Q: I do not have autism. Can the Mission of Saint Thorlak help me support people with ASD (autism spectrum disabilities)?
A: Yes. The Mission of Saint Thorlak can help you support people.
(So, yes, that also includes those with ASD).
Our Mission statement is rather nebulous with respect to autism. We are out to end spiritual starvation, letting people with autism lead us on our way. Our advertisements say that we offer spiritual skills for those "affected by" ASD. Does that mean our material applies to those with ASD, or those without? Who, exactly, are those “affected by" ASD? That could mean… anyone.
We did that on purpose.
The beauty of our model is that our approach is particularly comfortable and helpful when applied to people with autism, but in actuality, it is applicable to anyone.
We *are* a ministry with autism specifically in mind. People with ASD have a particular set of needs unique to ASD, and it does nobody any good to pretend that it does not require thoughtful consideration and occasional modification to help people with ASD partake in the things the rest of us are doing.
Couldn't we just as well say the inverse – that it requires thoughtful consideration and occasional modification for people without ASD to partake in things that people with ASD are doing?
We don't mean to be absurd, but our point is that either case is a matter of recognizing our common humanity and being considerate of one another whether there are diagnostic labels or not.
Let us break this down in another way.
For people with ASD, The Mission of Saint Thorlak wants to be a starting point for the next level of social skills. Once elementary skills are in place, we want to introduce social skills at a secondary, or spiritual level. We want to help people with ASD to be able to see the perspectives of others in terms of our common humanity. People with ASD spend their first six years of school learning how their thought processes are different from those around them; now, we want to show them how their hearts are the same as everyone else's.
Back to the question at hand: If you do not have autism but are seeking to help people with ASD, you can see them on an elementary level, looking systematically at their traits and symptoms, and treating them accordingly… or, you can see them at the next level, as a human being like yourself, with the same spiritual needs that you have… and, you can treat them accordingly.
If you are here to find ways to support people with ASD, we very earnestly suggest that you start by asking yourself what you need, as a person… and then, get to know the people you wish to support. Get to know them – not their symptoms, not their diagnosis. Get to know who they are and why they are passionate about the things that move them. Then, let them know YOU, and your needs as a person. Show them who YOU are and why YOU are passionate about the things that move you. If you're lucky, they will join you in friendship and mentor you as you begin the scathingly honest, scathingly beautiful tasks of seeking and admitting the truths of your common humanity.
Trust us. Your sincere interest in the humanity of the people you want to help contains every element of every suggestion you could ever find in all the manuals, encyclopedias, training programs and seminars put together.
Humanity is our specialty. If that's something you are looking to pursue, then, yes, the Mission of Saint Thorlak can help.
May the power of Divine Love shine in and through my weakness, so that He might be glorified in and through me, and that in my weakness, His power may reach perfection. Through Christ Our Lord, AMEN.
Fr. Mark P. Nolette - Spiritual Director for the Mission of Saint Thorlak