A recent study from the University of Boston suggests that individuals with high-functioning autism are more likely to be atheists and to reject organized religion in general.
Data garnered from autism forums and surveys of individuals with Asperger’s syndrome found that those respondents to be largely atheist, followed by having their own system of beliefs, then agnostic, then lastly Christian and Jewish. Speculation is that the high-functioning person’s penchant for logical reasoning and concrete thinking, and their discomfort with metaphor and figures of speech account for the findings.
When asked for comment, Caroline Hattersley, a spokesperson for The National Autistic Society somewhat defensively said, “Autism affects people from every sector of society and people with autism represent the full range of religious and non-religious beliefs."
One factor blatantly absent in this study is whether or not the respondents were raised in households where going to church is a regular part of their lives. Many families would actually like their children on the spectrum to attend church, but cannot find a place of worship willing and able to take their children into the fold.
Congregations must be educated in autism and have the forbearance to appreciate that disruptions can and will occur. Some strides are being made in modifying church services, assigning shadows to help a child through the service and/or creating special services for the developmentally disabled.
I heard of one Lutheran church that hosts an autism service which is half as long and offers a visual prompt program to follow. Here in Seattle, a church my son and I went to had stations where you engage in different activities like dropping a stone into a bowl of water to symbolize releasing anger or writing a prayer on a strip of cloth, then communally weaving the pieces together. He loved the interactive nature of the experience and came away in high spirits.
With twin teenaged high-functioning sons in my house, we have many lively religious and political discussions. My second son, who is a scientist at heart, particularly exhibits this Mr. Spock-ean propensity to spurn anything that is not logical. In fact, the last time he ever went trick or treating, he costumed himself as that Star Trek character. He approaches the subject of religion with a demand for proof.
In my mind, God made our kids with autism and values and loves those whose neurological biases render them outside the mainstream of society’s legalistic and religious tenets.