People are expected to sit and stand at specific times in church. I'm good at standing but not very good at sitting! Sitting on a chair feels uncomfortable to me. I prefer to stand or walk around. It is sometimes hard for me to be quiet. People can't hear the minister when I am too loud. The way people with autism act is often due to anxiety and sensory issues. It really is for me!
As an autistic adult I am always anxious! People are startled when I yell or when I get scared and run away. Autism and being non-speaking makes it hard to enjoy anything I need help with, and anxiety just makes it worse. Sometimes people want to talk to me, and I want to talk to them, but I struggle with controlling my motor movements and my anxiety, which makes it difficult to interact. They don't think I want to communicate with them, but I do. Hugging is also difficult due to tactile sensitivity.
I do much better at informal church social activities. I enjoy the music in church. I enjoy studying the Bible, and I can attend a Bible study group for those with disabilities! I think the church can help those of us with autism more than they are aware of! The church can help us understand God and God's love for us! The church can do that by being kind and caring, which starts with a welcoming smile. Talking to people at church with my iPad and letter-board makes me feel like I belong. They are very kind to me, and they welcome me.
Having a relationship with God actually is not too difficult! When you can't speak, people usually don't know how to talk to you, so they don't. They don't do this to be rude; they just don't know how. For the first 18 years of my life, I did not know how to communicate either. God was the only one I could easily talk to! Most of us who are non-speaking and autistic have a significant relationship with God because of, not despite, our autism! I'm always talking with God and really feel God's presence and love.
I know God really loves me; I can feel it in my heart. Questions are answered, and I feel comforted. People need to love each other as God loves us. Real love never goes away. God's love is real.
How God works is a mystery! Why I have autism, I do not know. I do know God has been good to me! While I am scared about the future, I feel comfort that God is with me!
Ann Hamlin is autistic and non-verbal. She uses an iPad and talking board to communicate. Ann’s dad, Bob Hamlin, attends the Neighborhood Church of the Brethren in Montgomery, Illinois, where she feels warmly welcomed.
We encourage you to listen to Ann’s original song with her message of hope. You can also read from Ann’s blog here.