that help people with autism better acclimate themselves to the world. We devote a lot of energy and resources to this strategy. A less recognized and less well-resourced strategy, however, is adapting the world to be more inclusive and accessible to people with autism.

As far as I can tell, people who are mostly “of the world” tend to expect their fellow human beings to adapt to the world and the societies we’ve collectively created, either not knowing or not caring that the world and the societies we’ve collectively created are preconditioned to serve the “majority” or the “norm” as determined by those who are good at getting power in society. People who are “in the world” see the world we’ve created as being flexible and changeable, recognizing that we can and should adapt the world and our societies to be more inclusive and accessible to all people, regardless of the nature of their differences. This is the way I choose. This is the work I strive to do.

Of the World

  • Posted on March 5, 2014 at 10:00 AM

When I took on this whole parenting thing, I didn’t want or expect children with autism. I knew very little about autism, disabilities, or my own neurological differences. I wasn’t an advocate. I didn’t even know that parents needed advocacy skills.

That being said, I didn’t want or expect “normal” children either. Both my husband and I are different from the norm. Part of that difference—part of what we’ve come to understand about ourselves through our efforts to raise our children—is that we’re neurologically divergent. Mostly, though, we’re just weird. And we actually like it that way!

“In the world, but not of the world” is a common Christian phrase used to describe the relationship Christians are expected to seek with their surroundings. The general idea is that Christians are called to live in and act upon the world—love your neighbor, do good unto them that hate you, etc.—but are not supposed to be of the world—seduced into worldly beliefs, worshipping idols, etc. It’s a delicate balance between maintaining our beliefs and acting on them.

When I think of “normal,” I think of people who are “of the world.” I think of how “business ethics” is accepted as an oxymoron. I think of how bullies are accepted in schools as part of the way things are and always will be. I think of how people think it’s unrealistic to expect us to end things like rape, molestation, and domestic abuse. I think of how it’s “normal” to cheat on your taxes or steal from your employers. It’s “normal” to use or manipulate others. These behaviors are perfectly normal, even expected, and yet there’s nothing admirable or praiseworthy about them. They are “of the world.”

Now, I’m not saying everyone who is consistent with the neurological or physical human norm do these things, nor am I claiming that people who are not consistent with the neurological or physical human norm don’t do these things. I’m just saying that when I hear “normal,” I think of the many unethical and irresponsible “normal” behaviors that permeate my society and the world.

I never wanted my kids to be normal!

I suppose that made it easier to accept my children as they are for who they are. Then again, I accept my step-son, who is neurologically normal, as he is for who is. I try to teach all of my children how to live good, responsible, ethical lives. I don’t want any of them to settle for being “of the world.” I don’t want any of my children to be normal.

Autism: A Christian Perspective

  • Posted on March 3, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Faith is transformative. When you develop faith in something, your faith transforms who you are, how you see yourself, how you see the world, and what you do. The stronger your faith becomes the more transformative it becomes.

I am a Christian. I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God. I believe He took upon Himself earthly flesh in order to be a living example unto us and in order to sacrifice Himself for our sins. I believe human beings are fallen: Fallible, corrupted, and imperfect. I believe human beings, at least in our earthly forms, are finite: All our abilities are limited, including and especially our abilities to observe and understand the world around us. I believe we are capable of greatness, for good or for evil. And I believe that evil is a real force in this world that affects us all.

These beliefs transform me continually. They shape how I see the world and they shape how I see my fellow human beings. Yet, I also believe in the freedom of mind, the freedom of thought, the freedom of belief (especially, but not exclusively, religious belief), and the freedom of speech.

I am a Christian, but I don’t expect you to be a Christian. I look at the world around me and see a multitude of beliefs and I am content. One of the beliefs I see is a conviction in science. There are people who believe in science the way I believe in God. I can’t do that. For one, according to my faith, that would be idolatry. For two, science is a man-made discipline, which according to my faith means it is finite, fallible, corruptible, imperfect, and limited.

The irony I see is that these beliefs are reinforced by science itself. Scientists have demonstrated their finite abilities to observe and understand the universe. They have proven themselves to be fallible every time they correctly apply the scientific method to reach a conclusion, which is later disproven by yet another application of the scientific method. Scientists have recognized the corruptibility of their discipline, whether intentional or unintentional, which is why they use double-blind studies—so their assumptions, predispositions, and inclinations are not as likely to influence their results. Scientists recognize the imperfection of their discipline—at least, they used to—which is why they call their conclusions theories, signifying that a proven theory is the best they can do to explain a given set of variables to the best of their abilities within their current limitations. Scientists recognize—at least, they used to—that theories have a nasty habit of being disproven and reconfigured over time. While I don’t understand advanced physics, I do know there are active (i.e., not disproven) theories that directly contradict each other alive in physics today. As per my limited understanding, these conflicting theories work to explain current observations and have mechanical application, but that they require a unifying theory that does not exist yet. I am, however, much more familiar and comfortable with the conflicting theories that abound in social sciences, like psychology and sociology.

Science provides us with a limited and imperfect way to understand the world we live in and the universe in which our world resides. As such, I respect it. But I do not, cannot, and will not put my faith in science.

Now, if this was a treatise against science, I would point out how inconsistent it is with scientific methodology and principles to assert that man-made global warming, i.e. climate change, and human evolution from animals are facts. A fact is something that we know actually exists, because it has been observed to have happened. We have NOT observed man-made global warming and we have not observed human evolution from animals. We have, however, observed facts which support the theories of man-made global warming and human evolution from evolution. The fact that even scientists have made these erroneous assertions is further evidence that science itself is corruptible.

But this is not a treatise against science. This is a post about autism. Really, it is. You see, science (i.e. doctors) tell us that autism is a disorder: The implication is that there is a “correct” order for a human brain to be in and that autism isn’t it. Science will tell us that autism can and should be cured. Science will tell us that people with disabilities are broken and that science can fix them.

My Christian faith tells me something else. My Christian faith tells me that my children were knitted together by God in the womb. My Christian faith tells me that the inherent people my children are is exactly who God made them to be, which is not to say “perfect,” because we’re all fallen. But, and this is a big BUT, God does not make broken people. Now, it’s true that people have free will and people have a tendency to break each other for their own sick purposes, but that’s a whole other thing having to do with abuse, neglect, and other forms of man-made trauma. The point is that my Christian faith tells me to love and accept my children as they are, to raise them up to be, to the best of my abilities, the people God wants them to be, and to treat them with charity, which is love not donations.

My faith also tells me that God can heal. Jesus Christ healed the sick, the infirm, the lame, the blind, and even the dead. According to my faith, I believe that if God healed my children they would still be autistic in the sense that there neurology would be profoundly different from “normal,” but that their neurological differences would no longer be a source of aggravation, discomfort, and frustration for them. Science, on the other hand, tells us that if my children were healed, then they would be normal.

Now, I know and freely admit that there are Christians who have a very different perspective from my own. This is a Christian perspective; not the Christian perspective. I also know there are scientists who have a very different perspective than the one, which in my experience is still dominant, which I’ve presented here—I salute you! I also know that I am just as limited and fallible as the rest of humanity and acknowledge, quite freely, that I very well could be wrong. But I also know that I’ve spent over a decade studying, praying, exploring, questioning, and informing my beliefs. I’ve tested this by everything I know and everything I’ve learned and I am confident that, within my own limitations, I can do the best for my children, for our society, and for the world by sharing my beliefs with others. It is only by sharing that we can instruct, edify, admonish, correct, and uplift one another. And we all need that, whether we know it or not.