Moral theologian and writer Fr. Matthew Schneider has acquired a following over the last few years on social media, and has written on a wide variety of topics.But he’s best known for how he’s embraced his neurodiversity and the way he’s encouraging others to do the same.
Fr. Schneider recently partnered with Pauline Books and Media to release a much-anticipated prayer book called God Loves the Autistic Mind: For Those on the Spectrum and Those Who Love Us (available at Amazon, too!).
I spoke with Fr. Schneider to talk about this exciting project.
Sarah Robsdottir: What inspired you to write this particular book?
Fr. Schneider: After I was diagnosed with autism — in my 30s, after my first year of ministry when fellow priests noticed that I consistently failed to recognize the emotions on children’s faces — I started reading up on autism. I read through a whole shelf or more of books. After I read the first wave, I tried to find books on Christian ministry geared toward those on the spectrum, specifically books on autistic prayer. I thought that with all the information out there on the subject, something would exist. But I was greatly disappointed.
A few people had written accessibility guides for churches and a few moms had self-published books on the prayers they say for their autistic children. But I noticed there was nothing for autistics themselves – nothing that wouldhelp us leverage our distinct traits in order to strengthen our prayer lives. In short, I felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit and got to work, although the initial inspiration and actual writing were a few years apart.
What makes your book specific to people with autism? And would those with Asperger’s syndrome benefit from reading it as well?
In the past decade, changes have been made in the way doctors diagnose autism. Yes – someone with Asperger’s syndrome (a form of neurodiversity now included under the autism spectrum disorder [ASD] diagnosis and referred to as ASD without intellectual or language impairment) would benefit from this book.
In regard to how this book is specific to autistics: The overall structure of autistic prayer is similar to neurotypical prayer, only with some variation in the details. For example, autistics often have a hard time sitting still; we tend to fiddle with our hands or rock back and forth in a process called “stimming.” I talk about how this behavior, often regarded as a setback, can be an opportunity; how stimming can actually be a powerful meditative aid in prayer, rather than a detriment.
In addition, autistics often relate to Sacred Scripture in an atypical way. We may visualize a Bible scene by focusing more on details and less on the overall picture. I discuss how this is a powerful attribute to embrace, one that can lead to a unique understanding of the text.