10 February 2007

Religious belief and perceptions of autism

I just posted the following in the comments to my last post, in response to a comment from jypsy, but wasn't sure how many people would see it there. So, here it is again.

I would be curious to see if there is any data concerning the effect of religious belief on how someone views autism (and vice versa). Are devoutly religious people more likely to consider autism a 'bad thing' that should be overcome (ie, curebies)? Are atheists more likely to accept autism as a part of global neurodiversity?

Or is the issue, like most everything else, more complex than those simple distinctions. (I'm sure the answer to that is yes.)

Has anyone seen any data on that?

12 comments:

Nicky said...

Are devoutly religious people more likely to consider autism a 'bad thing' that should be overcome (ie, curebies)? Are atheists more likely to accept autism as a part of global neurodiversity?

In my personal experience, it's usually the opposite. Atheists are more likely to be attached to conventional "scientific" reality maps that support a medicalized "disease/disorder" view of Autism. Also, they're more likely to have Ayn-Rand-style beliefs in the supremacy of the human will and intellect, which makes them more likely to support genocidal approaches to Autism such as eugenic abortion.

Religious people, on the other hand, are more likely to accept neurodiversity, because clearly all these people wouldn't have been born with different neurological wiring if God hadn't intended to make them that way; from a Theistic religious perspective, denying the value of neurodiversity is tantamount to saying that God screws up the creative process frequently and regularly. And a religious reality-map includes the concept of a soul, which lends all people an inherent value regardless of lesser factors like neurology.

I don't mean to stereotype anyone here; I'm just recounting the general trends I've personally encountered, based on many years of being an out-of-the-closet Autistic and an outspoken neurodiversity advocate, and having conversations with many people with a wide variety of belief systems. I know there are exceptions - I've met my share of tolerant atheists and intolerant religious people. But about 80 to 90 percent of the time, the religious people I talk to prove more open to accepting neurodiversity than do the atheists.

laurentius rex said...

I see you are quite happy to impose your own prejudices against religion into this supposition.

Shows how neutral you scientists are not doesn't it.

You and the mercurians, sometimes I wonder where the difference lies!?

Kassiane said...

In my non scientific experience, most though not all the people who I've met who I'd describe as "Rabid Curebies" were the faithful God-Fearing church attending type. This includes the woman who sent her husband after me when her attack didn't faze me (wear your religion on your neck & make yourself look extra hypocritical!) and the parents defending the murder near my old hometown-I know them personally, ANSWERS met in a church. They were a "Poor us, Cure my kid" group.

Most of the accepting people I know have been liberal Christian through atheist. Quite a few pagans in there too, and of course there are exceptions. There are ALWAYS exceptions.

ballastexistenz said...

I don't think it's divided on lines of religion/non-religion.

Jim Sinclair is a devout, observant Jew.

Joel Smith is an equally devout evangelical Christian.

I am a Quaker/liberal Christian and my relationship to God is central to my life.

Phil Schwarz is reform Jewish.

Etc.

Everyone currently working on autistics.org is religious to one degree or another, most of us very much so -- different religions, though. :-) But so far no atheists (not that we've got anything against atheists, there just aren't any there at the moment).

I think a lot of what you see depends on where you spend your time, too. If lots of the people there are a certain religion, you'll see a lot of curebies of that religion -- whether they are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Pagan, New Age, or not religious at all.

kristina said...

The videos from the Oct 27 Fordham conference should be out soon (we hope!)----look forward to your responses.

Brett said...

Like Nicky, it was not my intent to stereotype people or groups of people. And based on everyone's responses (save one), it seems that there probably isn't a stereotype that actually fits, at least within the autism community.

What I'm really curious about is if there is any general correlation between religiousness of those outside or new to the autism community and their perceptions. For example, if an atheist parent learns their child / grandchild is autistic, is their first reaction to try to cure that child? If I tell a Christian friend that my child is autistic, what will his reaction be? [FWIW, contrary to the incredibly wrong assumption Larry Rex jumped to, I was not imposing anything on the discussion I was simply stating an example of a possible solution. (Take a look at jypsy's original comment that inspired this post, you'll see what I mean.)]

My purpose in trying to understand these general feelings/reactions is so I can better help parents/family/friends of newly diagnosed kids understand and accept the autistic child for who he is.

Joseph said...

Well, there are some autistics who are religious and there are some who are atheists. I don't think autism predicts religious preference very well.

One thing that seems to be true of most neurodiversity advocates is that they are scientifically minded and skeptical of unproven claims.

ballastexistenz said...

My suspicion is that religion and belief system in general would affect the form of a pro- or anti-cure stance, but not whether a person is pro- or anti-cure.

For instance, I have heard all of the following:

"I believe God makes autistic people autistic."

"I believe the devil makes autistic people autistic."

"I believe autism is punishment for sin in a past life."

"I believe autism is a sign of a wise, old soul."

"I believe autistic people are necessary to the human species' survival and have always been around."

"I believe autistic people are the unfortunate by-product of weaker humans surviving to reproduce."

And various combinations of these and many other ideas, both religious and secular.

Brett said...

Good point. I guess I was thinking of autism in the context of something where views are determined by religious belief, as opposed to something where explanation of the belief is derived from religious belief.

The two things that came to mind when I first wrote this were abortion and homosexuality. While not universally true, it is true that many (if not most) religious (judeo-christian religious, anyway) people think that abortion and homosexuality are wrong because of their religious belief.

Homosexuality seems to fall somewhere in between, though. Some see it as an example of the diversity of God's creation, while some see it as an abomination that must be overcome. The latter belief is often justified based on Biblical references.

Autism is not, as far as I know, mentioned in the Bible as an evil or sin. So, as Amanda states, religion probably doesn't play that large a part in determining what people think of autism. What they believe about the world, God, and how we should interact with our fellow humans, however, is shaped by their religion. This, in turn, plays a part in how they view autism and autistics.

Of course, this still leaves the question of the non-(judeo christian) religious, but I'll save that.

Thanks to everyone for comments on this. You have helped me to work through some of the lingering questions I've had.

amanda said...

i agree. i have found the very religious to be of the 'pray for my child' mentality. i consider myself a spiritual person but do not follow a specific religion. i accept my son completely the way he is and believe that this is how my son was meant to be. i do not believe there is another child inside him waiting for me to free or 'cure' him!

amanda said...

speaking of fervent religious views on autism...
i don't know if you noticed a google ad on your page advertising 'autism treatment' a 40 day bible guide for parents? check out 'about the author' and the treatments they have used to put their son on 'the road to recovery from autism'...

amanda said...

forgot to say site is called www.FindingGodinAutism.com

last post...i promise!