As a follow-up to a focus on special needs offerings of several local churches, I'm pleased to offer this heartfelt and insightful guest blog by Erin Kirkland this week. ct
He’s Just ‘Alright’
I believe if Jesus were here he would dig my son. He is inquisitive, sensitive, and intelligent. He is also impulsive, immature, and sometimes downright annoying.
My teenager lives a life affected by Asperger Syndrome, a disorder on the Autism Spectrum that manifests itself through poor social skills, decreased judgment, and a lack of impulse control, among other things. He makes his way through every single moment of every single day knowing that he is not like everyone else. He has taught us, his parents, more about grace than could any other experience in our lives.
Church as a concept for our family has been an up-and-down journey. Incessant questions of “Why are these people talking so long?” and “Can we go now?” have punctuated my worship time since preschool days, along with restless legs and blank stares and my futile attempts at explaining away behaviors to seemingly deaf ears who really just wanted me to make my kid shut up.
Like most people with Asperger Syndrome who thrive on fact-based information, my son has trouble conceptualizing a god who could be in charge of someone’s life. Indeed, God is not something to be seen or heard or felt, as author Daniel Tammet describes so eloquently in his book “Born on a Blue Day”. He states, “In secondary school, I had no interest in religious education and was dismissive of the possibility of a god or that religion could be beneficial in people’s lives…and the religious arguments that I read and heard did not make any sense to me.”
Tammet, however, is a Christian, and does have deep interest in pondering the questions of life, death, and love, but his ultimate acceptance of Jesus into his life came after intellectual curiosity had been satisfied through the help of a mentor. We have yet to find that someone.
When middle school Sunday classes approached at a well-known and well-established church in Anchorage, our son positively exhausted leaders with questions concerning not his own personal faith walk, but the historical facts surrounding the Old Testament, God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. He read the Bible like a Guinness Book of World Records, finding names of the various pharaohs, heroes and villians particularly fascinating, especially those who lived to be over 150 years of age. Unable to grasp abstract concepts surrounding a personal commitment to Christ during his confirmation, he fretted and stewed for days about how he was going to explain the Bible passage assigned to him and eventually just faked his way through a one-on-one “discussion” with an Elder. He had no idea why he was up on the alter receiving a cross. He just followed everyone else. As usual.
Youth Group, too, was fraught with anxiety-producing situations that staff were unable to manage, even after a meeting prior to the school year. Weekend retreats, concert outings, and special events gradually became off-limits to our child simply because the leader, while a genuinely well-meaning individual, clearly did not know what to do with my statistic-loving, sometimes socially inappropriate ‘tween. Since most persons with Asperger Syndrome lack measurable empathy, activities like serving meals at Bean’s Café or collecting socks for a clothing drive meant little to our kid and were breeding grounds for bad behavior and hurt feelings on everyone’s part, and eventually drove us to start shopping for other churches.
Currently residing at a specialized Asperger program in Utah, our son does attend church services, led by volunteers who hand out Bibles and candy bars with equal frequency, thus assuring his attendance. When asked about whether or not he believes in God, however, he answers with the typical ambiguity of a child living with this disorder. “I don’t know.” But he loves music that surrounds the service, and has a collection of songs that, in their own way, allow him to feel love, acceptance, and a concept of our Almighty. This kid knows that Jesus let everybody hang out with him, even the annoying people. Especially the annoying people.
Oh, and our teenager’s favorite song? It’s “Jesus is Just Alright With Me”.
Erin Kirkland is a freelance writer, blogger, and member of Trinity Presbyterian Church.