We Are More Than Our “Special” Skills

February 4, 2014 at 3:44 am 2 comments

Follow-up to “Anyone Noticed…” and “Autism” on two other blogs. In the first, Amanda Baggs. an autistic blogger who I’ve long enjoyed reading, notes that if you are autistic you can’t just be religious or non-religious without someone claiming that the reason(s) you are are due to your disability. Autistic or disabled people are inherently seen is being more or less inherently spiritual than others.  Leigh Archer, a pagan on the spectrum chimes in with her own experiences.  She notes that as a Loki-worshipper she often gets people dismissing her path, or attributing it there being something “wrong” with her.

“Disability and religion isn’t something that’s talked about much in pagan communities, and that really needs to change. Ableism is, to be honest, rather rampant in pagan communities, both online and off. Much of it is covert or “casual” ableism; things you might not notice if you’re not disabled and haven’t had to deal with it yourself. ” Very true, most ableism I’ve seen among pagans has been directed towards others- typically physically disabled folks. Yet when I’ve confronted it, I’ve generally gotten a bunch of paltry excuses.  Many from people who don’t know that I’m disabled in some way.

I’ve found some odd paradoxes about being autistic and belonging to various other “non-mainstream” groups- in some ways it seems that because I’m autistic I can “get away with” having interests (including religion) and behavior that are unusual.  “Oh, it’s just her cute little mythology special interest”My dad kept patting me on the head thru high school with that line’ til it finally sunk in to him that this was an Actual Religion.  Fortunately I haven’t had too much in the way of dramatic ecstatic spiritual experiences as a teen, or my lack of internal filter would probably have resulted in mental health practitioners getting trigger happy with prescriptions for anti-psychotics. My seizures only result in symptoms similar to hangovers, no cosmic trippy dreams. Hate to disappoint anyone.

There are several problems in this discourse that I’d like to highlight- the black/white thinking- you either must be atheist because you’re autistic, or have a less of a sense of love/empathy/a soul- or you must be a Child of God/angel/otherkin/psychic/Indigo etc. The Magical Retard instead of the magical Negro (case in point would be Forrest Gump) The dehumanizing of people with disabilities- generally related to “real humans do/have trait x, you don’t, therefore you’re not really human/Pagan etc. (The No True Scotsman logical fallacy)  Or you’re delusional. Moses, Muhammed, Jesus. All prophets are just nuts, right? Some people with disabilities or medical conditions will try to find spiritual ways of making meaning out of the circumstances of their lives. That’s fine. Let us do that. Don’t tell us what it means, or if it means anything. You can be compassionate and supportive without pulling in lines like “God has a plan”.  I don’t find that comforting, leaving aside which God you’re assuming I believe in, my response is “Well, all of his other plans have failed”.

The idea of having “special skills” I’ve had hammered into my head from a young age from Temple Grandin and a zillion other people who repeat everything she says- yes you’re disabled, but don’t make a big deal out of it- accentuate the positive and find your special skills, get really good at it, and then people will tolerate you if you’re a little odd, so long as you’re good at what you do.  Newsflash: Not all of us have a special savant skill. Or if we do, it’s not something someone will pay us to do on a basis which we can make a living.

And to my fellow folks with disabilities, let’s do what we can to challenge these attitudes- we get these messages from society and internalize and reinforce them. So let’s stop.

*my use of “retard” in this context is satirical, I’m making fun of the attitude behind that word, not people with  mental disabilities.

**Nothing against Temple Grandin, I’m just sick of everything she says being constantly repeated. Usually by people who claim they aren’t autistic ironically…


Entry filed under: Autism/Asperger's, Disability/Health, Ethics, Theology. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Goals for 2014 Paganism & Disability Links

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Léithin Cluan  |  February 4, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    In my PhD research (on disability and religion), I’ve found a lot of empty platitudes (like ‘God has a plan’) which take the place of actual action and inclusion. I try to challenge these wherever I see them, as a result.

  • 2. Paganism and (Dis)ableism | Treasure in Barren Places  |  February 4, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    […] people with mental health problems, and how it can exclude people. Caelesti is talking today about how some disabled people are considered to be ‘more spiritual’ than others, and why this is objectification of disabled people. (It’s also a direct inheritance from […]


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