Autistic Adults Working in Religious Communities

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SocOfAutism
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07 Aug 2015, 11:01 am

I just heard from an old friend of mine that I believe is on the autism spectrum and I hope will collaborate with me in some way in the future in my work. I had not realized that he is autistic until he commented on a social media outlet about my survey, then he asked me for a link to a self-test.

I'm super excited because this person is from a religious community and works in a religious-themed office. Not a church, but a place that hires the high-ups based partially on their ethics and faith. I'm an atheist and I only worked in this office long ago as a young person because I was desperate for a job. It turned out to be a fantastic place to work. I have since found that most religious people are actually very nice and religious systems, when done in good (ahem) faith, actually have a great framework for autistic workers. The tone at this place was to find the common good in each other and overlook differences. There was very little gossiping and once hired, people usually stayed forever.

Has anyone else had an experience in a religious environment? Both in religious workplaces and religious places where work happens, such as churchs and church sponsored camps.



sleepingpancake
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14 Aug 2015, 6:56 pm

i havent, and im a bit hesitant cause some (not all) religious communities are so annoying and tend to be hypocritical......


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Fnord
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14 Aug 2015, 8:53 pm

I'm a Presbyterian elder, although I resigned from the Session because they seemed to only want to discuss problems - at length, so as to delay having to act on them.

Does that count?



Barchan
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17 Aug 2015, 12:00 am

I'm an officer of my college's Muslim Student Association, and have helped organize fundraisers for our local mosque. I'm not paid, but it's super-satisfying work and I could definitely enjoy doing it for a living.



SocOfAutism
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17 Aug 2015, 12:41 pm

Fnord and Barchan - Yes you're both the kinds of people I was hoping to hear from.

I'm just basically thinking out loud. I'm wondering if religious communities:

A) Have more rigid social expectations than other communities (for example you could say I belong to a "heavily tattooed community" where there are social rules, but not many and usually just having to do with tattoos not other interests or behaviors- so do religious communities have more social expectations for your interests and behaviors?)

B) Have easier rules to follow because of clearly defined "right" and "wrong"?

C) Have stronger support systems because of most religions' "brotherhood" kind of feel between the believers (for example, other believers will come help you if you need them and you are expected to help other believers)

Therefore, are paid or unpaid working environments in religious communities or organizations different from non-religious environments? More or less aspie-friendly?

Observers of religious workplaces or environments are also welcome to provide opinions. Again, I'm just thinking aloud.



Fnord
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17 Aug 2015, 6:55 pm

A) The most common social expectations are along the lines of "Keep smiling, never complain, and defer to established church leadership".

B) Any other rules (such as the Ten Commandments) seem to apply only to unattractive, untalented, and otherwise unpopular church members and one-time visitors.

C) The strongest support systems seem to occur amongst family members of family-run churches. Anybody else - especially strangers visiting for the first time - is expected to be self-supportive and not pose a burden to the church in any way.

At least in a secular social environment, you are free to speak openly when another member starts spreading vicious lies about your sanity and sexual interests.

Also, more than one person has been passively 'shunned' or ignored by the rest of a church because they or one of their dependents is autistic, schizophrenic, or just a little 'weird'.



SocOfAutism
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19 Aug 2015, 10:15 am

Fnord wrote:
A) The most common social expectations are along the lines of "Keep smiling, never complain, and defer to established church leadership".

B) Any other rules (such as the Ten Commandments) seem to apply only to unattractive, untalented, and otherwise unpopular church members and one-time visitors.

C) The strongest support systems seem to occur amongst family members of family-run churches. Anybody else - especially strangers visiting for the first time - is expected to be self-supportive and not pose a burden to the church in any way.

At least in a secular social environment, you are free to speak openly when another member starts spreading vicious lies about your sanity and sexual interests.

Also, more than one person has been passively 'shunned' or ignored by the rest of a church because they or one of their dependents is autistic, schizophrenic, or just a little 'weird'.


Interesting...it almost sounds like a fishbowl environment?

This is new for me because I'm an atheist from an atheist family on both sides. We have occasionally gone to church over the years, but not seriously. Just in the same way one might go visit a museum.



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19 Aug 2015, 10:24 am

I am a council member and Lector in my local Lutheran Church (AALC). It is not too bad lately, though six years ago when I first was elected to council, we did have several members who thought that it was for the greater glory of them, not God. However, I have found this congregation very supportive and not exclusive at all. I will grant you that some church bodies are cold to strangers ( the Missouri Synod comes to mind ). I would say that if they really know what the Bible says, they would function like we do.


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Fnord
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19 Aug 2015, 6:07 pm

SocOfAutism wrote:
Fnord wrote:
A) The most common social expectations are along the lines of "Keep smiling, never complain, and defer to established church leadership".

B) Any other rules (such as the Ten Commandments) seem to apply only to unattractive, untalented, and otherwise unpopular church members and one-time visitors.

C) The strongest support systems seem to occur amongst family members of family-run churches. Anybody else - especially strangers visiting for the first time - is expected to be self-supportive and not pose a burden to the church in any way.

At least in a secular social environment, you are free to speak openly when another member starts spreading vicious lies about your sanity and sexual interests.

Also, more than one person has been passively 'shunned' or ignored by the rest of a church because they or one of their dependents is autistic, schizophrenic, or just a little 'weird'.
Interesting...it almost sounds like a fishbowl environment?

[...]
"Fishbowl Environment"?

I do not see the correlation. Please explain ...



SocOfAutism
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20 Aug 2015, 9:05 am

Oh, sorry. It's been a tiring few days.

A small scale replica of larger society where everything is more intense (good and bad) and there is no privacy.



kraftiekortie
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20 Aug 2015, 9:06 am

I hope you're feeling better now.



Fnord
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20 Aug 2015, 12:52 pm

SocOfAutism wrote:
Fnord wrote:
SocOfAutism wrote:
Fnord wrote:
A) The most common social expectations are along the lines of "Keep smiling, never complain, and defer to established church leadership".

B) Any other rules (such as the Ten Commandments) seem to apply only to unattractive, untalented, and otherwise unpopular church members and one-time visitors.

C) The strongest support systems seem to occur amongst family members of family-run churches. Anybody else - especially strangers visiting for the first time - is expected to be self-supportive and not pose a burden to the church in any way.

At least in a secular social environment, you are free to speak openly when another member starts spreading vicious lies about your sanity and sexual interests.

Also, more than one person has been passively 'shunned' or ignored by the rest of a church because they or one of their dependents is autistic, schizophrenic, or just a little 'weird'.
Interesting...it almost sounds like a fishbowl environment?

[...]
"Fishbowl Environment"? I do not see the correlation. Please explain ...
[...] A small scale replica of larger society where everything is more intense (good and bad) and there is no privacy.

No ... it's more like religious communities are extensions of high school, except that the band and choir members have greater status than the people who like to play sports. The pastor is equivalent to the Student Council president, with the deacons and elders as part of that council. Teachers are given more respect, and us nerds and geeks are still at or near the bottom of the pecking order.

It's been 40 years since high school, and the parallels are uncannily similar.



Barchan
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22 Aug 2015, 8:45 am

Woo, sorry for the late reply. It's been a heck of a week for me.

A) All full-time members of the MSA are expected to be practicing Muslims, who observe the five pillars of the faith, dietary laws, etc. but other than that, we don't really police the personal lives of our members. For the most part we expect everyone to know what's best for themselves, unless they come asking for support.

B) For the most part, yes. But we try not to impose strict rules on non-members who are visiting one of our functions; we only ask that people be humble and respectul to each other.

C) Yes, absolutely. Since general American society still thinks of us as "foreign", we often face casual discrimination by employers, professors, etc., and it's absolutely necessary that we have a strong sense of community.

It's way different from secular employment. Since my day-job is in an office environment, I mostly try to keep to myself and avoid pissing anyone off. I wouldn't say the MSA work is "aspie friendly" per se, since it does involve a lot of interpersonal skill, but somehow I manage. :)



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22 Aug 2015, 9:28 am

I'm Greek Orthodox and in the past I have been a member of various church committees, as well as helping run a residential ecumenical centre for a while. What you say about the work ethic in religious communities is largely true, with people striving for the common good and tolerating human weaknesses. The Orthodox Church is particular in a number of respects:

1. For historical and political reasons (persecution etc) there are many Orthodox diasporas around the world, and this makes members extremely tolerant of cultural & linguistic differences, since many of them have had the experience of being 'other'.

2. There is less of a social hierarchy than in some western Churches.

3. Many Orthodox countries have high levels of poverty, which creates a strong sense of solidarity with the poor.

4. Humility is highly valued, and people have an innate understanding of how difficult it is to be genuinely humble in the world.

5. The elaborate and beautiful services tend to attract priests (and laity) who have many Aspie traits!

6. There is a lot of gossip, although usually harmless and humorous. Rumours spread quickly. There is an old saying: 'What's the quickest way to pass on a piece of news? Telephone, telegram ... or tell an Orthodox'. :lol:

7. The general working atmosphere could be described as prayerful, although not ostentatiously so. The somewhat theatrical atmosphere of the Orthodox Church lends itself to humour.



SocOfAutism
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24 Aug 2015, 8:14 am

Kraftiekortie- I'm getting there, thanks!

Wow, this looks like an even more interesting issue than I had thought. I guess the real issue would be "Autistic Adults in Religious Communities" because going to church, being involved in religious-themed activities, and working in a religious-themed workplace all fall under this general umbrella, I would think.

I would also be interested to hear the experiences of autistic adults in closed religious communities, such as Mennonites and Amish, but I don't know how I'd even do that.

There are a couple of problems for me studying this further. The first problem is that I think it would be hard to get participants. But it would still be doable with a small number of participants. The second problem is that I know very little about even the major religions, despite going to a few random church services (Greek Orthodox was one of them!). I would have to find someone familiar with religions to co-author.

But I'm pretty interested in this and may work on it if I can find someone to help me. Thanks all for your insights!



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24 Aug 2015, 8:33 am

My experience has been vastly different from Fnord's.

My husband is a pastor, albeit of a small country church. I have been in several other churches growing up. (I grew up in a Christian family in New England.) All the churches I have been part of have been "independent" churches (in other words, not belonging to a denomination that dictates who the pastor is or how the church is run.) They have also all been small, under 150 members.

I do think that smaller churches have a different culture than larger churches - more family-like. While church members are not really my friends, per se, they do provide a support group - and always have. When I was a kid, I found most of my friends at church. I have always found the church to be more accepting than most of society. The only other place that rivals this is the art/music community.

If life fell apart, my church would be there for me.

It's not perfect. And, unfortunately, I think the church has become more clique-y and particular about expectations in the last 15-20 years... But, I think that is true about society in general. I blame the internet a lot.

I know quite a number of autistic people. I either know them personally, or I know their parents or their siblings. Not including my own family, I know at least 10 people. They all are part of a church.

The Bible actually teaches a lot of acceptance. That doesn't mean that all churches actually live according to it. But the ones that do are full of gracious people. Other "odd" people find a welcoming environment at our church. A few are morbidly obese. A few don't speak English very well. A few are a little "out there" mentally...not sure how else to explain it. We have children with various special needs. We also have a large mix of ages.

Some individuals are more judgmental than others...but they are not the majority.

I have not really had experience in a religious "workplace" other than the church.