For my final installment of Autism Acceptance Month 2015, I have decided to interview a FaceBook friend. This is Elinor Broadbent, who is a moderator of many FaceBook groups for autistic people, such as Âû (Autistic Union) and Autism: We Are a Race Not a Disease. She lives in Australia.
1. Tell me about your childhood. When were you diagnosed as autistic?
I was not diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome until I was 32 years old. As a result my childhood was quite challenging at times, especially at school where I was labeled as a lazy daydreamer, rebellious, stubborn or strong-willed and generally incompetent. Although I had a close group of friends, I preferred to spend my time alone in my own little world. I loved to read and was very interested in how things worked. With my father’s encouragement I learned to rebuild car engines by the age of 8 or 9 and was very much a tom boy. I had no interest in dolls, dresses or playing princesses. I preferred to explore, build things and to get lost in the science fiction world through books and shows like Doctor Who or Star Trek.
2. Do you have any comorbid conditions often associated with autism, such as ADHD?
School was an extra challenge for me because as well as being diagnosed with Asperger’s I also learned that I have a condition called Dysgraphia. Dysgraphia is essentially a problem within the frontal lobe of the brain which effects handwriting. While I knew exactly what I wanted to say in essays and school assignments transposing thought onto paper was a near impossibility. My hand writing, which was done all in capitol letters was barely legible and in those days there were no computers for word processing. My words often ended up as a jumbled mess and it always took me four times as long as the other students to complete work. This lead to a great deal of frustration from my teachers and my inevitable failure at school. I also have a condition called Prosopagnosia (Facial Blindness) where I do not recognize people by their facial features but am dependent on things such as posture or defining features such as scars to be able to recognize someone. Those closest to me I can recognize by their face but if they change their hair style or something to that effect then it takes me a lot longer to recognize them. I actually find this much more of a hindrance than my autism.
3. What kind of education did you receive?
After failing school the first time I, went back and completed my Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE), I think some countries call it senior high, and since that time have also gained some qualifications in business management, mechanics and I have recently deferred a degree in Psychology in order to tend to family needs and job commitments. I am hoping to return to study next year.
4. What do you do for a living?
I work part time at a local supermarket as a Customer Service Supervisor which is a fancy title for someone who acts as manager when they are not around. Customer service and autism generally don’t mix well together, but I have taken it as an opportunity to challenge myself and grow in my personal character. In the 4 years I have worked there I have certainly learnt a lot about myself in terms of my coping mechanisms, what triggers an autistic meltdown, and in managing the stresses of dealing with people.
5. Why are you a Christian?
My Christian faith began with my mother, who took me to church as a child. I have always been attracted to the spiritual element of life and when my mum left the church I decided to keep going. The Bible is full of great wisdom and it gives people a sense of purpose, hope and community.
6. What evidence can you give for God’s Existence?
Evidence for God’s existence is all around. The historical accuracy of biblical accounts, the testimonies of peoples encounters with God; my own personal encounters and spiritual journey. I am not a fan of apologetics simply because people can use evidence to support both sides of the argument. Belief in God is an act of faith. I find it extremely improbable that the earth’s perfect conditions for life, the complexity of the human brain, or even the eye for that matter, the delicate balance of our ecosystem and everything in it, is the result of some cosmic accident and a purely a product of evolution. But let me interject with something to think about. I think Christians miss the point a little on this topic. 2 Peter 3:8 says “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” why couldn’t both evolution and creation co-exist? The Bible clearly illustrates that time is not as important to God as it is to us, after all, we are mortal and worry about time. Creation is not about “how”, but more about ‘why’. We can argue about creation until Jesus returns or we can focus on our all-loving Father who gave us life and sought relationship with us. That is pretty amazing in itself.
7. Do you have any children and what are they like?
I have 3 children. Mr J who is 9, Miss H who is 5 and Mr E who is 4. My eldest is also on the Autism Spectrum, highly intelligent and very sensitive. He is literal and loves Minecraft, computer games, and Lego. My kids are my life. They are a bit wild and feral at times, they play well together but fight equally well, and I love watching them explore the world, learn new things and grow. My younger two children are just starting their school journey and it is awe inspiring to watch a whole new world open up before them.
8. What is your favorite Bible verse?
My favorite Bible verse is Isaiah 40:8 “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” When all else fails me, it is my faith in Christ and the wisdom and hope I find in his written word that always helps me through those tough times.
9. Who is your favorite Biblical figure, excluding the Holy Trinity?
My favorite Biblical character is a hard one, there are so many I love. I would have to say it is David. David was a man who had humble beginnings–he was obedient, faithful, and united the tribes of Israel. But what I really love about David was he was human. He stuffed up and made some big mistakes, he didn’t have the perfect happy family, he was even quite arrogant at times and he knew that he was flawed. The Book of Psalms is full of writings where David shakes his fist in rage, is in the pits of dispair, wishes evil on his enemies, implores God for forgiveness, wrestles with depression, shouts from the rooftops in joy, pities those who hate him and stands in awe of God and all he has done. It is his humanity and his constant blundering later in life that inspires me the most. It shows that you don’t have to be perfect, just be real with yourself.
10. I’ve noticed that many autistics are hostile towards religion or at least are not religious. Why do you think that is? What would you suggest for a religious person who wishes to reach out to autistic people such as yourself?
There is a big difference between being religious and following Christ. I’ve heard it said that many of those on the autistic spectrum are drawn to religion because they have a stringent set of rules and traditions that create a sense of stability and consistency which is something that many autistics crave. I disagree with this. While I do see some individuals on the spectrum who love the religious institution for those reasons many reject the notion of such staunch lifestyles.
The reason is life experience. Many people who have autism feel that their whole lives have been spent being forced to conform to a set of social rules and expectations of behaviour that is detrimental to their mental and even physical well-being. In order to be acceptable, they must walk, talk, look, and act a certain way; otherwise they are outcast and treated very poorly. Why would autistics willingly submit to a system of religion that reinforces those very same principles? A system that implies that “In order to be a good Christian you must follow these rules, otherwise we will judge you, criticize you, and make you feel like you are an inadequate outsider, that something is wrong with you. Sinner!”
I believe that religion has grossly misrepresented Christ with their extreme levels of control and their manipulation of the bible in order to coerce people to behave how they want them to and to build their “empire”. The Kingdom of God is one of love, acceptance, and grace. Everyone sins, everyone falls short and God loves everyone. It is not the church’s job to force people to change or to make people wear certain clothes, speak a certain way, only watch certain tv shows, only socialize with certain people. Churches have adopted that policy that in order to belong you must behave; but change comes from feeling like you belong. not being forced to. By being accepted for who you are, loved just as you are, and embraced without conditions. Change should be a natural progression, not a membership condition and being judged acceptable by the way you act is not Christ-like. In fact, for many autistics this is a horribly familiar and unwelcome feeling.
If Christians want to reach out to their fellow man, especially to autistics, then the key is relationship and acceptance. Don’t tell people about Jesus, show them who Jesus was by your actions, by how you speak to others and by not judging them. It is not for us to judge others, but to welcome them regardless of how they look or act. Again, it is important to distinguish between showing people who Jesus is and what Christianity has become. Jesus’ greatest criticisms were aimed at the Pharisees who were the religious representatives of the day. Christians often mistake pride for being Christ-like. Jesus puts no conditions of love. In his time here on Earth he welcomed the poor, the dirty, the homeless, the sick. He stayed at the house of a prostitute, ate with her and spent quality time with her. He did not lecture her, but accepted her for who she was in that particular time in her life. Lets take a leaf out of his book and instead of judging others and demanding that they be “just like us”, embrace them and make them feel welcome and accepted.