Monday, 11 September 2017

"Autistic People Aren't My Priority" - A Challenge for Christians

Tempting, isn't it - to think that autistic people are 'out there somewhere', perhaps in a care home?  Someone else's 'responsibility'.  Nothing to do with us, in our church.  Well, perhaps we know an autistic child, and sometimes nod in pity at the parents as we pass them in the street?

The picture above shows some of the reality, rather than this set of myths.  It shows a picture of a large church, with arrows pointing to all the contents and activities that could have had autistic input. If you are in a church building, you're in a building pretty much built, designed, fitted out and run by autistic people.  Looking at art or sculpture?  Quite possibly an autistic sculptor or artist did that.  Listening to music?  Very likely you're listening to autistic organists, choir members.   Listening to a sermon?  Is the Priest autistic?  The people in the pews, praying - some autistic.  The people offering welcome and friendship - some autistic.  Every person has something to bring.  Those praying with others - some autistic. The same as anyone else in the world.

Look around you.  In the pews, the woman, dressed neatly and smiling.  Autistic.

Go outside.  See the people sleeping rough under the bridge?  Some studies show 6 out of 10 homeless people are autistic.

Working with groups?  1 in 30 of their number will be autistic.

Autism isn't 'out there somewhere in a care home'.  It's been around you all your life.  You just didn't know the people were autistic.

So, when I hear people in our churches say, "Autistic people aren't my priority - I don't have to know anything about them", I gently challenge them.   What do they mean by that?  What fears or misunderstandings lie behind that statement?  How do we work together to find out how to break down those barriers?   How do we make better use of the fantastic gifts that autistic people bring to every group, if given the chance to do so?  

I am blessed to be working with churches and church leaders in many places.  Training clergy.  Advising on access.  Collaborating on projects.  All as an external consultant, not a formal adviser.  I'm autistic.

 And, one day, soon, I hope, churches will be proud to look round them at all we already do for God and community, and say, 

"Autistic people are my priority".