Religion, Autism, and a heavy dash of Ableism
When it comes to the discussion of religion and Autism, one is still met with a mixed bag of ideas for there are some non-Autistic people who are ableist and hold tight to the belief that if someone is Autistic, whether they be speaking or nonspeaking that they, due to their Autism, will not be able to fully engage with any sort of religious or spiritual thinking, but in fact this preconception is wholly false. To help counteract such false narratives, faith communities have been starting to work more with Autistic self-advocates to aid in adding our voices to the conversation, listening to us, and fully taking our Autistic life experiences into account which in turn furthers the cause for Autism Acceptance. There was a time when no one cared about including us, it is promising that more and more faith traditions are now listening to self-advocates and working hard to include us.
We are everywhere, maybe even closer than you think
I am acquainted with Autistics both speaking and nonspeaking across many religious paths who are deeply involved in their faiths from rabbis to Catholic priests to Buddhists to fellow pagans of varied stripes to etc. I believe that it is because of our Autism that we are able to fully delve into our chosen practices and that our Autism helps to further our connections to said paths. Like with communicating thought, some Autistics will thrive when introduced to Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) whether that be an iPad, a letter board, etc. to help them to engage with others, especially when they are nonspeaking or partially nonspeaking; working with us to accommodate our needs helps us to better engage in our chosen faith communities and society as a whole. Speech and language are two different things, one may not have the ability of verbal speech, but that does not mean that one also lacks the understanding and use of language; just because someone does not use verbal speech does not mean that they have nothing to say. In its simplest terms we humans crave communication. When it comes to interacting with us, one does not need to be an “Autism expert”, but instead just be someone who is ready to listen to us on our own terms however we communicate.
Living in a non-Autistic world sometimes involves a bit of creativity
We Autistics live in a world not designed for us; we therefore, when help isn’t readily available, must sometimes figure out things for ourselves. Some of us have become quite adept at discovering workarounds that help us to take part in society whether that be a nonspeaking Autistic adding cuss words to their AAC because they wish to fully express themself or a nonspeaking Autistic pagan adding pagan terms to their AAC in order to fully engage with others when taking part in rituals because most AAC apps are designed by Christians and don’t include pagan terms or me a speaking Autistic Druid doing outside research to replace included course material that proved to be overstimulating. Overstimulation can be caused by too much visual, auditory, etc. input that an Autistic brain due to its inability to filter things finds wholly overwhelming and leads to meltdowns; in short we Autistics do what we need to, to engage on our terms in our own way, in order to take part in our chosen communities.
Ableism exists and is even internalized, what is Ableism?
Shortly after I began my OBOD studies a fellow Autistic on social media posed the question, could someone be Autistic and a Druid, in short Can Autistics be Druids?; a definite sign of internalized ableism. Ableism is a type of prejudice and discrimination, in short it is the belief that a disabled person due to their disability can not do what “able-bodied” people can; which in turn may cause a disabled person to second-guess themself. This query has stuck with me, resurfacing now and again ever begging to be addressed. As I have already stated we Autistics can truly be members of any faith community if we are able to engage on our terms in whatever capacity we are able, we may need accommodations like for example having things verbally expressed to us also put down in writing which in turn aids in our comprehension due to our inability to mentally filter things like verbal instructions, etc.; having our needs both recognized and accommodated is invaluable. In short my answer to their query was a resounding YES. I believe that due to our Autism we Autistics can definitely be Druids.
It’s all about the visuals, magic within
Most Autistics are visual thinkers, as in we tend to see images in our minds more than we see words, this is an asset to Druidry, therefore such things as guided meditations and the like become multi-layered technicolor experiences for me; I have seen, felt, tasted, and even smelled things described in meditations; these same sorts of tangible experiences also occur whenever I go on my own meditative journeys, for me these encounters are second nature, not something I have had to practice, they just are. I have connected deeply with trees, the seasons, etc. within the inner world and have received and sent healing to others and to the world itself during meditation.
Why not bridge the gap, friendships can also be found beyond humankind
We Autistics tend to connect more easily with animals, plants, etc. than we do with people; I have longtime tree friends and plant friends, as well as animal friends. Am not saying that we do not connect with human friends, but many of us find that animals and other living things outside of our own species are much easier to connect with because they bear no subtext and their affection, etc. is easily seen; to be a human friend of an Autistic person is a special connection. Throughout my life I have struggled to make human friends, but the ones that I have made and have lasted are the most treasured. It is truly not about the quantity of friends one has, but instead all about the quality of the friendship. To be a friend of the animal, the plant, and the tree realms is a sacred and life-changing thing, it is special and something that others strive for that comes easily to me. To be a Druid is to make deep connections with beings of the other realms and to work alongside them to make a better world, so to already have made such bonds is definitely an asset. Through my studies my various friendships have only grown deeper and I am richer for it.
Grounding is essential best not to be set adrift
Autistics thrive best with routines, when our routines are disrupted we flounder, our world becomes uncontrollable, etc. routines help us to find grounding in the otherwise chaotic non-Autistic world in which we live, therefore it is no surprise that my Druidry is part of my daily life with time specifically allotted for study, meditation, etc. which sometimes, ok more often than not, turns into longer sessions as I perseverate, perseveration can have both good and bad outcomes; when it comes to a favorite subject one can delve deeper and delight in new discoveries, but if it is instead a worry it can be bad and prove quite awful leading to catastrophizing, etc.; thankfully when it comes to my Druidry it is indeed a positive delight. Being Autistic and also ADHD I find such daily structure to be invaluable and therefore have further deepened my understanding of myself, the world around me, etc. There is great importance in having a daily practice, it helps one to remember that the spiritual and the everyday are interconnected. My Druidry is a lived embodied faith practice that like my Autism colors my world.
When it comes to movement anything goes
Autistics are definitely known for our movement; we flap, rock, stroke things, etc. you get the idea. When it comes to movement in Druidry it is quite natural for me, although due to my physical disabilities movements can vary day to day, I have therefore made adaptations to prescribed poses, etc. and in turn I have put my own spin, sometimes a literal spin, on things. I do not always walk my circle, but instead gesticulate my peace to each quarter from a seated place in its center and that is ok, there is no shame in not being able to do something just exactly as an exercise prescribes, it is Awen, inspiration, that helps me to find alternatives to movements and I feel just as enriched as ever. There are times when I am having a great leg day and I move and dance magic into being, other times I do so while seated, but as I have said both are just as enriching. Whilst out for a walk an ogham may surface in my mind and I chant its name as my feet beat out the rhythm.
Music and song can be found everywhere
In terms of vocalizing and music, we Autistics all make noise and sing whether it be considered speech or not. In Druidry even the simplest of tones has power for in each plant, tree, rock, mountain, etc. there is vibration and energy, this energy, Nwyfre, flows through all things and enriches us all. Within the inner world I have heard phrases and tones that have added to my chanting and personal healing practice and have even used the same music to send healing to others and to the world. As we know, chanting is a repetitive form of vocalizing, it is something that I find very spiritual and aids in the deepening of my connections. Chanting is for me akin to stimming, to stim is to move in a repetitive way, to repeat a phrase/song/tone over and over, etc. Stimming comes in many forms, it is a way that we Autistics show how we are feeling whether it be joy, distress, etc. it is a natural part of who we are and how we interact with the world.
Autistics are only one thread in Druidry’s magical tapestry
I close by reiterating that we Autistics, whether we be speaking or nonspeaking, can definitely be Druids if we have curiosity, an eagerness to deepen our connections, and a desire to reverently make a better world. To be a Druid is to live in interconnectedness with Nature and She with us, a partnership for the good of all, we Autistics might not connect with others in what non-Autistic people may dub “normal interactions”, etc. but our connections are not any less important. Thank you. :)