I write to you honestly and from the bottom of my heart, knowing there are bridges that could burn, but still hopeful that my own transparency will finally give me the peace-of-mind I am searching for today.
As prevalence increases and causes are still unknown, autism becomes more hot of a topic every year. As you all know, The Musical Autist, if asked to align with anyone, happily runs with the Neurodiversity Movement. To me, this simply means believing that autistic people should be accepted and accommodated within our society, despite social inabilities which can range from quirks to total deficits.
To me, advocating for Neurodiversity means that “awareness” and “tolerance” is not enough, particularly in light of what our society could look like in another 50 years when our autistic youths are grown! Do I feel rivalry or bitterness toward autism organizations which promote awareness? No absolutely not. Awareness must come first, in every aspect of life. Then it is up to a person’s mind, heart & spirit on what to do with gained awareness. I wish that all autism groups would communicate and work together for the benefit of those on the spectrum.
So the past few days I have been ruminating on these two words, “Awareness” and “Acceptance.”
Many of you know that The Musical Autist is a Christian organization (meaning, Christ-centered, Christ-following), that we started the concept of “Sensory-Friendly Concerts” – Equal Access to the Fine Arts, and that we (myself and my Board of Directors) are working to get non-profit status so as to enable and fund Music Therapists everywhere to host and facilitate Sensory-Friendly Concerts in their own local communities.
But you probably would not know my personal, complex opinions and beliefs about Neurodiversity unless I told you very plainly, so, here we go.
You see, my life’s work, teaching music to kids on the spectrum, is fulfilled by my life’s calling – to follow and exemplify the teachings of the Bible in everything that I say and do. And I am grateful for God’s GRACE in areas where I undoubtedly fall short.
When it comes to autism, neurodiversity, right and wrong….like any other thing in life, I study the Scriptures for answers.
(And I don’t mean just a few times as a type of reference book. I sit in front of my Bible every morning, meditating on passages which have impacted and changed the course of my life over the years, praying, and allowing myself to be open to the Holy Spirit’s work in me and through me. Sometimes I take just one word from the concordance and read all the passages throughout the Bible which contain that word. Sometimes I just sit and soak in the Presence of God as a humble, forgiven and contrite soul.)
All of that to say, here are some things I’ve found about autism, in the course of my reading, searching, musing and praying over the past few years:
1. Flapping your hands and rocking is definitely not a sin.
2. Being socially withdrawn and perseverating on a favored inanimate object is not a sin.
4. Environmental toxicity is not our own sin, but is most definitely the sins of our forefathers, which is now our burden to bear. =’ (
5. Greed and pride are definitely sins. And capitalizing on society’s fears of prevalence increase, for the purpose of monetary and popularity gain is birthed and bred out of greed and pride.
6. Trash talking and perseverating on other autism group’s philosophies and practices does not help to fulfill Philippians 4:8 in my own life. (“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”)
Am I called to be a Light in the world, and shed Light on darkness? yes. But sometimes I struggle with what that really looks like. In the time I spend reading and researching other autism nonprofits, am I called to educate others on my findings, even when I discover corrupt and evil practices within those organizations I am observing? I want to speak what is excellent and praiseworthy, but, I am also called to speak what is true and right.
And so I humbly write to you, as transparently as I can, that I will simply keep pressing forward in my calling, with my theology and philosophy ever growing and ever in sight…which is exactly what has brought me here thus far.
Awareness is important: this is always a first step. First awareness….then what?
Acceptance is vital: and will hopefully be culture’s next step after Autism Awareness.
This will take loving patience and willing collaboration from all Neurodiversity advocates and allies.
So what does “acceptance” truly mean, what does it look like?
Every week I pour every ounce of my energy and love into working with kids on the spectrum. I WANT them to express themselves, I WANT them to be okay living in their own skin and cope with sensory overload, I WANT them to grow and to discover their own God-given gifts the same as I would want for ANY child. But these are goals I cannot force upon them. Relationship-building with my students is more important to me than checking off clinical goals and objectives at the expense of respecting and accepting an autistic person right where they are at.
I want my autistic students and friends on this site to advocate for themselves, specifically through music and the arts, because that is what I know how to do and that is what I know how to teach.
I don’t want to be their spokesperson, I want them to express themselves – for themselves!
I only want to be the biggest fan and cheerleader.
Sincerely yours, and until next time,
Christy Joy Shiloh