Late last month, the head of Health and Education Associations for Autistic Children in Turkey, Fehmi Kaya, said autistic children do not have the ability to believe in God.
“Autistic children do not know believing in God because they do not have a section of faith in their brains. That is why they don’t know how to pray, how to believe in God. It is need to create awareness in these children through methods of therapy,” Kaya said, according to daily Milliyet, a Turkish newspaper.
To say Kaya’s statement was a personal dig to my family and thousands of others is an understatement. There are so many wonderful people I know who are autistic who do not fit his description at all. Someone in my family has autism, but that has never limited her spirituality. I was outraged.
Not only was the statement inaccurate, it was demeaning.
To Fehmi Kaya, I say this: don’t undermine the abilities of children with autism. Especially their spirituality, because what a person believes and how they live it out are personal choices. Autism doesn’t limit a child’s ability to make those choices.
From what I’ve observed autism spectrum disorder looks different in every child or adult who lives with it, so it’s hard to detect and diagnose. According to myautism.org, most people think of “autistic disorder” when they hear the word autism.
“People with autistic disorder usually have significant language delays, social and communication challenges, and unusual behaviors and interests. Many people with autistic disorder also have intellectual disability,” according to myautism.org.
But like the name explains, it’s a spectrum disorder. This means that it can look different from person to person.
While those with autism might have learning disabilities, they are brilliant. In fact, the few people with autism who I’ve had the honor of knowing are the most intelligent people I’ve ever met. Based on personal experiences and conversations I’ve had with friends who know autistic individuals, they would agree.
These gifted people excel in ways I could never imagine. Autistic children remember things those who are not autistic let pass by. They might know every statistic about every football game a team has ever played, or the lyrics to that one song they heard once five years ago.
Autism does affect a person’s communication and social skills. Much of the world is black and white to them; rules were not meant to be broken. Those I’m blessed to know are incredibly fun to be around. They enjoy when others are happy and don’t like to see disappointment in anyone.
What I admire most in my family member with autism is her ability to have unconditional love for everyone she meets. While some people in her life have let her down, it’s never stopped her from loving them. For me, if someone lets me down or makes me feel small, I’m less likely to give them a second chance. But she is full of second chances. She inspires me to be more forgiving and is a testament to this world about what a good friend is.
Autism isn’t something to be cured or looked at as a negative. It comes with challenges that are unique to an individual, each of whom are incredibly bright and special in their own way. It brings me to tears thinking about how those with autism have impacted my life; affirming my faith in an awesome God.
Caroline Rode can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.