When I talk with people about my family’s journey of discovery of autism I find that people often have a family member themselves who has either a diagnosis of autism or shows the unmistakable signs.
Autism is a spectrum disorder – in other words there is a really broad range of symptoms and characteristics. It can be incredibly debilitating and life limiting, or it can be really quite mild. People with autism tend to be less able at understanding or reading other people’s emotions and they can need habits, routines or patterns to help them get through the day. They can be intensely interested in sometimes slightly odd things. One young man I know has an encyclopaedic knowledge of extractor fans and will tell me about them at length.
Its estimated that 1% of the population is on the autistic spectrum – that’s about 700,000 people. That’s 700,000 people who have a distinctive enough view of the world and the way they interact with it to be given a “label”.
Average Sunday attendance in the Church of England in 2017 was 722,000. That’s 722,000 whose world view and way of being with people is so distinctive that they can be “labelled” as Christian. Hmmmm – I wonder.
Christians are at a disadvantage to other world religions as we have no particular dress code that marks us out – we have no turban, no hijab, no yarmulke; while many people choose to wear a cross it is not a requirement of our faith. The only way people can know if we are a Christian is through our words and behaviours and that can be much more of a challenge.
People with autism can’t hide the way their brain is wired: they can’t be anything other than themselves. Christianity isn’t hard wired into us and it can be along slow process of being moulded into someone more Christlike. My prayer is that however rubbish we are at doing and being what Jesus asks of us, whatever stage we are at on our Christian journey, that all of us in our words and actions speak of the joy of knowing Jesus and having him in our lives. Carrying that joy, living and breathing it, will make us utterly distinctive.