Amy Langston, a student in Hartford Seminary’s Master of Arts in Religious Studies program, gave a fascinating talk on Tuesday, Jan. 29, about how autism affects the religious experience and how religious communities can better embrace people with autism.
Langston said she was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum at age 10. Since autism encompasses a wide range of diagnoses, she cautioned that she could never speak for everyone.
She described many of the common characteristics of autism, particularly difficulties with social interaction, and said, “It’s like you’ve been dropped into a foreign country.”
In terms of religious experience, those with autism tend to seem themselves at “outsiders,” she said, which creates challenges. Often, she said, parents of autistic children are “politely told not to go to that church [or other religious community] anymore” because their child doesn’t fit in or can’t make friends.
She advised that religious communities:
- Educate their congregations about autism
- Engage congregants with expertise
- Train staff and volunteers
- Practice patience, gentleness and compassion
- Create inclusion committees
- Establish a buddy system
- Provide transportation for those who need it
The full video of the presentation can be viewed here: