It has taken a very long time (mostly being on the waiting list) to go through the process of being diagnosed for various questions in my life, about my relations with fellow human beings and my vocation as a priest. I have just returned home from my third appointment with the Centre de Ressources Autisme de Haute-Normandie (CRAHN) attached to the main psychiatric hospital in Rouen. The first appointment was with the psychiatrist in charge of this centre, the second with two specialised psychologists and the third (today) with the whole team. They worked with professionalism and a high degree of finesse. It is much more difficult to deal with adults than with children. From the beginning, this was for me about self knowledge and not seeking excuses not to make reasonable efforts to live ordinary life with persons around me.
Like in the psychiatric profession in America, the category of Aspergers Syndrome has been discontinued in favour of a seamless spectrum, a continuum, of the condition known as autism from the most disabled to high-functioning persons with their intellectual abilities intact but with certain “eccentricities” like social awkwardness or things that look odd to the most observant. My diagnosis is that of high-functioning autism which is about equivalent to the old Aspergers Syndrome. Doubtlessly, psychiatrists and psychologists will continue to debate these matters from a scientific and phenomenological point of view. The reasoning is not difficult to understand: instead of putting people in little boxes, you seek to understand them as human souls – as they are – on a spectrum of various characteristics and traits. There are fewer lines to try to draw!
In the meantime, I have to live my life with my talents and difficulties.
Over the past year or so, I have stayed away from internet sites that tend to show “aspies” as being almost “fashionable” or even some kind of Nietzschean Ubermensch. That sort of thing is quite dangerous as with any other kind of label or pseudo-identity like being gay or transsexual or whatever buzzes around these days. Dr Tony Attwood, the most respected specialist in this matter, suggests tongue-in-cheek that this condition might be the next stage in man’s evolution. I’m not an evolutionist (at least in terms of determinism or something mechanical), and I believe that man can find his nobility of spirit from God and a high vision of life. Thus we have such elevated beings – and the low herd mentality of those who follow fashions and ideologies uncritically. Some autistic persons find it easier to elevate their spirit when they see the fallacies, “groupthink” and “bullshit” others take for granted. It can be a gift, a talent, and if we have talents, we are expected to take them to the bank and bring the interest of our investment back to our Creator and Sanctifier.
I will now return to reading Dr Attwood’s famous book The Complete Guide to Aspergers Syndrome, and see if I can participate in local groups. This condition plays havoc with self-esteem and a sense of identity, and I am sure that I could minister to people from a spiritual and philosophical point of view. My own diagnosis came as no surprise, but it made me feel quite shaken for the time it took to shake everyone’s hands and say goodbye and thank you – to the bus stop outside the establishment. I returned home by train and continued reading Dr Robert Lanza’s book on biocentrism, a theory that turns Aristotelian metaphysics upside-down and gives a new look to Idealism, or the idea that consciousness precedes matter. It’s hard going and a challenge, but it will bring a whole new paradigm of the notion of God and life beyond our death as we can observe it. I will certainly have to read this book several times!
I’m not Superman! I’m not the Village Idiot! I have some scientifically observed traits and a reference of self-knowledge (of a relative value) that will certainly help me on my way to a better sense of vocation and purpose in life as a Christian, a priest and philosopher (not someone with academic pretensions but a lover of wisdom). It gives me explanations about my my past so that I can learn for the future and adapt in a special way, unlike the way other people relate to society, their friends and families. This is a challenge, as it should be to anyone who identifies with a minority but has to get on in the world at large.
I’m not interested in Aspie Pride or anything like that – the herd mentality and ideology. We hear about transsexualism, but it is a matter that concerns very few individuals. The hot button issues fly out of the pages of Facebook and Twitter (and others), but we need to shut out the noise and be ourselves – and decent members of the groups of people we associate with in our daily lives.
I have my limits, and some will find my mannerisms difficult to understand. A part of our existence is to ask God in our prayer to docet nos terrena despicere et amare celestia, to be aware that we are alienated from the things of this world and called to God’s Kingdom. This is central to Christian martyrdom and the Romantic soul. Autism is a symptom of awareness of this exile from another world where we belong. At the same time, we live in this world – in it but not of it – and we have to come to terms with that.
I appreciate the prayers of my readers, and I hope this blog will continue to be a part of my ministry as a priest and a human being, because others out there labour with questions for which they have not yet found answers.
I’ve sometimes wondered why Aspergers and autism were treated as two different things instead of one continuum. I sometimes think that if I were going through the education system now I’d probably be diagnosed as being somewhere on that continuum.
From what I have been able to learn, autism until about the 1960’s was exclusively a question of small children not learning to talk, being utterly isolated, “stimming” (hand flapping, etc.) and living in their own world. Hans Asperger worked in Germany under the Nazi regime and obviously wanted to lift the stigma of “autism” for which the children would have been killed, so he advanced their talents rather than their social difficulties. He saved many lives like that. His work took a very long time to be known outside Germany, perhaps because he was accused by some for collaboration with the Nazis, an idea I find absurd.
The problem with removing the distinction between high-functioning autism and Aspergers Syndrome is the question of how old the child was when he/she started to learn language and talk. All the other characteristics are exactly the same, differently from individual to individual. The advantage of this non-distinction is to perceive autism as an ever-widening spectrum or continuum. Not all autists display the same symptoms. Some don’t “stim”. Some are able to drive a car and show spatial perception. Others can’t tie their own shoelaces. Some have the “autist look”. Others look like people who are not autists. The variations and permutations are almost infinite.
I recommend reading Dr Tony Attwood’s “bible” and the many books he has written and his videos on YouTube. Just do a search for his name. He is Australian. There is also Dr Simon Baron-Cohen FBA, a British clinical psychologist whose books and articles are worth consulting. Dr Laurent Mottron, an eminent French-Canadian psychiatrist and researcher is also very interesting, and I have attended some lectures he has given in France.
If you feel that a diagnosis would be good for you, it can be done at any age, not just for children. If you come out “positive”, it can be lived as a gift if you see things the right way…
Just based on my unscientific observations, I’ve noticed that a large percentage of clergy seem to show at least some of the markers of Asperger’s and a wide variety of distinct eccentricities are evidenced along with a certain awkwardness in social situations. As a former pastor, I include myself as fitting that description. I have no theory why this should be or whether it is handicap or blessing, but it seems to fit what I’ve seen.
Hello, I’m also a priest, diagnosed with high functioning autism as an adult. I’ve had a few years to get my head around some of the identity stuff and have been working on it with my children, who are all autistic in deeply differing ways. I’ve just started a site called “astonishing.community” here on wordpress, where I’m trying to explore the ways in which people with quirky brains have been blessings to the church throughout its history, alongside the more typically functioning. Perhaps you’d like to have a look or even pray with us.
Welcome, Father, to my humble home on the Internet. You have some very interesting reflections on your blog, which is obviously in its infancy. There is also Aspiepriest. Some time ago, I wrote about Archbishop Michael Ramsey who seemed to have presented some typical aspects of Aspergers / high-functioning autism. The Church is full of eccentric cathedral canons and vicars who collect things. As I warned in my article, we need to be careful what we do with words like “inclusion” and “diversity”, because they are used by some people with very sinister agendas, and minorities will again face a severe backlash from the disabused majority of “neutotypicals”, heterosexuals, man and women content with the gender we were born with, etc. It is for us to come to terms with ourselves and live in the world, and to live our lives to the full in interior terms. The world rejected the Word Incarnate, Jesus, and will reject anything not conforming to the totalitarian norm. Perhaps our condition brings us a whole new and profound understanding of the Gospel.
Many of the saints had markedly quirky brains. The Orthodox even have a category, the “Holy fool” that includes such interesting people as St. Basil the Blessed and St. Xenia. The West doesn’t give such specific recognition, but does include such characters as St. Benedict Joseph Labre. Even in my Pentecostal days I identified with this holy crowd of eccentric witnesses.
The human soul is something truly mysterious. All that science can do is to attach labels and say how some persons have similar characteristics to another. It’s a process of sorting. Some of the “holy fools” might have had autism, or some kind of psychosis or schizophrenia. I am coming to give credence to the “biocentrist” idea of consciousness preceding reality, which goes against everything we have been taught at school in materialist science. In this perspective, a schizophrenic’s reality is no less real than anyone else’s, perhaps even the reality of someone on LSD! Even with the veracity of human ideas and statements, there may be two or more contradictory truths flying in the face of Aristotle’s Principle of Non-Contradiction. Language disappears and we find post-modernism on steroids! What has to be found is a communion of persons’ consciousnesses, an essential unity in the universe. I am going on with Robert Lanza’s book, trying to understand as best as possible this new metaphysical paradigm.
I relativise the notion of the “neurotypical”. Is anyone typical? Is not everyone atypical on one spectrum or another, whether known to psychiatrists or not. Autism is only one aspect of the human soul, spirit and brain. There are other levels of consciousness, other personalities, the light and the darkness, good and evil, so many things. This is why we have to stay clear of binaries, because everything is on a continuum or spectrum.
Autism / Aspergers seems to be a level of consciousness that depends much less on consensus and com-passion, and more on the originality of single persons. Humanity needs both communion and originality.
Yes, they’re amongst the saints that feature on the Astonishing Community calendar.
In order to be truly Christian, we all have to love each other, ‘normies’ and ‘appies’ and everyone else. To do otherwise is folly in one sense, in another, damnation, I think.
In another world, I’m an inveterate collector of books that I won’t ever read. What am I for this, having a whole roomful of books and some manuscripts taken off the internet? Who am I saving them for? I go into that room in my house and wonder what on earth i kept all this stuff!
Perhaps I’m one of those mild ‘eccentrics’ out there, some of whom are ‘appies’.
Done this for over 50 years and my wife wonders where the ‘collection will go after my departure.
I can’t agree with you more. The usefulness of a “label” is very narrow. It can help us to understand our past to form our future, to bring something rational out of seeming chaos. It can also help others to understand that we can have limits and it isn’t for lack of good-will. People can be less judgemental when they understand why – though this doesn’t always happen. Human nature can seem as cruel and indifferent to a heavy sea to a small boat!
I have sometimes wondered whether Aspergers / autism was little more than a scientific name for quirkiness and eccentricity. I’m not sure. We certainly need to keep our eccentricity within limits and not make an excuse for it, otherwise it will be an excuse for others to bully us or be nasty in some way. It’s the old idea of our having the right to swing our fists just as long as no one else’s chin is in the way!
It is a temptation to go and consult someone who is a professional in his field, and then go into denial because the truth is uncomfortable and implies many things. I know of someone who was diagnosed with this condition and wipes out the entire psychiatric profession with a wave of the arm. It cuts both ways: he can “dress up” as someone from the “neurotypical majority” or be left without an alibi – his eccentricities attributed to his being an “arsehole” or a “jerk”. If we are diagnosed with this condition, it “gives us a break” so that we can learn to live in society and compensate for our difficulties. My psychiatrist found it very difficult to detect the signs of autism because I had learned how to fit outwardly into social situations even if I was screaming within! I look so bloody normal – but I experience life in a way others do not.
It’s a question of being kind to others, not making more laws, regulations and ideologies – simply giving the words “inclusion” and “diversity” their old meanings as we were taught to understand them at school. One thing in life I have had to learn is that no one owes us anything, and might is right in this world. To the victor go the spoils of war. We have to be Scarlet Pimpernels in the chaos and cruelty of others. That is partly my interpretation of Jesus’ Gospel teaching. He answered his enemies with silence, because the herd mentality and the crowd understand nothing other than punishment and violence.
Why am I reserved and prudent? Simply because some people say things like Exposing the Aspergers Scam. Naturally this guy is on the marketplace of ideas and will be (has been) challenged. Naturally, for him, some people are not humans – and can presumably be put in concentration camps and gassed! If you put your head on the block, it will get chopped off. Personally, I have little or nothing to lose, especially if I can be of help to others. This is why In medio stat virtus – keep a moderate position in all things.