Why is it hard on the spectrum sometimes? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
They’re getting close to me. It’s coming. I know it’s coming. I need to prepare myself. It will happen soon. Brace yourself. It’s coming.
“How are you doing?!” and a little pat on the arm or the back.
Move out of brace state. Crisis past.
If you think I am exaggerating, I am not. On the Autism spectrum, this is the way I handle it when complete strangers come up and touch me. Actually, I respond the same way when even people I know want to touch me. My own parents don’t normally get to touch me.
For boys, some of that is natural with parents. There is an age when a boy starts developing an aversion to his mother’s touch. He doesn’t like it and it’s very awkward for him. The touch of another woman? Now that is something entirely different.
For me, I think of the scene from As Good As It Gets with Jack Nicholson’s character walking down the street and saying “Don’t touch! Don’t touch! Don’t touch!” I don’t do that, but it would sometimes be nice to have that kind of sign. A lot of guys could be hesitant to touch a girl in public today, especially with MeToo and the threat of being charged with sexual harassment in any way. The problem is we assume that our fellow guys don’t mind.
I am sure a lot of them don’t, but those of us on the spectrum don’t come with signs that say “Spectrum!” So what relevance does this have for Christianity? Why talk about this here?
Because if there’s any place that something like this happens, it’s in the church. Many people in the church like to greet one another. If there is anything that I see as a benefit of the whole Covid scare, it’s that churches finally abolished greeting times. I hated those times so much. You shake hands and greet people and tell them how good it is to see them and you don’t interact with them the rest of the week.
Now if I do let someone touch me, that is a rare time, and it is a privilege. It is when there is a special event that has happened that has allowed me to trust someone. Just recently, I had a long conversation with a friend in person that I had had an issue with and when I told him how things looked to me on the spectrum, it was stunning and it was a time of healing for us. Towards the end, he said, “I want to touch you, but I know you don’t like that.” I said, “You can give a little.” He said he wanted to give me a hug, which he did, and I gave a one-handed one back.
Again, if you’re not on the spectrum, you might not understand this, but on the spectrum, this is the way I am. I can compare it to the old classic video games that when someone touches your character, you get damaged or in some, even die. It’s like receiving damage to an extent for me. It is asking me to cross a boundary that I don’t want to cross because I don’t know if you’re a friend or a foe yet.
So what would be my advice? Don’t touch people you don’t know at church. What if that person is on the spectrum and doesn’t like that? Instead, try to get to know them somehow first as much as you can. If someone like me on the spectrum inclines to let you touch us, then consider it that at that point you have earned tremendous trust with us. We still might not like being touched to some extent, but we will accept it.
Please in a church service be cautious how you approach a stranger. I’m someone that can brace myself and not like it, but the wrong person could have a very verbal outpost putting themselves off from church and possibly the gospel.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)