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At the intersection of faith and autism – a Catholic priest shares his story

When Fr. Matthew Schneider was asked to move on after just one year of a three-year assignment as school chaplain and youth ministry leader, he was shocked.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” he said. “I knew it was a new role and I had made some mistakes, but I figured, well there’s a learning curve, and almost anybody’s going to make a few mistakes given a new role like that.”

But his superiors believed the assignment was not a good fit for him. They cited struggles with social communications as a reason for their decision.

While the experience was frustrating for Schneider at the time, today he looks back on that moment as a blessing, because it eventually led him to be diagnosed with autism, a diagnosis that helped him better understand himself, and ultimately, to find roles in ministries that were better suited to him.

In a video released April 2, World Autism Awareness Day, Schneider decided to go public with his autism diagnosis.

“I realize the need to evangelize this segment of the population,” he said in the video. “We’re about 1.5–2% of the population. We have a much higher chance of being atheists, a much lower chance of attending religious services on a weekly basis…we need someone to reach out to that community, to inculturate the Gospel to the autistic mind.”

Schneider spoke with CNA about his life at the intersection of autism and the Catholic priesthood, and his hope of bringing the Catholic faith to more people who share the diagnosis.

Like many people in the autistic community, Schneider has a sharp memory and a good mind for facts. He tends to be a concrete  thinker, writer, and preacher. He describes himself as “intellectually driven” and he has always been a good student. He prefers to be called an “autistic person” or simply “an autistic” rather than a “person with autism.”

Unlike many of his autistic peers, however, faith plays a prominent role in Schneider’s life. Studies suggest that people with autism are less likely to believe in God and attend weekly religious services than those without autism.

Schneider said his faith is not just one aspect of his life, but is central to the way he views himself.

Read more at Catholic News Agency. 

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