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Religion and Autism Spectrum

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 

I hope I can bring this up with belittling anyone's beliefs. I really do mean it as a  special needs question, not spirituality.


YoungSon, 15, dx'ed with PDD-NOS (and other stuff), has a very rigid, black & white view of the world. I am thrilled at the progress he has made in the last couple years - he was really "disabled" years ago, but has come so far. He is an ethical, concerned citizen, volunteers at the Food Bank (his own idea), and has political and moral views and ideas. In so many ways, I am proud of him and he is surpassing my expectations.


But he has become fundamentalist Christian. In a very loud and judgmental way, he believes in the literal interpretation of the Bible, hell's fire and damnation, and that all non-believers will go to hell. He totally (and insultingly) rejects evolution. He is not open to discussing any of this rationally, as he credits the devil whenever I bring up alternative views.


He has become a version of homophobic (awkward to say the least in this relatively queer household) and feels that is supported by the bible. He is loudly pro-military in a pacifist environment, and I think much of that is anti-Islam on a religious basis. He must feel really isolated, as my roommate, and my 16 year old DD and I all share a much different world-view than his. We want to respect his opinions, but the only way we have found is to try to avoid the subject. And most any conversation can lead to Christianity with him. Think of a typical autistic obsession. Most any disagreement can end with, "Well, you're going to hell anyway". I do insist he at least be polite about it, but that leads to him just shutting up, and further isolating himself.


He doesn't attend church. I tried taking him to church I knew to be more inclusive, but he was uncomfortable because he knew I "don't believe". I have suggested some local moderate churches, hoping that he could learn a more mellow version of these beliefs, but he isn't much of a joiner.


Is this a stage he will outgrow? It has been an issue for a year or longer, so I know it isn't going to be a quick one. I am trying to teach him to accept differences, but that doesn't come easily to kids on the Spectrum. I am trying to be open-minded myself, but to me his beliefs seem so judgmental and negative. Is that sort of an autism thing? I would welcome any advice on how to approach this. I like that he has his own opinions and is willing to defend them. But do they have to be so far from mine?

post #2 of 11

Wow, that's a tough one. 


We have the opposite problem. DD thinks religion is for morons - her rigid, black-and-white thinking leads her to believe that this stuff just isn't "true" and she will rail on and on about how "stupid" religion is and how Jesus was just a historical figure, etc. I've had to work with her to help her understand how hurtful and disrespectful it can be for her to express her opinions in that way. She is good about not saying things around her grandparents and other people we know who are religious, but when we are out and about she'll say things as if assuming that everybody around her is going to share her view. 


I'd start by simply focussing on the subject of respect. Talk about what it means and why it's important and how we can choose our words to be respectful without having to change our beliefs or be untrue to who we are. But it does sound as though perhaps he is obsessing on the subject, in which case probably you won't be able to reason with him about the concept of respect. I would want to "deprogram" him if it were my kid, but at age 15 I have no idea how to do that. 


post #3 of 11

I have a member of my extended family who is like this -- very rigid, obsessive thinking applied to Christianity. It ain't pretty.


I wonder if it would help if you targeted specif teachings from the bible that soften this belief system. Although there is a thread of fundamentalism that backs up these extreme views, the overall tone of the New Testament does not. The first passage that comes to mind is I Corinthians 13 -- the part about love that so often gets read at weddings. The passage about Jesus and the woman at the well (he who is without sin, throw the first stone), the story of the good Samaritan, and the most of the sermon on the mount (the meek shall inherent the earth).


I've no idea how these conversations would go -- if he could hear that want he is ranting about isn't actually what Jesus taught (and Paul wrote letters about).


The bible clearly says that the outcome of experiencing god is peace, joy, and love, so if he isn't experiencing those emotions, he isn't there yet. Hate and judgment just don't count for much. The only people Jesus ever got angry with in the bible were the Church people (called Pharisees). He had sinners round for dinner.


I do think  that teens on the spectrum, just like most teens, like to make themselves different from their parents to help foster their own sense of identity.

post #4 of 11

I am Catholic, and my child on the spectrum is a very devout Catholic.  He is attracted to the rituals and mystical spirituality of Catholicism -- I sometimes think that Catholicism was created by and for autistics.  :)


In my son's case, it is not a phase that passes, because the spirituality is part of his personality, as has been since infancy (even as an infant, my son had very strong spiritual leanings).   But in the situation that you are describing, this may be a phase that passes, because it is a "special interest" and he is perseverating on a few aspects of fundamentalist Christian interpretations.  I find it curious that he does not want to attend any church, since the Bible emphasizes over and over the importance of worshipping in community.  It may be worthwhile to get him to meet with a Christian leader whom he respects to get some of his ideas straightened out.  

post #5 of 11

If he likes to read, there are a lot of more moderate Christian authors out there.  You could give him books for Christmas (if you celebrate :)).  Or you could even read the books in your own family book club and discuss them, if you think it would be good discussion.  Or finding a good mentor in the faith that would be willing to and interested in sharing the "softer side" of the faith with your DS might be a good way to approach it.


I have family that holds similar views to your DS (who are not autistic), so I understand a bit of how you feel in this.  Love and respect, but wishing he could see a wider view and be more loving about stuff.  You may want to look into what he is listening to (radio/podcasts) and where he is getting these ideas reinforced.  I can almost hear my loved ones echoing back things they have heard on fundamental conservative radio.  There are lot of other good things out there that can help your son grow in his Christian faith without being judgemental and negative.  Talk radio (if he listens to it) is generally NOT one of those ways.




ETA: A book I have been reading lately is by Duane Elmer - Cross-Cultural Servanthood.  I don't know if your son can generalize, but the book is very much about learning to understand the culture you are in and how not to be offensive while still sharing your beliefs.  It's a bit of a "how-to" manual on being polite with people you don't understand.

Edited by Tjej - 12/5/11 at 7:51am
post #6 of 11

My poor atheist mom.  All 4 of her kids grew up to be religiously active to varying degrees.  Hopefully this offers some consolation, all of us started out obnoxiously zealous, all of us simmered down quite a bit after a few years.  I was harshly judgmental for a while there.


I don't think you can change his mind about religious doctrine, since you don't represent a religious authority to him.  But you should continue to require him to be polite to you. 



post #7 of 11

It's tricky dealing with the black and white thinking with ASD.


I'm lucky that somehow my own ASD son somehow rides the two worlds of religion and science despite being very black and white.  It probably helps that we are Anglican and that our particular denomination is now (and historically) accepting of scientific and rational thought having a place in the church.  DS firmly believes in evolution and creation concepts like the the Big Bang and believes that God used them to get the job done.  He thinks that the physics of the world is too orderly for there not to be a guiding force, and that God accounts for the "magical" things people can't explain.


If your son is logical I would suggest finding a moderate and very academically well-read Bible study group for him.  As a Christian myself, I can attest to how little I actually understood the historical and cultural background to the things I have read in the Bible.  A logical, even black and white person, can quickly find that issues like evolution (which has never been explicitly disputed) and homosexuality (whose Biblical discussion involves a lot of cultural connotations at the time that are about broader issues) involve a lot more than what a modern English translation tells us.  And, as other posters have mentioned, much of the Bible itself does not support this view point.


He'll need lots of time and support from others in his life to gradually broaden his views, and a mentor who does believe but shows some moderation would make a difference.  I have a similar problem with environmentalism with my DS, and it's very slow going.  I keep hoping exposure to multiple views and facts and studies from varying points of view will make a difference, but I guess the future will tell.  It's pretty hard to show the gray to someone wired for black and white.

post #8 of 11
Originally Posted by journeymom View Post
I don't think you can change his mind about religious doctrine, since you don't represent a religious authority to him.  But you should continue to require him to be polite to you. 



This doesn't make sense to me. Some people believe that being rude to non-believers, even family members, is part of their religious doctrine.


I also don't get the feeling that if is faith per say that is the problem for the mom, but the ugliness. How do you allow your child to hold on to doctrine that is all about being hateful and judgmental, while requiring them to be polite? 



post #9 of 11

Yeah, I agree with that sentiment, Linda, but ... how do you get a person who is black and white in their logic to change that?


As we all know, our children can be logical to the point of illogic. I think the only course this poor mom has open to her is to find an authority her son *will* respect and get them to teach him that while his views can be as extreme as he wants, in polite society, we don't judge people out loud and we don't force our views upon them. THAT is a much tougher thing to teach a kid on the spectrum.

post #10 of 11
Thread Starter 

Thank you all for good food for thought. Reading is out, but I think I will do some research to see if there are any youth/teen groups around here that may help him channel all this. He has never joined a group in his life, but presented right, he may step out of his comfort zone. Fortunately, I work for a Catholic non-profit that deals with troubled youth. Someone there should have a lead, wouldn't you think?



post #11 of 11
Originally Posted by mamarhu View Post

I think I will do some research to see if there are any youth/teen groups around here that may help him channel all this. He has never joined a group in his life, but presented right, he may step out of his comfort zone.

It's very difficult for my DD (also 15, also on the spectrum) to go to new places, esp those than involve a group of people. I'm wondering if part of the reason your son doesn't want to go to a church is because of the new and confusing social aspect of it. Is there any one is his life who could help smooth the transition, or may be in doing your research you could connect with a person who would be helpful, who he could met first?


I'm just thinking about the anxiety aspect of a spectrum kid starting anything new.


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