Autism Awareness Month: How Autism Affects Faith

How did a conversation on this go? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

What happens if you take two people on the spectrum with differing opinions on faith as it relates to autism? I found out when I got to have a delightful conversation with Erin Burnett from the UK, who calls herself a Christian agnostic. It was a delightful conversation with some slight pushback, but I wouldn’t call it a debate.

Erin herself has autism as well which led to some different perspectives. What was interesting was our reasons for being in the faith and struggling with the faith were the exact same. When Erin talked about it being difficult because she is more logic-oriented and empirical, I replied that I find believing Christianity easier for me because I am so logic-oriented and empirical. If anything, it’s when I am highly emotional that I enter a state of doubt.

On practical terms, we also talked about what life is like on the spectrum and how the church can relate to us and for this, we had nearly 100% agreement on issues. This was definitely one area where we could easily combine forces and agree on how the church should handle Autism. If you wanted a fierce debate at this point, or at any point in the show, you would be disappointed. If you wanted a good discussion, you got one.

But enough about that. The best way to find out what was said is to watch it yourself. The discussion can be viewed here. If you want to see Erin’s work on your own, her site can be found here.

Feedback appreciated!

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Autism Awareness: Sensory Issues

What are some issues that just bother us? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, I heard a story about the police called onto a school bus in D.C. because an autistic boy kept taking off his mask. A lot of people are quite angry about this, and understandably so. Even if one thinks one should always wear a mask, surely we should have some grace for a boy who knowingly has autism.

I could relate to this guy as even when I do wear one, and I only do if I absolutely have to, I don’t put mine over my nose even because it makes it very difficult to breathe and it is extremely irritating. Many people on the spectrum have various issues with this. There are certain sounds, sights, smells, etc. that have a problem.

In the movie Mozart and the Whale, a clanging sound like the sound of the clanging of bells gets a character to react in an extremely negative way. Now we all have sounds and sensations that we don’t like, but for those of us on the spectrum, we can often be extreme in how we react. It’s one thing to not like the sounds of claws on a chalkboard. It’s another thing to practically assume the fetal position when it happens.

For some of us, this can interfere with day to day practices. It takes a heap of effort for me to look in the area of a dirty dish. If I was carrying a used paper plate that had even a crumb on it, I would carry it like I am carrying something radioactive. This is one reason why it’s so awkward for me to be in a social situation involving food.

Coming back to the mask situation, there should be grace given. Calling the police in is definitely overkill. For those of us who struggle with the rules of society already, this is adding a whole new layer to it. Also, if you’re not on the spectrum and see this happening to someone who is, they’re sure not going to hesitate to do this to you.

If you are interacting with someone on the spectrum, try to find out if they have any sensory issues that could be problematic. I stated before I don’t really like to be touched, even by some people that I know. You could have a serious negative impact on a person on the spectrum without intending it or realizing it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
Support my Patreon here.

Autism Awareness: God

How do I relate to God? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As a Christian, sometimes, it is difficult to understand how one is to respond to God. I was tempted to say relate, but how do you relate to God? God is so vastly different from us. Of course, we do have the incarnation to help with this, a great blessing of the Christian belief system.

Unfortunately, I have a great distrust of a lot of Christianese. I have heard this said in Protestant and Orthodox Churches and I am sure it is said in Catholic Churches, and that’s where you hear talk about how “This is what God has done for us” and it’s not what happened in Scripture, but what took place in goals like fundraising or building plans or something of that sort. I always want to ask “How do we know God did that?” It could be we’re going along with our plans and when we see something happen, we interpret that to mean God is giving us a green light, but maybe He isn’t.

I am also highly skeptical when I read a Christian book that is more about something like marriage build-up or dealing with anxiety and depression and not apologetics related and I hear the author talk about what God told them. I am usually very skeptical at that point. Just yesterday I was listening to a book on my Tap where the author talked about sending a message to his wife that he said God gave him, but it was clear, and the author even realized this later on as well, that it was not from God.

A great danger also is if I am right with this and it is not God speaking so much, then we are setting up newer Christians and people on the spectrum for a fall. They have a number of options. Someone can make something up because they think that is what they are supposed to do. Someone can have a strong feeling and think God is speaking to them then. (How many of us really think all our strong feelings are from God?) Some of us on the spectrum who do not have strong emotions or relational skills could think something is wrong with us.

Those of us on the spectrum have a hard enough time relating to other people not sure what all the social rules of a relationship are. It’s far harder for us when it comes to relating to God. Here, we have someone we can’t see and few if any will rarely directly hear.

For me with prayer, it is something I always wonder about. How long do you do it? What do you really say? How do you treat God properly in prayer? I have read books on prayer, but there is still something about it that is hard to understand.

Now keep in mind this is from someone on the spectrum who is also highly well trained in Christian theology. If I have this hard a time with the matter while it is my life’s work, how much harder could it be for the person on the spectrum who is exploring Christianity? When we talk to them about the faith, are we talking about Christianity as it was taught by the apostles, or are we talking about the Western individualist notions we have added in?

The walk with God can be difficult for everyone and in some ways, should be, but it can be harder I suspect for those of us on the spectrum. Be understanding. Apologetics will be a great help here since many of us are logically minded and prefer rules and order. Talking about your personal emotions and experiences will probably not be helpful.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
Support my Patreon here.

Autism Awareness: Foods

What kind of diets do we have? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters to find out.

When I have talked to other people on the spectrum, something we often have in common is our diets can be very unusual. This is probably one of the largest distinctive traits about me being on the spectrum. My diet is extremely unusual.

In the movie, Adam, the main character on the spectrum lives on Mac and Cheese. You can go to his cabinet in the movie and see that he has nothing but boxes of the stuff in there. Many of us on the spectrum can be finicky eaters.

Allie has been the only person who ever got me to change my diet, but I do hope to work on that a bit more, especially with a qualified therapist. My therapist and I are working on other issues right now, but I am sure we will get there someday. Allie got me to add quesadillas and fish to my diet, which is quite remarkable. Also, Subway sandwiches, which are now one of my favorites.

But she never managed to really get me to use silverware at all. There were some times I could do some things with silverware, but by and large, I still hate it. I prefer to eat anything I can with my hands.

One aspect of my food is that I hate it if it is messy. There were times when we met for Celebrate Recovery and the food section of the meeting was different from the social setting in some ways. There was still socializing around the food, but there was socializing elsewhere too. Sometimes she would ask me why I was out in the outer area and I would say “It’s messy in there.” She understood that that mean that the food was too messy for me and I would have internal emotional reactions to seeing it.

I also don’t like attention being drawn to my having a meal. We were once at a Christmas gathering for our small group and Allie was insisting I go and get something rather than sit on the couch reading. I went and got a tortilla chip to which the hostess, being perfectly innocent, came up to me with Allie there being so happy I was eating something.

I froze immediately.

Allie thought I was joking at first, but her laughter stopped soon. No. This wasn’t a joke. This was real. I stopped what I was doing immediately and honestly, the rest of the evening, I just wanted to go home. I was miserable. Fortunately, our hostess was very understanding and I made up with her later on, but it was a rough evening for me.

Does that make sense to you? It doesn’t have to. Honestly, it doesn’t make much sense to me either, but that is the reality of what it is. I suspect you also can’t make much sense out of some of the things that you do.

That’s also why whoever said the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach never met me. If anything, when friends invited me over to their house as a teenager and small child, the parents were often amazed that I was the friend who came over and never ate anything. Most of them had their son’s friends being bottomless pits, but not me.

It is also why when I understood it in a literal sense, reading in Revelation about the wedding supper of the lamb was never appealing to me growing up. You could compare it to people who have a problem when they hear God is “Father.” We can often understand that so I look back on my younger self and try to be understanding.

If you meet someone on the spectrum, be sensitive to food issues. Not all of us are like this, but many of us are. My hope is to meet more people who are understanding and accept me the way that I am unconditionally, but also are willing to gently work with me on the issue.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
Support my Patreon here.

Autism Awareness: Change

How do you respond to change? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When I was a small child, I am told I had a large collection of matchbox cars. This I do remember. I would place them all on an end table during the day and leave them there at night. I also remember that. What I don’t remember is being told that if my mother needed to clean the table and moved one of my cars and I knew it, I would be upset until that car was put right back where it belonged.

On the spectrum, we are often highly resistant to change. Once I get locked into a pattern personally, I stick with it. That means that generally I get a shower at the same time and go to bed at the same time and have my meals at the same time.

If I am at a grocery store and I notice that they have changed the layout, I consider this to be bothersome. It’s supposed to be the way that it was before.

Change is a violation of order and I know in my world I tend to really like order. Some minor changes can be acceptable, but a major one is not that easy to accept. That requires work.

However, change is inevitable. If change is coming, sometimes it’s best to go to someone on the spectrum and give them advance warning that the change is coming. If it comes on them suddenly, it can be much harder to address. This doesn’t mean everything will go smoothly, but it does mean it can be easier to navigate.

Getting older, I find it easier to deal with, but there is still an idea in my mind that things must be a certain way. Some of those changes have been good and some of them have been not so good. I have often tried to have things stay at a relative status quo, but sometimes this just doesn’t always happen.

If you meet someone on the spectrum, be aware that sometimes change can be very difficult. You don’t want to do a sudden change, such as a parent changing their bedroom without permission or warning. If it must be done, talk to them first and be prepared to go through it together.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
Support my Patreon here.

Autism Awareness Month: Literal Language

How are your words being understood? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I remember growing up being often confused about what was being said. I would be riding with my Dad in the car and he would be driving, naturally, and have something like a cup of coffee with him. Why? That’s wrong. After all, I had seen enough commercials that said to not drink and drive. Why is he doing just that?

I used to also hear about plays that took place on Broadway and all these performances. I never saw them. I didn’t understand it. Fountain City was an area that was about half an hour away and the main road going through it was Broadway. How come I never saw any of these performances going on there?

Now some of this could be the way children think, but it’s also a tendency I have to deal with from time to time even as an adult. It is surprising to some people I am sure since many of my interpretations of Scripture are “non-literal.” My mind tends to read statements in a very wooden sense.

Sometimes, I can do something like this for fun. A pizza restaurant I used to go to had a sign in the bathroom that said “Employees must wash hands.” I had some fun with this and went to the counter after going one time and said, “I just wanted to make sure about something. I was waiting in the bathroom after I saw your sign and no employee ever came in to wash my hands. I went and did it myself. Is that okay?”

Sometimes when Allie would ride with me, I would see a sign that said something like “Watch for falling rocks” and I would immediately start looking around me and saying that I didn’t see them. Also humorous would be the billboards that would say something like “McDonald’s. Exit now.” Sure. There’s a forest right there and no road, but the sign says to exit now.

For me, it’s humorous, but it’s not humorous for a lot of other people who have a much harder time separating literal from figurative language. As a Christian apologist, one area I definitely want to be aware of this on is our Christian language in a church. Too many of us speak in what is called Christianese. This is the inner circle language Christians understand, but doesn’t make much sense to others.

Imagine if you have someone who is on the spectrum and doesn’t know Christianity well, but a friend they have has invited them to church. Someone speaks to them and says “Tell me friend, are you washed in the blood?” Now imagine the many horrifying scenarios the visitor has going through their head.

This isn’t just good for reaching people on the spectrum, but reaching outsiders period. We can often speak like we’re in a clique. If we’re in a private Bible study and everyone knows everyone, this can be fine, but if we’re in the main service, we should try to act as if our person we’re interacting with we don’t know won’t know what we’re talking about.

If you are with someone on the spectrum, keep in mind their natural inclination will be to take what you say literally. Watch what is said in a church service. It couldn’t hurt everyone really to take some time to explain what you mean when you say XYZ. This is also not to say that language should never be taken in what is understood as a “literal” meaning. It is just saying to watch what you say because it could be taken that way when you intend nothing of the sort.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
Support my Patreon here.

Autism Awareness: Touch

Should this be a hands-on situation? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It might sound like a shock to you, but one of my love languages I think is touch. However, that only really applies in a romantic relationship. If it is any other kind of relationship, touch is intrusive and I don’t really care for it. I need to know someone before I can feel comfortable with their touch.

Touch is passing a boundary. It is becoming more real than before and it is an uncomfortable sensation at times, especially if you’re not expecting it. If someone wants to pray for me in a church service and suddenly puts their hand on my shoulder even, I am not thinking about the prayer but instead internally saying “Please move your hand. Please move your hand. Please move your hand.”

This doesn’t apply to just strangers. With my own family, I can tend to accept it, but it’s not my favorite thing. If my mother didn’t think I had done a good job shaving in the morning and wanted to show me where and got her finger and started touching specific parts of my face, I would recoil every time.

Another kind of touch I hate and this no one gets to do is to take off my glasses from me. Again, I can’t explain why that is, but if someone takes off my glasses or puts them on me, it is highly intrusive. If I went to a doctor and he needed to look into my eyes, I wouldn’t let him take my glasses off. I would do it myself.

In a romantic relationship, I seem to connect that touch to love a lot easier and I can enjoy that kind of touch. That kind of touch is also in its own way, exclusive. No one else gets to give touches like that to me.

This is coming from someone who is high-functioning. Now picture it coming from someone who is not like that. How will they react to a touch?

Let’s take this over to a church service. As much as I think Corona is overblown, I am certainly appreciative of one aspect. Greeting time has gone out the window. No one is coming over to shake my hand that I don’t know. That was always the part of the service I liked the least.

If you’re dealing with someone on the spectrum, be very careful about touch. Actually, that’s a good piece of advice for anyone since there are plenty of people not on the spectrum who are not crazy about touches from people they don’t know. Just because they allow you to touch them doesn’t mean that they are liking it. If you do get to the point of touch however and it is welcomed, then you have crossed a huge boundary and you can personally celebrate that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
Support my Patreon here.

Autism Awareness: Interests

How do you get someone interested in something? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Generally, I have heard it said on the spectrum we approach topics in two ways. We either have no interest in them whatsoever, or we have full-blown obsession. If I get into something, I really get into it, and if I don’t care, then I just don’t care.

I’m thinking about this today since yesterday a group on Facebook I’m in had a mother asking how to get her son interested in history. I recommended to try to connect it with something else that he does enjoy. For example, even if I didn’t care for history, I think as a gamer I would very much enjoy Gaming Historian to learn about the history of some of my favorite video games.

There are a number of TV shows that my Dad started watching before I did. Three that come to mind immediately are the Batman series with Adam West, Cheers, and Smallville. Today, I know more about each of those shows than he does. He grew up watching Batman and I’m the one that can tell him most everything about every episode. I can quote various scenes from Cheers and as for Smallville, let’s just say there was a time in my life when I had every episode title memorized in order, and there were over 200 of them. Sure, they all had one word in them, but still….

This is one reason that if you want to get into the world of someone on the spectrum, it’s always good to find out what they care about. At the same time, if you’re not really interested in something, don’t fake it. We don’t like fake people. If you don’t really like something like Smallville, don’t act like you do around me.

This also means when it does come to something like gaming, that generally I will try to do the best that I can. It’s part of the obsessive thinking. This is also a great help to me in apologetics as once again, I want to do the best that I can.

The downside is sometimes a person can get tunnel vision with this. If we’re in conversation, we can get super excited about something not realizing that people around us just don’t care. I have to watch myself in a Bible study group. I can easily become dominant in a setting like this because I have so much and I think it just has to be shared.

So if you meet someone on the spectrum and you get them talking about their interests, expect to hear all about them. If you think the communication needs to be corrected, be gentle. The last thing you want to do is really silence someone on the spectrum or tell them their interests don’t matter.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
Support my Patreon here.

Autism Awareness Small Talk

What makes conversation so difficult? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

One of the rules you notice of social etiquette is everyone is supposed to engage in conversation about nothing in particular, such as talking about weather or things of that sort. In essence, you are supposed to talk about things you don’t care about just to make conversation. For someone on the spectrum, this is something that I can’t stand.

Remember Joe Friday? One of the statements he was famous for was “Just the facts.” That’s the way I find I think on the spectrum. I just want to discuss the subject data. Time is valuable and I want to use it the best I can in conversation. Having small talk is just often seen as entirely fake.

If anything, on the spectrum, it will leave me suspicious of you. Why are you asking all these personal questions? What are you trying to find out? You really become much more of a threat to me when you engage in small talk as I don’t know where you’re going. If you engage in real conversation about real matters, I know what we’re talking about and that’s fine.

Small talk is something that to someone like myself serves no real purpose. It’s really a show. Now there could be some exception if I meet someone who I already know well and we can just chit-chat, but if I don’t know you, it’s something that does produce anxiety.

This also applies to Facebook and I know others not on the spectrum who have the same kind of rule. If I accept your friend request and you immediately message me with a lot of small talk, do not expect me to engage with you. I need to know who you are and what you are messaging me about before I will respond to you.

The best way to talk to someone on the spectrum usually is to find out what they’re interested in and talk about that. It might take talking to someone outside of them to find out, like a friend or family member, but if you find out that person will likely be more open to talking to you. If you come up to us engaging in small talk, it’s like you’re prying us for information and we don’t know where you’re going with it.

Along those lines, I do have plans to write something about how we approach our interests as well. That’s another important aspect to keep in mind when talking to someone on the spectrum. Keep in mind also, we don’t care for fake people. If you’re not really interested, don’t act like you are.

So the tip for today? Avoid small talk. Just get to the point of the conversation. I don’t even like to have small talk with my own family. It’s even worse with a stranger.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
Support my Patreon here.

Autism Awareness: Nonverbal

How do we communicate? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

There’s an old joke where you tell someone that a deaf and dumb man goes into a hardware store. He makes a fist and pounds the counter. The guy in charge brings him a hammer. The man shakes his head and then takes his fist and hits the top with his other fist. He gets brought some nails. He nods in thanks and leaves. Next, a blind man comes in wanting a pair of scissors. How does he ask for them?

At this point, some people do a motion with their fingers to indicate scissors.

The answer is, “No. He uses his voice and asks for it.”

The question might be different if the blind man was on the spectrum.

There are some people on the spectrum that are incredibly non-verbal. They literally never speak. Some exceptions can occur such as if they are alone with animals or they can type if they are on a computer, but generally, they don’t speak.

I am not one of those, but often I would prefer to not speak if that is possible. This isn’t just around strangers. I can do this around my own family as well. Now there are times when actions do speak louder than words, but there are times when they don’t and you need words to communicate.

This can lead to problems for me sometimes. Let’s suppose I am in the checkout line at the grocery store. I want to indicate to the person in front of me to please get a divider so I can start putting up my groceries or at least move their stuff forward to give me room. This can be a problem as they usually have their back turned to me watching what’s going on in front of them.

Somehow, a mental block comes up in front of me that practically renders me unable to speak. It is exceptionally frustrating. I really don’t know how else to explain it. Picture a time in your life when you are paralyzed with fear and might have known you needed to do something mentally and yet you couldn’t will yourself to move. That is a similar situation.

When I get up there to check out, I will normally prefer not speaking. It is not that I desire to be rude at all. It’s just I prefer to not have to speak if I don’t want to. This will also get us into something in another post that I can’t stand on the spectrum, small talk. I’ve already stated that I hate the question “How are you?” which usually starts such conversations.

Do I know a solution to this? No. I am also not justifying it. I am just saying it is what it is. If you meet someone who seems to be unusually quiet, please consider they may be on the spectrum.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
Support my Patreon here.