Bridging the communication gap between high functioning autistics and neurotypicals.

Posts tagged ‘empathy’

What Religion Means To A High-Functioning Autistic Person, Part II

This installment of Religion from an HFA viewpoint concerns my path to a meaningful spiritual life without the aid of an emotional map.

To start with, my parents pastored churches, usually Pentecostal, throughout my life. So, I’ve had ample experience with most phases of conservative Protestantism in the Deep South and the Southern Plains states. Unlike the Southern Baptist tradition, Pentecostalism is a very emotionally expressive version of Christianity. Examples of emotional expression found in Pentecostal churches include: being slain in the Spirit, speaking in tongues, being filled with the Spirit, prophesying, crying, wailing, Spirit-filled dancing, shouting, lifting of the hands, praying aloud, the laying on of hands, faith-healing and other assorted demonstrations of a deeply rooted faith in a personal God. Well, at least I had a floor show to entertain me.

For an autistic person like me, I never could see the source of these behaviors. I was always told it was the Holy Spirit ‘moving’ an individual to do such things. I can honestly say that I never felt ‘moved’ to participate in these demonstrative expressions of God’s presence. In other words, I didn’t feel an internal motivation to be a part of the service’s experience. What motivation I felt was an external pressure to be a part of the group. In other words, it was peer pressure. So, for me, there was no internal reason to be associated with the church.

I’m not familiar with the theories behind Organizational Psychology but I have an idea that the existence of religion is probably best explained by a religion’s ability to generate empathy for its viewpoints. By extension, the members of any religion use empathy to persuade potential members to join their group. Any viewpoint expressed by a religion can only be effective in converting potential members by generating empathy from its audience. Empathy is the hook to gain further support from new members and to maintain the support of existing ones. After someone has joined a religion, empathy is still necessary to educate new members in the rules, regulations, customs and traditions of the religion. Interestingly enough, one of the classic symptoms or traits for Aspergers and other High Functioning Autisms is the inability to empathize with others. Without this empathy, there is little hope in forming the views of new or existing members or maintaining their obedience. To put this into simpler language, if you like what an organization has to say then you’ll buy into it. If you don’t, you won’t. But, even more importantly to my article here, if you don’t have the ability to empathize with a view, then you won’t even hear what’s being said. I didn’t hear what was being said emotionally, just literally.

Because I only heard the words, I missed out on the emotional content contained in the experience. I didn’t even know there was an emotional message be spoken. So, I couldn’t have heard it, I just sat there in a pew and watched what was going on with a mindset of “Yeah, ok….I don’t get it.” I missed the actual message of love because I couldn’t hear it. So, I didn’t see a need to take a further interest in something that had no meaning to me. But, I did make one last attempt.

Through prayer, I tried my best to contact God hoping he could give me some of the experiences I was observing in church. My desire came from wanting to experience something spiritual for myself. However, prayer was really a let-down for me. I never heard ‘the still small voice’ that I hoped was God. I went and got Dr. Charles Stanley’s book “How To Listen To God”. I read that book cover to cover and was just as lost as before. Dr. Stanley’s advice was ’emotional’ in form and content. Being frustrated in my search for religious spirituality and meaning just put me in a sour mood concerning church and God. Over the long run, my frustration with all things religious just made me turn towards a more agnostic stance. This event occurred in late 1987.

As time went by, my agnostic stance lacked more and more utility for me. At this point, about 2008, many of the mechanisms I used for personal improvement such as willpower and self-sufficiency were no longer giving me satisfactory results. My classes in college had become so difficult that I began to suspect that I had a disability of some type because I couldn’t keep up with the workload. I was a terror to work with, making life difficult for my coworkers, bosses and customers. I found that I was becoming more frustrated with my inability to be successful at whatever I did. I was hard on my wife and our pets. I had no motivation for personal projects but I would burn my self out for any job that I worked for. What I discovered was I had no sense of the importance of my own life and self. I was at such a low point, that at least a handful of times, I considered ending my life instead of continuing it. Logically, this alternative was correct. With so much frustration and seeing no way out, the next step was to quit the game and start over. Again, it didn’t work out the way I expected….

Don’t Change That Channel!

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