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  1. I have Asperger's Syndrome and I am LDS/Mormon too. I have written and published a book called The Greensons. It is about a fictional LDS/Mormon family that has a daughter with Asperger's Syndrome. Here is the link to it if you are interested:
  2. I am not the parent of an autistic child. I am an autistic adult who is having a lot of trouble feeling like he belongs, at Church. I'm asking for help here, because it is easier for me to write than it is for me to speak. I am going to try to describe what being autistic is like for me, as a person and as a Church member. It's going to take a while, because I've been dealing with this my whole life and am just now articulating my feelings about it. I'll try to make things easier for you by breaking things up into sections. If you're still reading, here goes. What is it like to be an autistic LDS adult? I'm not lost in my own world. As far as I can tell my senses are sharper than everyone else's. Bright lights hurt my eyes; loud music sends me curled up into a ball in the back seat, covering my ears and humming desperately to myself to drown it out. If I withdraw, it's because I'm trying to get away from something that's hurting me bad but that doesn't bother you. When I greet new people, I approach them like I would a small animal. I make myself small, speaking quietly and using body language to appear nonthreatening. I do this unconsciously, because that's the way that I'd like to be treated, and the kind of behavior that I see as friendly. The people at church are friendly, I know. But they're still getting used to how I recoil from their touch, contorting and twisting away from even an innocent pat on the back. I put my hands together politely instead of shaking theirs, and I smile and hope that it doesn't offend them. I rarely make eye contact, and I wouldn't at all if I hadn't been told that I ought to. Seeing someone in pain, even an insect or animal, hurts me badly. It surprises me when nobody else seems to notice -- although I might just not see when they do. I use paper towels to pick up bugs that got inside and set them back out, and I don't eat meat or animal products at all. Autistic person meets LDS culture Since I also don't eat refined sugar, I often feel left out at ward events. Last year's Christmas party was food that I couldn't eat, followed by a program that was too loud in a room that was filled with people, and I had to ride there and back in a noisy car. I went into a foyer during the program and shut the door, and paced in there with the lights out. That really helped me to calm down. I sometimes try to talk to ward members who seem distressed about something. We usually have little to talk about, and I may have to speak in a monotone or a sing-song voice if I don't have enough energy to make myself sound normal. But I offer to help them with things, and I try to express my sympathy for them. I get along best with children and with casual, easygoing people. I'm scared by people who are confident and assertive, and humiliated by people who make casual sexist or ageist jokes. Most people seem alien to me; I can't wrap my brain around how they think. So I'm on edge even around friendly ward members, like the ones who give car rides to me, because I don't know how they feel about me. And then I hear them gossiping about people they've met who act sort of like me, and I feel terrible. I did not go on a mission due to personal worthiness issues. But the bishop we had at the time didn't think I'd be able to serve one anyway, even though I was undiagnosed. He just knew that I had "emotional problems," that made me unsuitable in his mind. My mom took exception to this, and believed that there were people "like me" that I would be able to reach. I don't know how this would have turned out. What place is there for autistic people inside the LDS church? I did not say "people with autism." There is not a person like you inside me. This is how I am deep down. And the way I am has caused problems for me, but I also feel that it's been a great blessing. I may have trouble speaking in person, but I know many people who've been touched by my writing, and I feel that being autistic -- having a sensitive nervous system and a differently-wired brain -- has helped me to feel what I need to write. I've heard it said that I seem like a different person online, and LDS friends that I meet on the Internet are always surprised when I tell them what I'm like IRL. Making friends online is no problem for me. What is a problem is feeling like there's a place for me in my ward. I'm not being persecuted; the people around me are nice. They reach out to me just like they reach out to the Spanish-speaking members in our ward. And after I've explained my needs, they're careful to avoid overstepping my boundaries, voluntarily refraining from shaking hands and sometimes bringing food I can eat. They even let me carpool with them (I can't drive). The members in my ward are very Christlike, and I have few objections to their behavior. Most of them don't even know I'm autistic -- I didn't know that that was the word for what I was until last year. So they don't know why I act differently, but they seem to tolerate me anyway, even the ways that I fidget in Sunday School. (Would that people had similar sensitivity for the plights of ward members with autistic children, instead of assuming that they are bad parents.) The problem is that I don't see anyone else out there who is like me. Imagine having to go to church in Japan ... everything, every program, every Ensign article and ward activity, is geared towards people who are not like me. Everyone assumes that I'm just a weird neurotypical (person who isn't autistic), and people are nice even when they don't understand but they still don't understand. What they don't understand I already told you my issues with touching. But when neurotypicals want to convey a powerful spiritual message, they do things like touch, lean closer, and make prolonged eye contact. They look directly into the camera for long periods of time, in Church videos like the "Brand New Year" thing I just watched, bearing a powerful witness that makes me feel powerfully uncomfortable. I used to think I was awful for feeling distressed during things like this, and that I was broken inside. Nowadays I just feel sad and alienated. I want to feel the Spirit, but I can't do so when other human beings are imposing their presence on me. I feel like I need to hide from them. (I especially hate when ward leaders ask us to "please sit in the first few rows." I actually listen a lot better when I'm able to pace in an empty foyer, and listen to talks over speakers. And the teachers I like best are the ones who are unsure of themselves, or simply quiet and knowledgable. When the teacher is loud and boisterous, and asks lots of leading questions where there's only one right answer, I feel out of place.) There's no help for me in Church magazines, either. I like reading Conference addresses, but whenever the magazines talk about autism it's always for parents of autistic children. I feel sorry for them, because I know they're being forced to make hard decisions, and being judged harshly by others who don't know what it's like. But while I'm sure these articles give them comfort, what am I supposed to feel when I read about parents who think that the fact that their child is like me is a tragedy? Whose hopes of a mission and marriage for their child are dashed, because surely this person like me could never fit in? Could never be loved, or teach others the Gospel? Probably the most hurtful thing that I read was Another Brother, a story they had in the Friend about the brother of an autistic child who didn't want to be hugged. The message of reassurance was that Jesus will make him not-autistic in the afterlife. How would you feel if you were told that there was no afterlife for you ... that you'd die and be replaced by another person, and that it would be better for everyone this way? All because you aren't comfortable with the way that they choose to express love? I don't blame them for not knowing that this was the message they sent, and I know that it's not inspired Church doctrine (it's just a story containing one person's interpretation). But it really hurts me to see things like that. Or to hear my Institute teacher talking about a destructive autistic child that he just saw as a monster, and saying "you know how they are." These things make me feel like there's no place for me in God's kingdom, here on this earth or in the worlds to come. And in my worst moments I believe them, and tell myself that I shouldn't exist. It doesn't help that most of the money that goes into autism research outside the Church is going into finding genetic indicators, so that they can kill people like me in the womb. I'm sorry to distress you with the thought, but I thought you should be aware. Autism Speaks is especially bad. Can Jesus "cure" autism? Would he? I know Jesus Christ has the power to relieve my discomfort. And when I sing "I'll be what you want me to be, dear Lord," I mean it, even if he wants me to become a neurotypical. But I don't think he does. If anything, I think that I'm autistic because he wanted me to be. And I believe that the person I am right now has value. I don't want to wait for the afterlife to feel like I have a place in God's Church and kingdom. I want to feel like there is a place for me now. I want to know that there are other members like me, who are going through the same things that I am. And someday I'd like to see our existence acknowledged in Church News and the Ensign, not as a tragedy but as a blessing. And not as children, but as contributing adult members who volunteer and hold callings (I've done both). I'm grateful for the Internet, because it allows me to communicate in a way that I couldn't otherwise. I'm grateful for the ability to share this with other Church members here, hopefully in a way you can all understand. And I'm sorry I spent so long writing this, and took up so much of your time. Please tell me if there's anything that will help.