Seldom heard are the stories of autistic adults. And rarely do they report the challenges of those who seek companionship. It’s believed that autism blocks the ability to intercommunicate and express feelings in a normal way. These difficulties often relegate those diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to solitude. And yet, like us all, those diagnosed as on the Spectrum deeply wish to love another.
We may think of our own relationships as pertaining to the heart, but for solutions in the field of ASD, research has focused predominantly on the brain. Current research, though, shows that an autistic brain is “remarkably similar to that of a neurotypical person”. Puzzling over this is not new.
In 1856, Thomas Huxley questioned the source of consciousness. He wrote, “How it is that anything so remarkable as a state of consciousness comes about as the result of irritating nervous tissue is just as unaccountable as the appearance of the genie when Aladdin rubbed his lamp.” A century-and-a-half later, researchers are still trying to unravel this mystery.
In fact, cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman echoes Huxley in an April 2016 article featured in The Atlantic. He asks “how a three-pound lump of gray matter obeying nothing more than the ordinary laws of physics can give rise to first-person conscious experience.” His June 2015 TED Talk “Do we see reality as it is?” may point to hope for anyone who feels limited by a disorder of the brain. In the talk, Hoffman explains, “Brains and neurons have no causal powers. They cause none of our perceptual experiences, and none of our behavior.” Instead, he explains that the things we call perceptual experiences or physical objects are like icons on a desktop. They are symbolic placeholders or “hacks” for reality. “And,” Hoffman says, “that reality, whatever it is, is the real source of cause and effect in the world — not brains, not neurons.”
If true, answers to ASD may lie in looking outside the brain, even to a spiritual concept of the mind and heart.
Mary Baker Eddy, a 19th-century pioneer of scientific as well as theological thought, found through her deep study of the Bible, that mind is not a pulpy mass as we think of the cortex, but something eternal and spiritual. As St. Paul assures us that “we have the mind of Christ,” Eddy writes, “Consciousness, as well as action, is governed by Mind, — is in God, the origin and governor of all that Science (the laws of spiritual reality) reveals.” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p.480). And she defines “Mind” as “…not that which is in man, but the divine Principle, or God, of whom man is the full and perfect expression.” (Ibid, p. 591)
This spiritual expression of perfect intelligence as the outcome of divine Love or divine Mind reflected by man — is evidenced in a recent PBS airing of “Autism in Love.” Challenged with, but ultimately working around, the typical shortcomings of ASD, three unique relationships involving adults diagnosed with autism, evidence the power of the “unseen” to communicate love and guide them through various stages of relationships. It gives us all hope for our own relationships, but most importantly, it demonstrates the power of love to operate way beyond mental disorder.
Although the challenges of finding a lasting relationship can be tough for anyone, symptoms of ASD make it even tougher. But the idea that Mind is divine, perfect and whole, can bring meaningful love to any relationship. It can help us replace the notion that anyone can be isolated or solitary with the idea that everyone is embraced in divine Mind, divine Love. As Jesus said, “with God all things are possible.”