Seldom heard are the stories of autistic adults. And rarely reported are the challenges of those who seek companionship. It’s believed that autism blocks the ability to intercommunicate and express feelings in a normal way. These difficulties often relegate those diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to solitude, even though they express a deep wish to love another.
We may think of our own efforts to build relationships as pertaining to the heart, but for solutions in the field of ASD, research has focused predominantly on the brain, despite studies showing that an autistic brain is “remarkably similar to that of a neurotypical person”. A thoughtful analysis of this research suggests that answers to ASD may lie in looking outside the brain, even to a purely spiritual concept of the mind and heart.
In 1856, Thomas Huxley questioned the source of consciousness. He wrote, “How it is that anything so remarkable as a state of consciousness comes about as the result of irritating nervous tissue is just as unaccountable as the appearance of the genie when Aladdin rubbed his lamp.” And cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman echoes Huxley in an April 2016 article featured in The Atlantic. He asks “how a three-pound lump of gray matter…can give rise to first-person conscious experience.” In his June 2015 TED Talk, “Do we see reality as it is?” Hoffman demonstrates that consciousness is beyond the skull. “Brains and neurons have no causal powers. They cause none of our perceptual experiences, and none of our behavior.” He concludes “that reality, whatever it is, is the real source of cause and effect in the world — not brains, not neurons.”
Could “reality”, then, be something completely independent of the brain?
Mary Baker Eddy, a 19th-century pioneer of scientific as well as theological thought, found through her deep study of the Bible, that mind is not a pulpy mass as we think of the cortex, but something eternal and spiritual. As St. Paul assures us that “we have the mind of Christ,” Eddy writes, “Consciousness, as well as action, is governed by Mind, — is in God, the origin and governor of all that Science (the laws of spiritual reality) reveals.” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p.480). And she defines “Mind” as “…not that which is in man, but the divine Principle, or God, of whom man is the full and perfect expression.” (Ibid, p. 591)
This spiritual expression of perfect intelligence, the outcome of divine Love or divine Mind reflected by man, is evidenced in a recent PBS airing of “Autism in Love.” Challenged with, but ultimately working around, the typical shortcomings of ASD, three unique relationships involving adults diagnosed with autism, evidence the power of the “unseen” to communicate love and guide them through various stages of relationships. It gives us all hope for our own relationships, but most importantly, it demonstrates the power of love to operate way beyond mental disorder.
The challenges of finding a lasting relationship can be tough for anyone. Symptoms of ASD apparently make it even tougher. But the idea that Mind is divine, and that it is perfect and whole, can bring meaningful love to any relationship. It can help us replace the notion of isolation or solitariness with the idea that everyone is embraced in divine Mind, divine Love. The Christ–the ever-presence and activity of God, Love–gives us all, including our brothers and sisters diagnosed with ASD, the courage to expect our relationships to be warm and lasting. As Jesus said, “with God all things are possible.”