Autism and Religion: Raising Religious Children on the Spectrum

prayer-1269776_1280Google “autism and religion.” When I did so, I was flooded with results explaining why people on the spectrum are less likely to believe in God or participate in organized religion. Many sources explain how the desire for logical answers to all of life’s questions isn’t congruent with some of the mysteries that come with a belief in God. But this wasn’t my experience observing my brother on the spectrum as we grew up together. He appreciated the comfort of a religious routine and thrived in a religious community. Religious families hoping to offer their children on the spectrum all the fulfillment of a life centered around a belief in God can look to others on the spectrum or other religious families for guidance.

Autism and Religion: Advice from Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin explained in an article for Autism Asperger Digest that it helps to explain religion with concrete examples. She explains that parents can help teach their children morality with concrete examples of what is helpful and positive to others. Grandin suggests giving children a WWJD (“What Would Jesus Do?”) necklace or key chain and then teaching them specific ways Jesus acted for them to model, such as playing fair, acting generous, being honest, sharing, etc. Grandin said there are hundreds of different ways parents can share their faith with their child on the spectrum through “daily demonstrations of goodness.”

Grandin wrote, “This is more important, and will help the child in his or her future more than will learning to recite passages or text, or trying to teach him or her higher level concepts that the child will have difficulty understanding.”

If you will be taking your child to an organized church service or religious education program, it’s wise to visit the environment ahead of time to determine how best to manage your child’s needs. Help your child practice religious rituals at home and follow-up with your child and the religious education teacher to help your child make sense of the lessons. There are a number of references that offer guidance for parents in this area, some of which are listed below.

Some churches have programs dedicated to serving parishioners with disabilities, so it is worth inquiring about. Next week we will hear from a director of one such religious education program who will explain about some of the services his parish program offers.


Additional Resources Regarding Autism and Religion

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  1. Fr. Pierre Blais, ThD


    As a tiny monastic community of ASDs with a ministry to ASDs, we have found HF ASDs to need often more room for ‘alternative worship’ – not only physical space from large crowds but also worshiping in ways to which they can relate their experiences, observations and perspectives; or at different times than the norm – what in Eastern Christianity is called ‘idiorythmy.’ i.e. according to their own rhythm. Of those we know of believing HFs, there are often frequent matters of conscience and moral crises which are problematic: either they lack for words to explain; they fear ridicule or accusations of disbelief if they are brought up; or what to them is important is not addressed by organized Christianity or Judaism in any significant way: e.g. a fallen bird. (If Scripture, NT and OT, has God/Jesus speaking in loving and kind words about birds, why when one is found dead on a sidewalk, doesn’t the Christian move it at least off to the side, out of the path of everyone, in honor of God’s love for them?) We have noticed that those dependent upon atheists and agnostics as their primary ‘point person’ or ‘coach’ or ‘mentor’ are more likely to assume, often contrary to their own experience, a materialistic lexicon and to go counter-intuitive solely to retain that relationship and avoid separation at all costs – some will become secret believers given the chance. Believing ‘coaches’ and ‘mentors’, as time progresses will be challenged by HF ASDs on consistency in faith and practice – and the more precocious the Autist, the sooner this tends to occur. Another point of interest: you can go months without the slightest sense that an experience, practice or concept has caught on, only to find out that it has become a private perseveration, and much time has been put into it – at which point the coach/mentor should then help to expand the religious awareness by moving them sideways (first, before forward) to broaden the awareness, and then advancing on. HF’s paired with confident non-preachy believers often like to learn from observation, the effects religion has on the believer’s life, consistency in practice, and the willingness of the latter not to expect or extract ‘perfect Christian’ or ‘perfect Jewish’ explanations, but allow for latitude in explanation. Most HF believers are very conscience-oriented, and are more concerned with direct experience which tends to overwhelm them, and they need to feel calm and safe during awakening experiences, and not feel that they have to name them. Also, they tend to ‘evaluate’ God more in what Eastern Christians call a ‘negative theological’ way – as in ‘What God isn’t’ rather than ‘What God is.’ – “Who God isn’t” rather than “Who God is.”

    • Jenna


      Thanks for the comment. Such wonderful insight for parents to keep in mind as they try to offer a structured, healthy, spiritual environment.

    • Jenna


      This article wasn’t referencing a “monastery of ASD people,” merely religious communities that include people on the spectrum.

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