The Weakness and Strength of Being an Autistic Christian

Autism is an unusual way of processing information. It has strengths and weaknesses.

The basic elements of autism are difficulty reading body language and non-verbal communication, impaired motor skills, difficulty with eye contact, unusually strong senses, difficulty with symbolic language and humor, ability to hyper-focus, and an excellent memory. Because the autistic brain focuses on certain areas such as memory, detail, routine, and precision, it is impaired in non-verbal and social areas. Non-Autistic people, those with typical nervous systems, are called Neurotypicals.

 

Hi! My name is Daniel Michalski. I am a Christian. I am a Master of Divinity student at Westminster Seminary California. I love to travel. I’ve been to 22 countries on 4 continents! I like cats and goats (and more cats). I had five lizards growing up. My favorite color is green. I’m the opposite of a picky eater, the only food I don’t love is ketchup. I’m an ambivert, in between extrovert and introvert, so I get energy from either being alone or from socializing! Oh…and I’m on the Autism Spectrum.

Autism is an unusual way of processing information. It has strengths and weaknesses. The basic elements of autism are difficulty reading body language and non-verbal communication, impaired motor skills, difficulty with eye contact, unusually strong senses, difficulty with symbolic language and humor, ability to hyper-focus, and an excellent memory. Because the autistic brain focuses on certain areas such as memory, detail, routine, and precision, it is impaired in non-verbal and social areas. Non-Autistic people, those with typical nervous systems, are called Neurotypicals.

I didn’t grow up with a knowledge of my Autism. I grew up in the tiny town of Bonners Ferry, Idaho. A lot of my symptoms weren’t as evident because I spent most of my time with family, so we were comfortable with each other. Plus my little brother has Down’s Syndrome and Classic Autism. We only knew about his Down’s Syndrome, so we never connected the similar traits that he and I had. Even with some hurtful misunderstandings and our not knowing about my condition, my Mom was an excellent mother and didn’t harm me at all. Sadly, the same cannot be said for many Autistics who grew up in Christian or non-Christian homes. Many Autistics from Christian homes were abused and treated as disobedient and evil for their disability.

But I can remember certain events that might have made someone who was familiar with Autism notice me. I had a lizard at school and was going to have a funeral for him, but one of my classmates joked about the lizard, and I took him seriously. I made the whole class stay inside while I buried him behind the school. Also, many times people would speak to me, but I would be so focused on something that my brain was filtering them out completely. I was oblivious that having one friend at a time or teaching myself what a metaphor was via a literal definition wasn’t typical.

When I turned 18, I moved to California, got a grocery store job, and started wondering if I was a different species from everybody else. I felt like there was an invisible barrier between me and the world around me. I didn’t understand how people wanted to bond and thought someone trying to fist bump me was punching me. Because of confusing events like this, I retreated into my own mind. I almost stopped communicating altogether, and just bagged groceries while off in another dimension. I studied theology alone and traveled. Unbeknownst to me, a manager recognized me as Autistic and helped me throughout my time there. The general manager, who didn’t know about Asperger’s Syndrome but was a Christian, also helped me out.

When I was 21, my friend Robb Coleman, now a SEBTS Ph.D. student, suggested I might have Asperger’s Syndrome. I looked it up, and two things jumped out at me: I had no idea what non-verbal communication was, and I had forced myself to learn how to look people in the eye (it was physically painful). The condition’s description fit my life perfectly and explained many confusing things. I understood finally why I felt like a stranger in the world and couldn’t socialize well.

It explained why my gait was often described as odd or like a foreigner. It explained why I had trouble doing tasks requiring fine motor skills like driving, holding a pencil rather than grasping, and balancing a fork. It explained my sense of being an observer and not a participant in life. It explained why it hurt to look people in the eye and why I needed to run after too much sensory input. It explained why I had such sensitive hearing, and my nerves felt constantly overloaded.

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