Editor’s Note: “Sydney” sent me this e-mail last week and gave me permission to share with our readers. Her e-mail is a wonderful, first-person description of attending church as a person with Asperger’s Disorder.
Church is one place where there ought to be a place for everyone. We’ve had two very similar conversations in the last few weeks…one with a man who, like “Sydney” has autism, the other with a woman with bipolar disorder and PTSD. We share in the hope that the church will listen and learn from “Sydney’s” perspective…
I have aspergers, ADD, depression, and anxiety. I am a student who recently moved to do more studies. I am very nervous about joining a new church because of the experiences I have had in church before. I so find the loud rock concert type services completely overwhelming. However, the social aspects at the quieter services are just as overwhelming as some very perky person pounces in on me. Although I typically like structure and routine, I do enjoy contemporary (less high services) for connecting with god. In addition, there is all that small talk around swarms of people wearing all sorts of perfume who do not understand when I talk loudly, change topics, or suddenly get distracted.
Coordinating getting myself to church and then balancing a cup while talking to people is a challenge. When I finally do get the courage to introduce myself to someone, it turns out that I met the person the week before but did not remember his or her face. I am never on time for church and it is a good day when I remembered both my money and kindle bible. (Real bibles are too distracting as the smooth pages are too much fun to feel!) I feel left out as others display their feelings and get emotional during worship. I never know where to sit and always leave belongings behind after church.
I have managed to alienate everyone at my old church–apparently through breaking countless social rules (though I am not sure which ones). It is hard to know what I do wrong since no one communicates with me and I cannot read body language. Even when I try to send update emails, I get no response. It is so is hard for me to initiate conversations. Therefore, I even sent an email with pictures from Corinth and Ephesus to initiate a conversation. However, no one from church ever emailed me back. Many people when dealing with me say, “There’s Samantha. And I hadn’t even asked god for patience when I met her.” I have taken all of these “find your spiritual gifts” and “find your ministry” quizzes. All of them say that since I care about social issues and kids that I must want to do all these social activities. I like people as an abstract concept and I like helping them indirectly. I would rather hang out with the kids since I feel as immature as they are. In addition, my attention span matches theirs.
I do not want to join a small group in a new church because I am so afraid of belong alienated again. My old pastor told me I just needed to get more antidepressants and more friends–if only it was that easy. In my old church, I tried doing alpha at the church but I never felt like I was part of the fellowship. I enjoyed watching the alpha videos online more. I am currently learning from Christian courses.com and biblicaltraining.com in the meantime. When I have autistic meltdowns, worries, or compulsions, I am just admonished for not giving things to god and that I have not asked for enough healing. If I speak about issues such as modesty, they admonish me for being too shy introverted or antisocial. In discussions in admonished for always being too off topic. Do not even get me started sitting still for quiet time with god. Clear sermons with pictures and outlines are such a blessing (though church with so much socializing can be tiring!)
I do not even know how to approach joining a church now since it is so evident that no one at my old church in my old city wants anything to do with me. For all the talk on forgiveness, I am apparently too eccentric and egocentric to be forgiven and to be accepted. Moreover, if not even loving Christians can put up with me, the rest of the world seems scary. I once volunteered at a Christian youth centre, but I was told I had to leave after a few days for being too clumsy. I applied to several Christian schools, but I have found them to be the least accepting of my disabilities. I have this vision that if I ever get married, it will be an empty church (not that I want to be the centre of attention making small talk and hugging others). I was told once during a healing session that I was to remember that I was a princess in God’s kingdom; however, what I also remember is the person who described me as the “pre-princess” from The Princess Diaries.
Key Ministry has assembled a helpful resource on the topic of Asperger’s Disorder and Spiritual Development. This page includes the blog series Dr. Grcevich and Mike Woods developed for Key Ministry, links to lots of helpful resources from other like-minded organizations, and Dr. Grcevich’s presentation on the topic from the 2012 Children’s Ministry Web Summit. Click here to access the page!