Aaron Tanner agreed to share his experience living life through his broad-spectrum autism disorder with our readers, and as we read his words, we loved his honesty. We felt you would, too. With that in mind, we have chosen not to edit his story. What you read here is all Aaron!
One of the most popular television shows today is “The Big Bang Theory.” Although the main characters are socially awkward, one particular character stands out in terms of social awkwardness: Sheldon Cooper.
Dr. Sheldon Cooper, a physicist at a local university, takes statements literally, does not understand social cues, sarcasm or other people’s point of view, and talks endlessly about one subject to the point of boring others. He is also very smart. Although it is not mentioned on the show, many of the message boards suggest Sheldon may have an autism spectrum disorder — Asperger Syndrome.
I relate to him as I, too, have Asperger’s.
A Little Background
People with Asperger Syndrome do not have mental retardation issues but instead have average to above average intelligence. However, those with Asperger’s do have issues with communication and social skills. They have trouble reading social cues or social rules and are mind-blind in the sense they do not recognize features such as tone of voice or body language. Add to that the inability to understand sarcasm, talking endlessly about one subject and sensory processing issues, and you can see why making friends is difficult. Sometimes sensory overloads end up in an emotional meltdown.
I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome at the age of four. My mom realized I had trouble socializing with people at preschool, and I had an obsession with routine and order. In kindergarten, I was sent home several times because I had meltdowns due to not being able to communicate with the other children and the teacher.
In elementary school, I excelled in my work but got frustrated when change happened. Middle school was rough as my social differences became more apparent. Despite reading about the horror stories of those picked on in high school due to their Asperger’s, I survived high school. This was because I became best friends with a cheerleader named Cortney.
She went out of her way to be kind to me and showed me how to navigate the social scene. Sometimes she would include me in social activities and look out for me. My senior year of high school, she went to prom with me.
How Not to Fit In
Cortney and I went our separate ways after high school, and I was on my own in college to make friends. I decided to attend church because I wanted to make friends and was concerned about what might happen to me after I die. Eventually, I did make friends at church, but despite giving my life to Christ, I became focused on the social aspects of being a Christian. This became an issue when I joined an on-campus Christian organization in which everybody’s social skills were better than mine.
Through this campus ministry, I heard a preacher who seemed to look down on those who did not have perfect social skills. This caused me to be depressed and anxious to the point I almost walked away from the faith because I was tired of trying to prove I was saved.
The moment I realized what Christianity is really about came to me the year I researched a particular method of evangelism involving using the Ten Commandments and asking someone if they have kept all the commandments. Every time someone confesses to breaking the Ten Commandments, the person doing the evangelizing would then ask them, based on their answers, if God would send them to Heaven or Hell.
In Romans 7:7, Paul mentions that the law exposes sin. Because of the Asperger’s, I was trying to follow a law my flesh could not follow. I read an online blog from a pastor that criticized this particular form of evangelism, not for using the law to expose sin, but because this form of evangelism was telling people to stop sinning first and then turn to Christ to show you are a true convert.
Understanding at Last
At that point, I realized I cannot stop sinning without the blood of Christ. I must depend on Christ to reform me. I realized that Christianity was not about being social but about Christ’s sacrifice as a sinless man whose blood covered the whole sins of the world on the cross.
I am not saying that when one is saved that one can sin whenever they want. Paul mentions in Romans Chapter 6 that one should not sin just to get more of Christ’s grace. At the same time in Romans Chapter 7, Paul mentions that even believers will still sin, and he backs this up in 1 John 1:8 by saying that anyone who thinks they are free of sin while on Earth is lying to themselves.
A large majority of those with Asperger’s are atheists; they are less likely to see life from a teleological point of view, which means seeing things from a spiritual perspective. Other reasons include the social tendencies around religion that often repel people with Asperger’s, and the logical and literal thinking associated with the condition can cause them to discount the Bible.
It is sad that many with my condition do not believe in God. Jesus was a social reject as He ignored what was socially popular for His day. Many with Asperger’s have been rejected socially because of their deficiencies. If only they realized that God loves them and created those with Asperger’s in His image.
Still Not Perfect, But Blessed
Sometimes I take things in the Bible too literally. However, I realize it is more important to have Jesus in my heart and let Him guide rather than trying to memorize every Bible verse. Having this revelation about what Christianity is all about has caused me to do more as far as reading my Bible, praying and being salt and light to the world.
I may not have the perfect life, but God has blessed me in other ways, such as being able to drive, having enough money to do activities with friends, tithe and being able to promote a non-profit that I am a board member of called Asperger Connection.
I hope that one day God will use me in ways I cannot imagine.