I was curled up on my cat-scratched yoga mat, rocking and crying. This is a frequent occurrence so I wasn’t alarmed, but the thought that God was near to me in my pain made me sob even harder — how could my perfect Creator see me like this?
I live with autism, and what had prompted this meltdown was a simple, harmless question:
“What are you learning in your time with God this week?”
For a few months, I’ve been meeting weekly with a spiritual counselor through online video sessions. She asks this question every week, and because of this, I felt as though I should have been better prepared with a verbal answer.
“I . . . I don’t know.”
Memories and images of my daily devotional times flooded my mind, but no words accompanied them. I wanted to be able to express the sweetness I felt that God was near even as the weight of the pandemic was setting in again, but my mind felt disconnected. Translating thoughts into words is what gives me the most trouble in counseling (and in general), and I could feel my speech slipping away from me.
As my counselor waited, I lost my ability to maintain eye contact, which is another challenge. I have to make a conscious effort to be polite and to show interest in that way — even through a screen — and it slipped. I thought I could feel her expectant and disappointed gaze as she gave up and moved on to the next question:
“What have you been reading in the Bible this week that has stood out to you?”
I tried to remember what I’d read. There had been a specific verse I was meditating on — I had written it down! Something in . . . Matthew. It had been the theme and aspiration of my week. However, the more I wanted the words to come, the further they felt from my lips.
I started “hearing the silence.” My mind swirled into a sea of dissonance as I heard my fan roar, my earphones hiss, the computer fan whirl, all while a violin in my mind started whizzing through a Hungarian folk tune. I call this “drawing a blank” because I struggle to communicate using words, though my mind during the session was anything but empty.
“I . . . I can’t seem to remember. My mind is buzzing. I’m sorry.” And then I dissolved into tears.
Apart from my family, my counselor was one of the first people — and the first fellow believer — I “unmasked” with. Even though there was already an established trust between us, I still felt uncertain and terrified that she might not believe me or that she would hold my disorder against me. I had always been taught in church to “always be prepared to give an answer” (1 Peter 3:15b NIV), and I was afraid I had just failed.
The shaming didn’t happen. Realizing I was done speaking for the day, my spiritual counselor took over, speaking words of encouragement from Psalm 139 and praying over me. Although I was unable to respond at the time, I realized these words had made an impact as I reflected back on them after the episode had passed:
You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. (verse 1)
Before a word is on my tongue, you, Lord, know it completely. (verse 4)
What I understood: God understood what I was trying to convey.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. (verses 14-15)
What I understood: I was created with neurodiverse wiring for a purpose. God knew what I was going through and was not embarrassed by my behavior.
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (verses 23-24)
What I understood: While this situation was out of my control, I am still accountable for the intent of my actions. I can work with my counselor to be able to answer this question next time — and if I can’t, God still sees and uses my efforts.
I write this as an encouragement to others who may feel they don’t have the “perfect” words to respond to someone in distress: we can hear your comforting words of truth even if they don’t appear to be helping in the moment. For me, an autistic meltdown is about releasing sensory triggers, but what happens in the moment of the meltdown is saved for later processing and reflection. There are others who may require complete silence, and that is okay as well.
Sometimes I feel so alienated from my body, and I question why I was created like this. I wish I could appreciate all the beauty in the world without my senses being overwhelmed, without melting down, and without getting exhausted. I take comfort that as our Creator, God knows all of the inner turmoils and challenges you and I face, no matter what our situations may be. Because of His grace and love, I can say with confidence: I am autistic, and I am fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving God.
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