This article originally appeared in Lancaster Bible College’s online student newspaper, Focus.
Have you ever known someone with Asperger’s syndrome? I do…
Asperger’s syndrome is a developmental disorder that causes those afflicted to have more trouble being in social situations, to seek out solitary places when they feel stressed, to maintain consistency in their daily activities and to be sensitive to certain stimuli, such as loud noises and bright lights. I have Asperger’s syndrome, and I’ve seen firsthand how it’s been challenging in many aspects of my life. I’ve also come to see how God uses it for good and for His glory.
Being an introvert, I draw my strength from being alone. However, because I have Asperger’s, I need to be alone more than normal people, even more than other introverts. This impacted me when I was younger, as I tended to avoid other people. Looking back, I see that I missed a lot of opportunities to grow my friendships. Even so, when I was in youth group, I made several good friends that I love and still keep up with.
Another aspect of my autism is a very strong, almost single-minded focus on accomplishing things. When I need to get something accomplished, especially if I perceive it is important, I feel anxious if it isn’t done and will work extra hard to complete it. I have learned to manage this on bigger projects, like school assignments, with a well-structured plan, where I break things up and spread them out, working through things a little at a time.
When I came to LBC, I found that these two aspects of my Asperger’s combined in an interesting, though challenging, way.
In my first year at LBC, through school and the guidance of my parents and friends, I learned more about the importance of friends. I realized that I needed to make sure I didn’t miss out on developing strong friendships at college. I was frequently counseled by my dad, “When you’re in college, you have some of the best opportunities to make life-long friends, so don’t miss out on those opportunities—yes, work hard and learn, but make time to be a good friend and work on developing strong relationships.”
Good grades and strong relationships—challenge accepted.
However, my Asperger’s also impacted how I interact with my friends. Since I regrettably did not spend more time with friends in high school, this led to the mindset that I needed to seize every moment I could to spend time with my friends at LBC. Unfortunately, sometimes I pursued my friends a little too intentionally. When I see my friends, I feel an urgent need to seek them out and talk to them immediately. Sometimes I am unaware of how my actions might cause my friends discomfort. This, according to “The Complete Guide to Asperger’s syndrome” by Tony Attwood, is consistent with the second way that Asperger’s individuals interact with people socially (p. 10). By God’s grace, I have loving friends who understand my feelings and are patient and honest with me when I engage in behavior that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Being an Asperger’s individual also affects how I handle changes in schedules or routines. Also confirmed by Attwood’s book, I experience higher levels of anxiety and fear than “normal” people. This is most prevalent when I experience changes in my life. I do not mean changes like getting a new t-shirt, but rather the big life-changing changes such as moving away to college, starting a new semester or losing a friend. These changes stir up intense feelings of fear and stress in me. When changes like that happen to me, I feel like everything is upended! Often it takes me a long time to work through these changes. However, in every change I can see God shaping me not only to be ready for the next big change but also to grow me so that I become stronger, as Romans 5:1-5 states that our sufferings build us up.
Living with Asperger’s syndrome, I was blessed to be born in a Christian family with loving parents and siblings who did not once make me feel like I was an outsider or a freak. I grew up in a church where I was welcomed and where I found many good friends, and I have found many other excellent friends here at LBC. However, I have met other autistic people who did not have the same good upbringing and who suffered bullying. Worse, they did not know God and hated themselves for being autistic.
At times, I feel pressure to hate myself whenever my autism causes me to mess up in my social life. However, when these times happen, I think about the man born blind in John 9, who Jesus healed. Jesus used the man’s condition to bring God glory, and I become comforted in the thought that He will do the same thing with me.
If any of you students at LBC have some kind of impairment, and Satan whispers lies that you cannot have friends or succeed in life because of your condition, don’t believe him. “He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Rather remember the words of Psalm 139:14: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” God uses our weaknesses to show two things: that He can use any situation for good and He uses sufferings for His glory.