Autistic Youth Pastor | Pros & Cons

Hi, my name is Stephanie and today I
wanted to share some thoughts on being an autistic youth pastor. So, this is
actually a bit of a content crossover for me. If you’ve been following me for a
long time, then you know that I actually was running one channel with three
different topics and then I recently split it into three different channels
with like one topic each. So one of my other channels is on the topic of autism
because I was recently diagnosed with high-functioning or level 1 autism. So, I
thought I’d share some thoughts and pros and cons of being a youth pastor and
being autistic. My husband Justin was with me as a youth pastor, but a lot of
the times I was the one organizing and teaching just because I had more time to
prepare than he did. And we have recently stepped down to let someone else come in
and have a go at it and let them do what God has asked them to do and for us to
take a bit of a break. So, during this time, I’ve been thinking a lot on my time
there and some of the things maybe I’d like to share as what the pros and cons
would be as an autistic youth pastor. So, the first pro was that I could kind
of relate to them pretty well, because if you don’t know, with autism, especially
level one or high-functioning, when it’s closer to what would be considered
Asperger’s, people feel almost like they’re perpetually like 12 or 13 years
old, like a younger teenager. And our youth group consisted of a lot of
younger end teenagers, so I kind of fit in within my own youth group. I didn’t
have to pretend to be the cool, hip, youth person because I wasn’t trying. We could
just have easy conversations with each other, but this aspect could also be a
con because when they needed a well-spoken, confident leader, I couldn’t
always provide that for them and as much as I could relate to maybe being awkward
and saying the wrong thing or being weird and quirky or whatever,
I couldn’t necessarily relate on the level of motives or maybe what “normal
people” like to do for fun and stuff like that. So, I often had to rely on
generalizations and stereotypes to try to say relatable things within a
message or something like that, and they didn’t always land because they were
stereotypes, and I just didn’t always get where people were coming from, just
because even when I was teenager, I didn’t get anyone. I still don’t. So,
another good thing is that I’m a good masker and masking when it comes to
autism just means that I’m good at not only like pretending to be normal but
also reflecting what I see. So, if someone’s just being like hey, hyper,
have fun; I can do the same thing or if I’ve seen it before I could emulate it
again. So, I can almost seem natural at being buzzy and fun and stuff like that
with them in certain times. I think that taking away of being just like I am your
youth leader and just kind of being a part of them and stuff like that really
helped us to bond a lot. But as good as my masking is, if I had a down day, it
would have really helped me to have like a complete relief, as in I should have
been able to just go home. And the reason I say that is because especially if
they’re not in a hyper mood and they’re just kind of like bored and they don’t
want to be there, you know how teenagers get, and I was having a rough day, I
couldn’t really pull myself out of it as much as I tried to. And when, when I head
toward a meltdown, sometimes there’s a lot of negative self-talk and stuff like
that and just kind of sarcastic remarks and stuff like that that happened and
they really don’t need to see me doing that. Another positive thing was that I
was able to come from a place of empathy where in some cases other people might
not. That’s because we had some students who were sensitive to sensory situations
and also weren’t good at communicating when they were being stretched beyond
what they could handle, if that makes sense. We had lots of shy, quiet,
non- communicators and even though in youth, of
course, we’re gonna push a little bit because a lot of times youth love to
lounge out in their comfort zone, they don’t want to do anything. They don’t
want to be forced to do anything that might make them look weird or not cool
and stuff like that. But it was easier for me to recognize
like, this isn’t something that we should just tell them to just get over it.
They’re actually having an issue because I know what it’s like to be sensitive to
sensory situations or not be able to handle certain situations. So, that was a
pretty good pro. A drawback that is really the same for any autistic in life
is that sometimes I was made fun of a little bit. I was kind of a joke. (At times.) I’ve
gotten giggles before in response to some of my stims. A lot of times, I would
play it up to make it seem like I just was intending to mess around or something
like that. One point, people thought it was funny to, like, make up a really
obvious excuse to make sure that they weren’t near me and stuff like that. So I
would try to play it off and that usually kind of helped the situation and
not like made it worse or anything, but it still kind of sucks when your own
students that you’re trying to pour into are demeaning you or kind of making fun
of you. Now, while I wasn’t always able to just know what everyone wanted to do,
what was fun, and stuff like that. It did help that I just asked. Sometimes,
just asking people to get some feedback is really helpful. We presented to them
the idea that they had a valuable skills and there’s all these different things
you can do in the church. Did you actually want to do any of them? So,
instead of assuming that they wouldn’t want to do anything, we found out that a
lot of them were actually quite interested in different things in the
church, and now our sound and media booth is pretty much run by the youth. Now this
last thing that I want to share tends to go against typical stereotypes for
people with autism, and that is that I felt an immense amount of love and care
towards the youth. And I think that is something that’s really important for anyone
who is entrusted with the care of young people or people in general, is
that they actually genuinely care about them and that they feel something
towards them. A love and a care that they’re going to grow spiritually and
that they’re going to grow as people. And even though I might not have been the
best at showing it, I really, really do care deeply for each and every one of my
students. While I miss my youth, I get to see them every week anyway and I’m glad
that they’re being able to receive things from people in a way that I
couldn’t give. God has called us for different seasons in different parts and
those youth are going to experience both me and my husband and these new youth
leaders. I can’t wait to see them continue to grow in the Lord and in life
and in general. And to end this, I hope that neuro-diverse people will have the
kind of support in churches and not be seen as just people that they kind of
either, like, give them the little jobs that anyone can do, because in my opinion,
you know, against what the kind of joke is about youth, I don’t think just
anybody can teach people and just anybody can do sorts of things, but just
because someone is neurodiverse or differently abled doesn’t mean that they
don’t have something valuable to contribute. So, even though it might take
a little bit more effort, like for me, it probably really help- would have helped
to have someone who I could trade off with if I needed to other than my
husband who is usually busy with things. I think that would have been helpful. Of
course, I didn’t think of that until, like, the end, you know, but just because it
takes a little extra effort to help someone who is differently abled, I think
that churches should still be able to embrace those people and still be able
to see what God has given those people. What gifts they have, what God is calling
them to do in their local church body. So, I encourage you as churches to embrace
people who might be different than the norm to be a part and to do different
things in the church and if you are like me and your neuro-diverse or your
differently abled, then I encourage you to try
and see if you can’t connect with your local church body if you’re not already.
Even though, you know, I deal with anxiety, depression, and autism, I still am a large
part of my church. It’s okay to take breaks, but it’s also okay to try and see
what God has for you in your local church body. So, I hope that you enjoyed
this video. Thank you so much for watching today. If you did like it, go
ahead and give me a thumbs up on this video and also let me know your thoughts
about all this in the comments below. If you haven’t already, go ahead and
subscribe. I upload to this channel every Saturday at 4:00 p.m. Central
Standard Time. I hope you’re having a wonderful week and see me in my next
video. Bye!

1 thought on “Autistic Youth Pastor | Pros & Cons

  1. I find it surprising you hear about your stems and meltdowns. I figured you wouldn't have many, a other great video.

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