We’ve gone from institutionalising autistic children to trying to cure them to wrongly blaming vaccines for causing autism to helping children and families with adaptive therapies for an inborn disability to an understanding that some people’s brains work differently.
What we know now is that there is a genetic pre-disposition and that there is nothing to cure.
Does that sound familiar?
People on the autism spectrum have brains that work differently than others. People on the spectrum describe themselves as neurodiverse. Neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome. Neurodiversity is a descriptor for how all our brains and minds are unique and individual.
Neurodiverse people have ways of thinking and learning different from ours. And many enjoy unusual skills and aptitudes. Autistic people can have prodigious memories for facts, are often highly intelligent in ways that don’t register on verbal IQ tests, and are capable of focusing for long periods on tasks that take advantage of their natural gift for detecting flaws in visual patterns.
By autistic standards, our “normal” human brains are easily distractible, obsessively social, and suffer from a deficit of attention to detail.
There is a growing awareness that we need to embrace neurodiversity and help families to cope with the challenge of raising children who struggle with the overwhelming aspects of their lives.
Our responsibility as a society is to help them live in a world that is populated by people whom they describe as neurotypical.
Ten lepers, according to Luke’s gospel, including a Samaritan, were healed of their leprosy. Feared for his disease and isolated because of his birth family, he was an outlier, an outsider. He was born different and treated that way all his life. The best part of the story is when Jesus touched him. Society saw that as defiling Jesus. Instead it made the man clean, acceptable, he belonged. Jesus broke down a barrier.
The United Church, the Church Universal has been about breaking down barriers, including barriers between supposedly normal people and not-normal. Whatever that means.
Thanksgiving for us is about being thankful And it is about how that thankfulness flows to giving and to welcoming at the table. I don’t know how all of us would answer the question of why we are part of a church, but I think I’m safe in saying for a lot of us it’s because we get to be part of a supportive compassionate community who are glad to gather at this table to celebrate a sense of belonging.
If I’m right then I think it’s not so far-fetched for me to dream of us having an intentionally neurodiverse church, which is welcoming and supportive of people who are different, and their families.
Not just because it is a matter of justice but because so often we find that if we marginalise people we lose the benefit of their gifts and insights and brilliance.
I don’t know if Monet or Lisel Muller were autistic but I love her expression of what happens if we correct someone’s vision and lose the benefit of what they see.
Monet Refuses the Operation -Lisel Muller
Doctor, you say that there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don't see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don't know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and changes our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.
~ Lisel Mueller ~
For those of you who want more storytelling: