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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.

A Matter of Perspective

  • Posted on February 13, 2012 at 8:00 AM

I’m rather partial to my mind.  I’d hate to lose it.  I’m not talking crazy; I could do crazy.  I’m talking dementia.  I would hate to lose my mind to dementia.  Second to that, I’d hate to be blind.  Perhaps being blind would be worse, because I’d know I was blind—I might not know I’d lost my mind if it happens quick enough.

I can imagine how bad it would be to be blind.  I would cope, I guess, but it would be a lesser life.  It would be an exaggeration to say words are my life, but I’m not sure how much of an exaggeration.  Certainly, words are a very big portion of my life—written words.  If I had to consume my words by ear, well, that just wouldn’t be good enough.

Now, I’ve probably pissed a lot of people off with those admissions, but I’m not done yet.  Take a deep breath.  It gets better.

From my perspective, as a person with full and free use of my sight (excluding the whole glasses thing)—as someone who has built a life revolving around the use of my sight to do my work and to enjoy my leisure activities—it would be awful to be blind.

But just because I think it would be awful to be blind doesn’t mean it is awful for someone who is blind to be blind.

I am the mother of three children with autism.  My children’s disabilities range from relatively mild—though, not as mild as it seems to me—to relatively severe.  People pity me.  From their perspective, I’ve got it hard.  Ours is a hard, hard life—tragically hard, really.  I know, because people have told me so a thousand different times in a thousand different ways.  Probably more than that, actually, since I never really counted the times or the ways; besides, I’m not good with math.  Anyway, I’ve been told that my life is awfully hard a lot.  We’ll stick with that.  So, yeah, where was I…oh, yeah, our life is hard.  Hard.  HARD.  HARD.

Except it’s not.  Not really.  At least, well, sometimes it is, but so is everyone else’s, so there.

My brother just had another accident.  He slipped.  For me, slipping—unless it involves falling down the stairs and breaking my wrist—is no big deal.  I just get up.  You see, I don’t have a chronically damaged knee.  My brother does.  So, his slip is a big deal.  He slips and he sprains his knee so bad that it keeps him home from work, except he can’t stay home from work long enough to heal.  He needs knee surgery, but he’s too young for knee surgery.  So, he has to live with it.  Chronic pain.  Chronic risk of further injury.  Now, that’s hard!

My cousin has problems with her gall bladder.  So do I.  Mine’s been spitting out stones since I was pregnant with Ben (he’s nine, btw).  But she also has chronic back pain, which is worse.  Seriously bad back problems.  And two kids, one with special needs.  Now, that’s hard!

And it is.  My brother’s life is hard.  My cousin’s life is hard.  My life is hard.  But not in the ways we’re prone to assuming when we look at each other’s lives.  We look at other people’s pain and other people’s hardships and we say things like…I could never do that.

I could never stand being blind.

But, if it happened, I would and I would keep working to raise my family and I would keep working to share my words and I’d find a way to “read” the words of others.  It would be hard.  But it’s all a matter of perspective.  We can’t fairly judge the quality of someone else’s life by how hard we imagine it to be.  That doesn’t really work.

People assume that the way to make my life less hard would be to cure autism.  People have told me this is true many, many times—though, not thousands, because I’ve learned the warning signs and I’ve learned to walk away whenever possible when those words are coming.  The point is, this assumption is all wrong.  If you ask me how to make my life less hard, then you’ll learn the answer has nothing to do with autism.  In fact, it’s very similar to the answer you’d get from a lot of Americans right now.

What would make my life less hard?  My life and the life of the family I support would be less hard if I had the financial resources to support my family better.  It’s really that simple and that common.

I don’t assume that my fears of blindness properly reflect the experiences of someone who is actually blind.  In fact, because I’ve listened to people who are blind I know that they don’t.  So, instead of assuming that your fears of autism properly reflect my experiences as the parent of three children with autism, try listening.  You don’t get to dictate the quality of our lives on your own terms.

A Matter of Perspective

  • Posted on June 4, 2011 at 2:20 PM

Next week is my last class in my Reading & Writing the Short Story course. During the last several weeks, I have been writing a literary short story using a different methodology than I usually use. Instead of thinking the project through first, and then writing it, I was asked to write a little at a time and let the project develop without a plan and without a whole lot of forethought. It was an interesting experience to say the least.

The end result was flawed. I haven’t even figured out how much work will be involved in order to turn the project around. But the flaws themselves provided a remarkable amount of clarity.

Autism was a major feature of this short story. Typically, I write speculative fiction, and autism or autistic characters creep into my stories even there. But this piece was supposed to be written in the literary style, and thus I wrote a story about something a bit more mundane. I remembered a writing teacher once telling me that people don’t write stories about “housewives,” because they never do anything worth telling. So, as per my contrarian nature, I wrote a story about a housewife—particularly the mother of two children with autism who is also almost autistic herself.

The clarity came, not from the story itself, but from the various reactions to my story. My readers—those individuals who are part of my life and who read most of my work—found the story compelling, clear, and approachable. My classmates—individuals who are not immersed in the world of autism—found the story compelling, but not as clear or approachable as they would have liked. The difference, of course, is how familiar the reader is with autism.

Thus the flaws. As a writer, I cannot rely on my readers being familiar with my subject matter, especially when the “point” is to show a different perspective concerning the subject matter. Which is not to say that this story is an advocacy piece. Nor did I intend it to be. But, in a way, of course, it is. In a way, everything I write about autism is an advocacy piece, because most of the dialogue on autism is still so…wrong. But, whether an advocacy piece or just a story, the point is to communicate to the reader on behalf of the characters, and relying on a shared perspective doesn’t do that.

Sometimes I forget how much I have changed, how much my perspective has changed, how much the way I see the world has changed, since I fell into the world of autism. It seems so strange to me to look at it that way, because I’m finally where I belong.