Today, on World Autism Awareness Day, I decided to come forward about being autistic. Below is the transcript for this video for those who would prefer to read.
Hello, this is Father Matthew Schneider and I want to be open about a part of my life that I haven’t really talked much about before. I’m autistic.
My whole life I felt a little different. I never really fit in and I never understood why. I was a good student, passed all my classes got into engineering, did okay there, but I was never cool. The biggest trouble I got into as a kid was when I got grounded for two weeks for being out late… at a chess tournament.
And there were always certain signs that in themselves don’t necessarily mean I’m autistic, but put together, kind of point in that direction, such that I would have been investigated; I would have been probably diagnosed back in the 80s as a kid if the criteria then were the same they are now. I was picked on. I had bad handwriting. And I always kind of had little things like that, that just were a little off that would have pointed towards an autism diagnosis.
And I think when we talk about the growth of the numbers who are diagnosed with autism, we have to think of cases like my own. In the 80s I wasn’t diagnosed, not because I wasn’t autistic but because we had criteria for diagnosis that wouldn’t have included me.
And it’s not caused by those external things we often think about: if I look at my own family, my parents are amazing parents. They’re not like the cold refrigerator parents you sometimes hear about. They’re so amazing that all my sisters have chosen to go back and live on the same street as my parents: right next door and a few houses down. As a kid I grew up on venison: my dad is a hunter so we go out and shoot venison. And a lot of organic food as my parents like growing their own food. So, I did have – you know, in a way – that ideal food that people talk about.
On the other hand, I know autism is highly genetic and there’s a lot of studies on this. I’m the first person in my family to be diagnosed, but looking historically, I can definitely see some tendencies from those who came before me.
How did I get diagnosed?
Well, my first year of priesthood was kind of tough. I was assigned to be the chaplain of school and work in the youth ministry for the Legion in a certain city. And after my first year of a three-year assignment, they kind of said, “You know what, this isn’t working out well. Why don’t you go and do something else?” I was kind of shocked: I wasn’t expecting it. I knew I was a new role and I made some mistakes but I figured, “Well, there’s a learning curve and almost anybody is going to make a few mistakes given a new role like that.”
However, right now I count this as a blessing because it led me to that autism diagnosis, so I don’t just keep hitting my head against the wall in ministries that just aren’t suited to me.
About a year later in early 2016, I was diagnosed by a psychologist with autism. And before there was a distinction between Asperger’s and autism, and the psychologist said in that distinction, I definitely fall under Asperger’s, not autism. But in the most recent diagnostic manual, it changed it so that all of that is autism spectrum disorder, ASD as it is sometimes called.
Since being chaplain, I’ve mainly been working behind the scenes for my religious community. And now I’m studying a doctorate in theology to either become a professor or a writer. Among priestly ministries I think these are more suited to autistic, at least to me who is a very intellectually driven autistic, in the sense that in the seminary of my nickname was Schneider-pedia after Wikipedia or encyclopedia. Because I tend to remember tons and tons of facts.
In the Legion, my superiors have been helpful throughout this whole process, and when I brought up the possibility of talking about this publicly, they were supportive and basically said whatever I decide they’ll support me in that.
Now, why am I coming forward today? Well, today is World Autism Awareness Day and April is Autism acceptance month so it’s a good time.
You probably mean more, why am I coming forward in the first place? Well, I think there are two main reasons.
First, I realize the need to evangelize this segment of the population: we’re about one-and-a-half to two percent of the population. We have a much higher chance of being atheists, a much lower chance of attending religious services on a weekly basis. I’ve not seen statistics specifically about Catholics in that regard. So, we need someone to reach out to that community, to inculturate the Gospel to the autistic mind, so that other autistics are attracted to the truth of the Gospel, the truth of Jesus Christ our Savior.
In the same vein, I think a lot of those who are already in the Church – both autistics and their families – would appreciate the help that someone who is a priest and is also autistic and openly so might be able to provide them.
Secondly, I value transparency. I want to be honest. I want to be vulnerable. And I also value the freedom it gives me: I can pull out something like this when I’m out in public and do a little bit of fidgeting, or as we autistics tend to call it stimming, without seeming totally out there. I’m autistic. We stim, it’s just what we do. And in the same way, if we meet up somewhere and you look at me like, “He’s a little bit off.” Well, I’m autistic, that’s just the way I am.
So, hopefully this helps. I started this [YouTube, Twitter, & Facebook] channel talk about autism and Christianity and if you’re interested in topics about that, please be sure to Like follow subscribe depending on what platform you’re on. I plan to do future videos on how to pray as an autistic, liturgy for autistics, understanding Christian theology using autistic logic, and other inculturation of the Gospel to the autistic mind.
Thank you for watching and I hope to see you soon.