Baron-Cohen’s work is often referred to but in practice, both autistics and parents of autistic children (myself included) have questioned the notion that those on the autism spectrum are “mindblind” and unable to conceptualize the mental states of others. My own son being minimally verbal, I can’t know for sure what he thinks but he is extremely attuned to people’s emotions; he picks up on these not only from their words but from all kind of non-verbal cues, including body language and tone of voice: He can “read” mental states and others on the spectrum, and other parents of autistics, have been wary of the “mindblindness” theory too.
There are also some aspects of religion, or of some religions, that could be reasons some autistic individuals are drawn to them, a phenomenon I’ve thought about as both my husband Jim and I teach at Jesuit institutions of higher learning; my husband indeed teachers in a theology department and I teach ancient Greek and Latin. A number of my students want to learn these languages because they are, indeed, deeply religious and want to be able to read the New Testament in the original koine Greek or to read medieval philosophers (such as Thomas Aquinas or Abelard) in the Latin they wrote in.
Anecdotally, some of my (male) students who are very religious, with strong stances about Church doctrine, the Trinity and abortion, display more than a few tendencies of Asperger’s Syndrome. The rituals of Roman Catholicism and of the Orthodox Church cohere, perhaps, with to a certain need for order and routine. In addition, the study of Latin in particular has much that might appeal to someone on the spectrum as Latin grammar is systematic and orderly. Latin, the language of the Catholic Mass for hundreds of years, remains the language used by the Vatican.
Many families we have known have made great efforts to provide religious instruction for their children, in part from a wish to involve a child with difficulties with social interactions in a community more likely, it is hoped, to be accepting and compassionate.
Is defining religious belief in terms of mentalizing too limiting, in studying a potentially huge topic?
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