Georgia Pastor and Author, Lamar Hardwick, Shares How He Leverages His Autism for Pastoral Ministry
On Monday, December 22, 2014, I walked into the office of my therapist. I sat down on her couch with my wife by my side. I took a long deep breath and slowly exhaled, waiting for answers to my 36-year-long question. She grabbed her clip board, glanced over the assessments we had completed in weeks prior, looked me in the eye, and uttered three words that changed my life: “autism spectrum disorder.” While the diagnosis didn’t change who I was, it did change my understanding of who I had been. In many ways, I have spent the years since that diagnosis learning myself all over again.
As early as seven years old, I was self-conscious about the differences between other children my age and me. I had difficulty understanding other people, and they had equal difficulty understanding me. It felt like the entire world was sharing an inside joke that I did not understand.
I was extremely stubborn, more so than other children my age. I struggled with change. Simple shifts in schedules or environments put me on edge. I operated with a robotically calculated persona. I took almost everything literally. Teachers discovered that I had been having accidents on the playground for weeks during my lunch period because I took the instructions of teachers literally when they told us the building was “not open until the bell rings.”
In the midst of social and educational struggles, I was often characterized as weak, weird, or just plain wrong. I was bullied by peers, by teachers, and on occasion by other parents because I seemed strange, stoic, and sometimes rude or arrogant. I became afraid of people, and at the age of 14, I turned to drugs and alcohol to cope.
In my first year of college, I decided to leave the life of drugs and alcohol behind me. A near-fatal car accident caused me to re-evaluate my lifestyle and recommit my life to Christ. As a result, I grew more and more successful in school, but I silently continued pretending to be someone that I was not created to be. It was decades before the therapist appointment in which I discovered the language to describe my life.
Adults who grow up with undiagnosed autism spectrum disorder learn how to blend in as a matter of survival. In my early adult years, I did this successfully. I learned how to mimic the behaviors, attitudes, and opinions of others so that I could have a shot at being “normal.”
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SOURCE: Christianity Today