A Biblical Perspective on Autism

by Ron Sandison

David, a young adult with autism and mute from birth, was admitted to the hospital for medication adjustment (Names and details have been changed). Two weeks earlier David’s parents had reluctantly placed him in a group home. They were unable, in their seventies, to control his frequent, violent outbursts and provide for his total care needs. David punched and scratched the staff at the group home and was placed as in-patient with one-to-one staff supervision. He required constant redirection and care for his activities of daily living (ADL’s) showering, dressing, feeding, and toileting.

David would jump side-to-side, two feet high, humming in a loud monotone the phonetic sounds he-ma. As David followed me into the day-lounge, he began to jump side-to-side, humming loudly. Patient Jim, an agnostic, asked me, “Why would God ever create a young man like David who is unable to do anything?” (Names and details altered) I looked at Jim and said, “Do you like TV, computers, electricity and cell phones?” “Of course I do!” Jim replied. I said, “You cannot have the high end of the spectrum of autism traits that can create geniuses and inventors, like Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Edison, without the other end of the spectrum. Psalms 115:13 declares, “The Lord will bless his followers, great and small.” (Easy-to-Read Version)  Not everyone will be great in the eyes of the world; God loves and cares for David, a man created in His own image, as He does for you and me.”’

For those on the low-functioning end of the spectrum, daily activities such as, brushing their teeth, tying shoelaces, or putting on clothes can be mountainous challenges. We tend to take these for granted. Alberto, a young adult with autism, refers to these mundane tasks as his mountains of practical moments. When Alberto feels frustrated, unable to accomplish these normative tasks, he lapses into stereotyped actions—flapping his hands or flickering his fingers in front of his eyes. (Douglas Biklen, Autism and the Myth of the Person Alone (New York, NY: New York University Press, 2005), p. 266.)  As believers, we should feel compassion and love for these individuals and realize we also could have been born with these same disabilities. This understanding should prompt us to search our own hearts and provide help to individuals with ASD and their families. The apostle Paul wrote, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).

We bear burdens by seeing the image of God and face of Christ on those with disabilities. We demonstrate Jesus’ love by our caring deeds. As Mother Theresa wrote:

The more repugnant the work, or the more disfigured or deformed the image of God in the person, the greater will be our faith and loving devotion in seeking the face of Jesus, and lovingly ministering to Him in His distressing disguise. We need to realize that we have the privilege of touching Jesus twenty-four hours a day. When I’m feeding that child, I’m feeding Jesus. These poor people are Jesus suffering today. (Angelo Devananda, Total Surrender: Mother Teresa (Ann Arbor: Servant Publications, 1985), pp. 116, 117, 130, 139, 150.)

Psychologist Wayne E. Oates says, “Our personal devotions, as we contemplate the image of God in those to whom we minister, become ethical enquiry rooms of our own hearts.” (Wayne E. Oates, The Presence of God in Pastoral Counseling (Waco: Word Books, 1986), p. 40.

The Apostle Paul wrote:  

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things- and the things that are not- to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him (1 Cor. 1:27-30).

Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen, a professor of developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, notes in his lectures that engineers are twice as likely to have children with ASD as the general population. Generally, the relatives of people with autism tend to score higher on tests of systemizing. Individuals with the gift of systemizing are particularly skilled for developing new technology and tend to belong to one of these professions: engineers, computer software designers, mathematicians, or architects. Temple Grandin said, “Without the genes that give rise to autism, the world would be full of charming people who sit around the campfire, chatting gaily and empathizing mightily but inventing nothing.”

Hans Asperger wrote in his 1944 doctorial thesis:

It seems that for success in science or art, a dash of autism is essential. For success, the necessary ingredient may be an ability to turn away from the everyday world, from the simply practical, an ability to rethink a subject with originality so as to create in new untrodden ways, with all abilities canalized into the one specialty. 

The increased prevalence of autism in the twenty-first century has followed the expansion of technological advancements. Daniel 12:4 says, “But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.” We have witnessed an enormous increase in knowledge with the dawn of the computer age and the internet. Would this advancement in technology have been possible if not for an increase in individuals with autism who are prone to systemizing?

What if God does use the David’s and those with autism to confound the world’s wisdom and test the condition of our hearts?




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