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How Finding My Faith Helped Me Advocate for the Autistic Community

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“I believe the real heroes are those who rebuild their lives using adversity as a stepping stone in the midst of the chaos life has thrown at them.” -Nikki Rowe

I want to share my stories in hopes of inspiring others and reaching as many people as possible. I am autistic, and that’s part of my story. I want to be completely straight with you — I don’t care about “likes” but instead want to reach people without judgment, inspire others, and share my story.

My name is Mariah, and I am from Burnsville, Minnesota. I have a twin brother and a little sister. I was not diagnosed with autism until after high school, and I didn’t even know what it was until I reached my late teen years. I spent all of my childhood and most of my teen years not knowing who I was or why I was so different from most other people. When I found out about autism in adulthood, I felt like I understood myself for the first time. I felt like a big weight was lifted off of me.

Autism in girls wasn’t researched much in the late 90s. However, during my early childhood, I was not hitting all my milestones, was developmentally behind, and was in in-home intervention and occupational therapy. I had hidden sensory needs that were unmet, including taste and texture difficulties with food. I didn’t eat well and dealt with stomach issues. In my childhood, I was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and a learning disability because of my delayed milestones. I had love around me, though, and I still do — I enjoyed being around my little brother.

The next chapter of my life wasn’t an easy journey. Personal circumstances caused my mom and dad to get divorced at a young age. My birth mom wanted to give us a better life. I lived with my loving birth mom until I was about 7 or 8 years old. However, my brother, sister and I entered the foster system at a young age and moved from home to home. We eventually got adopted when I was about 12 years old.

In the school system, I felt misunderstood and left out. Unfortunately, I was traumatized in my new living environment, most likely due to misunderstandings. I was bullied and left out of group projects and partner games unless a teacher intervened or someone decided to be nice and included me. I was always anxious — I experienced social anxiety and had a hard time approaching people and knowing what to say. I masked and memorized social scripts to survive. I kept to myself, was scared, felt alone, had trouble communicating, and felt socially lost. If friendships happened, it was because I was approached, but my friendships never lasted. If I tried approaching others, the relationships wouldn’t last because I didn’t know how to keep the communication going in the friendships. I still struggle with this but have overcame some of the struggles I had earlier in life. Most of my friendships lasted until the end of elementary school. In my freshman and sophomore years of high school, I acted out and tried to skip classes or leave class early. I lacked boundaries. I felt lost and wanted to escape into my own world. Sometimes I still need to escape.

During my childhood and teen years, I masked a lot. I tried to die by suicide more than once. I hid some of my trauma and suicide attempts. I self-harmed. I was depressed, had depressive episodes and meltdowns, and experienced shutdowns — which I still experience. I was ashamed of the pain I was going through. I felt different and “wrong.” I felt like an alien from a different planet, I had low self-esteem, and I hated who I was because of the trauma at home and not being able to fit in.

The days that made me happiest were the days when my favorite person at the time, who also did respite work, came over. I also was happy when I hung out with my mentors. Even as a child, I’ve always tried to remain loving, polite, joyful, and kind to everyone I meet, and that’s something no diagnosis and no person can change. that will always be who I am. I  believe I was able to graduate high school because of my perseverance. I also received awards.

Since finding out about my autism diagnosis and learning how those on the spectrum can feel disconnected from the rest of society, I started slowly developing a relationship with my Lord, Jesus Christ. I started realizing how important faith is in my own life. I felt He was the answer. Religion wasn’t (and isn’t) just a special interest — it’s always made me feel loved and understood by someone who is loving and eternal. I believe God and I found each other. I believe He saw me the whole time too. I believe He cares about my life, and I’m free to share my burdens with him.

What also made me feel good is when I learned Jesus has a plan and a future for me. I know He will fulfill his will according to his plan. I believe my life outlook changed because I sought out Jesus’s word. I learned I was simply different, not “wrong.” I believe I wasn’t made to fit in; I was made to stand out. I’m different, not less, and I’m loved by my Savior. This quote reminds me of how I felt when I chose to follow Jesus.

“I was one way, and now, I am completely different. And the thing that happened in between was Him.” -The Chosen

I researched and read about my condition and about Jesus Christ. I used my own experiences to showcase my message I felt was best and to share it in the light of Christ. I believe Jesus revealed himself to me through my difficulties. I learned that I have a Savior who loves me and wants my belief, attention, and dedication to Him.  After years of fearing judgments and hiding my pain, I finally decided to share this story.

After I found Jesus, I learned about Temple Grandin, who is also on the autism spectrum, and I related to her ways of thinking and learning. She mentioned how many people with autism are hands-on, visual, sensory-based thinkers and learners. She works with animals, which I love and understand. She also talks about how it takes a ton of processor space in the brain to have all of the social circuits people with autism use, which is why we may be less social.

Temple Grandin says, “I translate both spoken and written words into full-color movies, complete with sound, which run like a VCR tape in my head. When somebody speaks to me, his words are instantly translated into pictures.”

After I learned about Temple Grandin, I found out about Kerry Magro, another autism advocate, when he “friended” me on Facebook. Soon, all these other people on the autism spectrum started “friending” me too. They were advocating, succeeding, and making people happy, but I wanted to take a different path.

I started believing that worldly success is different than Biblical success. I wanted to support others by sharing my belief in my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with them. I believe He has changed my whole life around, especially my heart and my perspective on life. The Bible mentions that Christ is a loving God.

My faith doesn’t mean I don’t struggle. It means I believe I know who I can give my battles to. I believe Jesus fights for me, He can renew me, and He can deliver me from troubles in this life. I’m a conqueror. I believe there is more to life.

I’m not exactly where I want to be yet, but I’m thankful for where I am right now today. I believe I’m on a spiritual journey. I still struggle with some parts of my autism, but I also believe it is a gift. I have a imperfect relationship with my savior (because I’m still growing and learning), and I also have a part-time job working with children with autism. It is a great place where I get the chance to show God’s love and also give others insight since I’m autistic too. I have new mentors in my life and loved ones and friends who care about me. I enjoy listening to music, drawing, sharing the Gospel, attending amusement and water parks, and talking about autism to bring acceptance and awareness. I also enjoy playing sports through Special Olympics. I even got chosen to play in the USA Orlando games for softball in June 2022, and I’m very thankful for that opportunity.

Whether you are autistic or you are a parent, a relative, or a friend of someone with autism, you are not alone. Always remember people with autism are just different —not less.

I believe there is nothing wrong with being autistic. I believe my autism gives me a different view on life and helps me be lovable, honest, vulnerable, sensitive, passionate, and spiritual. My autism also may be why I love my belief in Jesus so much and talk a lot about it as well. I believe we’re supposed to use and share our gifts and talents, and I also believe I can share my autism story in a positive way. I’m happy to have that opportunity.

According to 1 Peter, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others.”  I believe this Bible verse shares exactly how I feel about my autism.

Images via contributor.

Originally published: February 23, 2022
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