QUAERITUR: Social anxiety from Asperger’s and Sunday Mass obligation

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From a reader:

A friend has Aspergers which is on the autism spectrum but they usually pass for relatively normal if slightly batty (she OK’s this description!) but she has the typical extreme social anxieties and other hyper sensitivities and when they pile up she doesn’t make it to Mass because she is afraid of a meltdown (another inconvenience of Aspergers). Does this fall under the health reasons for missing Mass or not?

I don’t know what to tell her because if she feels it coming, she will dump everything on her schedule and hole up for a day or so in order to recover her balance enough to make it to Mass, but she isn’t always tuned in enough to see it coming and finds herself on the edge Sunday morning, already dressed to go and having anxieties over not going. [Poor thing.]

I have no clue how to answer her question as to if this is something that is excusable for health reasons or if she should confess it?

I am not any sort of expert on Asperger’s Syndrome and its attendant problems, but from what I do know, I will say yes, it seems to me that that intense social anxiety would excuse a person from going to Mass on a day of precept, such as a Sunday.

When people are ill or have an injury or very difficult circumstances, even an affliction of some sort, which makes it very difficult or ill-advised or even dangerous to go to Mass, the person’s obligation is excused.

It could be that a good line of communication with the pastor of the parish would be helpful in these cases so that the person could explain your situation to the priest.  Can. 1245 gives to pastors (in England “the parish priest”) the right to grant a dispensation from the obligation in individual cases or else he can commute the obligation to other pious works.  For example, you could text Father (with his permission in advance of course, don’t bombard his phone)

“Me again. Worried about melt-down in front row during sermon. Can. 1245, plz?”

A pious work could be, maybe going to Mass twice during the next week, reciting the Office, or praying an entire Rosary, or praying the stations of the Cross, or reading the Gospel passage for that Sunday, etc.

From a different angle, could Holy Mass in the Extraordinary Form be an option?  You don’t have people gaping at you and shoving their sweaty hands at you during the hand-shake of peace.

The bottom line is: In my opinion you can tell your friend that her condition when it flares up into an anxiety or panic attack would be a reason to stay home from Mass.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Supertradmum says:

    This may not be possible, but can the writer find a very small chapel or church, even a hospital chapel, which has a small Mass? Perhaps the smallness of a congregation would help. I am thinking of a small rural parish where I attended Mass for several months and the congregation was only about 22 people at most.

  2. pinoytraddie says:

    I Am an Aspie too(A Politically Correct Term for People with Aspergers) and I Love the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, because It Helps me Focus on The True Meaning of the Eucharistic Sacrifice more than the NO that Has Lots of Peace Greetings from Brethren that I Don’t Know and Happy-Clappy Music to make me Too Hyper.

  3. Clinton R. says:

    May the Lord bless those who suffer from ailments that prevent them from attending Mass. May Our Blessed Mother pray for those who desire to attend Mass and are physically unable to, or do so with great difficulty. +JMJ+

  4. Lisieux says:

    One of my sons has Asperger’s. My family is mostly evangelical Anglican (I became a Catholic some years ago), and he always hated the church we went to: the qualities which others regarded as virtues (friendliness, effusive welcome, lots of inter-congregrational contact during the services, and so on) were terrifying to him. When he was about 16, he discovered a local church (ritually quite high, theologically ‘broad’) where he could just sit against the wall and no one sought eye contact, shook hands or even appeared to notice him.

    If one translates this into Catholic terms, an early Mass with very few people in the congregation (EF would be wonderful but probably not available), no necessity to ‘participate’, and the ability to slip out of the back if she starts getting flappy or feels a yell coming on – that might work for her.

  5. Ellen says:

    I can sympathize with her. I have this social anxiety to a small degree, and if I have to go to a Catholic megachurch I am vastly uncomfortable. It’s as though things are closing in on me.

  6. NoraLee9 says:

    My hubby has Asperger’s. He attends ONLY the EF. He is actually able to serve Mass, although he hates doing the Bells. As long as he is only asked to do the torches, or serve as A2, he’s fine. And there ARE mornings where he is just too anxious or too tired to do anything. I leave him home, and we don’t scruple about it. We are very fortunate that he is able to work, and function at a fairly high level. Like many of his ilk, he teaches high end computer stuff…. (Imagine a cuddly version of Sheldon from Big Bang Theory)….

  7. J Kusske says:

    I have a mild case of Asperger’s myself I believe, and to me what really annoys me at mass isn’t so much the interpersonal interaction (though I can’t stomach happy clappy nonsense) but liturgical innovation. I want things to be said and done as prescribed in the Missal and when the priest goes off track at all I become a bit agitated. I guess most of the other readers here are in the same camp there though! I have found a nice way to deal with the “handshake of peace”–adopt the East Asian practice of bowing instead. That keeps some interpersonal space and still lets me take part.

  8. Philangelus says:

    My son has AS. He doesn’t have this particular anxiety, but we’ve had to be very creative in order to help him avoid meltdown triggers.

    I ditto the suggestion of finding a very early Mass or a very “cold” congregation where people don’t try to chat you up or cross halfway across the church to shake your hand. But barring that, can she speak to the priest and ask if there could be any special accommodations for her? For example, if she finds a Mass with no choir, can she sit in the choir loft and then receive Communion individually from the priest after Mass has ended? (Or even in the sacristy? My previous parish had a “reconciliation room” where she could probably have closed the door and watched the whole Mass.)

    She wouldn’t even have to use this accommodation every week, but only on the weeks where she felt triggered — and the other thing is, knowing you have “a way out” often can ease the stress, so just knowing she *could* escape to the choir loft or wherever, she might feel more at-ease in a marginal situation.

    I’m sorry she’s going through this. :-(

  9. Suburbanbanshee says:

    A lot of churches have little nooks where you can sit, see, and not get in anyone’s way or have them get in yours — and I think everybody uses them sometimes. Stairs to the basement or the choir loft (or in the little space next to them) can be a nice little refuge in times of upset, for example. The seats next to, or behind, pillars or decorative columns. In a baptistry or by one of those huge vat-like fonts. The back corners, especially if you let the usher know you’d rather not sit down. Side vestibules are great, because very few people come in that way after Mass starts (as it’s less embarrassing to come in the back). I’ve sometimes seen priests let people sit in the little (or big) prep rooms off the sacristy, if they know them. The adoration chapel, if it’s right there in church.

    (Though parents of unhappy kids or babies should be mindful of stairwell acoustics, of course… Noises in a choir loft are audible in the church, of course; so stairs to choir lofts that don’t have closed doors at the top make noises audible in the choir loft and the church.)

    Nobody should feel embarrassed if they have to use little nooks. People don’t have to know why you’re there; and you’ve got as good a right as anybody else to be there. And everybody does use them sometime, so they’ll understand.

  10. AnnAsher says:

    This is a kind and informative post, Fr Z. My six year old son has mild to moderate autism. He used to lay down and scream at the sight of the church. It was TLM that helped him, in fact. Now, even at NO he prefers to lay his head in my lap. It’s his atypical brother whose on the floor, knocking kneelers into poor peoples feet. I like the advise you give in total but ESP the part about people not gaping at you at TLM. Additionally I suffer from panic disorder – and TLM is my happy place too.

  11. Banjo pickin girl says:

    Everybody gives good advice. A smart priest once said to me, “God knows the difference between a mortal sin and just trying to cope.”

  12. Giuseppe says:

    Philangelus was right on the money. One priest let my friend sit in the choir loft for the early morning Sunday mass — the only other person up there was the organist. In grade school, our priest actually let one of the students who was terribly anxious kneel in the sacristy — he could pretty much see everything, and the priest sneaked ‘off stage’ quickly post-Communion during the clean up to give him Eucharist. Finally, I do think that watching an EWTN Mass followed by a brief 2-3 minute phone conversation with the pastor about the gospel reading sometime during that week is a reasonable accomodation on all parts.

  13. Giuseppe says:

    My favorite, very succinct prayer, from the NO, and one I have heard cited by friends who suffer from anxiety symptoms. I used it to help me relax prior to the very stressful Sign of Peace. Of course, if I didn’t have to shake hands with strangers, I might not have needed this prayer as much at that time… Nonetheless, I say it frequently.

    Deliver us, Lord, from every evil,
    and grant us peace in our day.
    In your mercy
    keep us free from sin
    and protect us from all ANXIETY
    as we wait in joyful hope
    for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

  14. Tina in Ashburn says:

    I hope that your Aspie friend will get individual advice from a good confessor. All have expressed great ideas and advice here, but personal direction from a trusted confessor who knows your friend is always the best route in dilemmas like this.

  15. APX says:

    a brief 2-3 minute phone conversation with the pastor about the gospel reading sometime during that week is a reasonable accomodation on all parts.

    Not if the person gets anxious from phones. I don’t have Aspergers, but I do have a mild case of social anxiety disorder. Trying to call someone is a production in itself. I will sit there anxious about having to make the call. If I get the courage to make the call, I will make it quite awkwardly. Once I hang up, I’ll replay it over and over again in my head over-analyzing it, beating myself up over the call.

    For me, the EF Mass is actually worse with Social anxiety. Not the Mass itself, but the traditional congregations. The big thing with. SAD and social phobia is the irrational fear of being judged. When I first started going, it felt like people were judging me, watching to make sure I was genuflecting at the right times, etc. I knew I was being irrational, so I would literally (and still do) tell my brain where to go and what to do. I was always trying to go unnoticed throughout mass, so it made it worse when people started coming up to me after mass and say things like, “I noticed you in Mass. You sit blah blah blah.”. The worst was the woman who approached me, mentioned she had been noticing me during mass, and commented on my black veil, the fact that I was young, and then proceeded to ask me if I was a virgin! Thankfully we have a less intense Latin mass community.

    My downfall is the new form of confession. There’s too many uncertainties that make it near impossible to go regularly. It doesn’t help now with these non- anonymous glass rooms/ cage rather than the traditional confessional. Though, I know at this point it’s only the perception of anonymity, it still helps.

  16. Allan S. says:

    My son has it as well, so we have some experience with this. Father Zs advice is perfect. Interesting observations from some others in the comments that ring true as well; bells and fire (candles lit) can be a tremendous source of anxiety for some people with autism ectrum disorders like Asperger’s.

    My son would freak at votive candle stands. If you ever see someone blowing out all the candles, you’re probably dealing with this :)

  17. KAS says:

    I know someone who sits in the choir loft, sometimes down on the floor, just to be able to be there for Mass. I know someone who goes, but the moment someone speaks to him, he will bolt for the door he sits near and not come back that Mass. I know another person who sometimes gets as far as the parking lot and still cannot go inside.

    All have social anxieties, aspergers or not, and all WANT to be at Mass. I know two of them at least cannot just call the priest because they can only call close friends or family and only those friends and family with whom they feel comfortable using the phone.

    I wish there were a Extraordinary Form here. I’ve been to one and it was marvelous!

  18. mamajen says:

    I had a nervous breakdown at a very, very young age (10), and for a little while mass was a big challenge for me. I couldn’t make it through without my mother bringing me to the church basement to ride out the panic. It was awful. In my case it wasn’t Asperger’s, so I was able to recover. I feel for this woman. This is why I hate going to churches where social interactions like hand shaking, holding hands during Our Father, etc. are forced upon everyone.

  19. Let me add my emphatic agreement: this is certainly a condition that can dispense one from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days; and if a parishioner sought me out in this regard, I’d be glad to explain it–so I imagine this woman’s pastor would do the same.

    All the suggested accommodations are fine. I would certainly be willing to accommodate such a one to receive holy communion outside of Mass–if not on Sunday (because the person would likely have to come to church in close proximity to a scheduled Mass, hence risk anxiety yet again), then during the week.

    Once again, I want to emphasize that while the obligation to attend Mass is a grave one, there are good reasons why one cannot observe it. I have known many good people who tie themselves up in knots about whether they were allowed to claim them: elderly folks who said, well the weather wasn’t that bad, or, I wasn’t that sick, etc. My goal is not to talk anyone out of the desire for, and sense of obligation to, participate in the Holy Mass, it is to say that God is not unreasonable.

  20. RuralVirologist says:

    Not Aspergers, but I suffer from social phobia. Going out to work is the only stress-free outing. Everything else I try to avoid, or hope it will be cancelled, or think of excuses to miss. I’d rather eat old bread than go shopping and haven’t bought new clothes in years. I don’t do phones or doorbells either; I hate people visiting – the stress waiting is terrible. Luckily I work with enough similarly eccentric people who find each other’s oddities amusing. The internet is my window to the world. Once I’m out somewhere, it’s really not so bad – it’s actually getting there, although I do feel relief when I can leave and go home.

    Mass was a terrible problem. My desire for the Latin Mass made me want to buy a house next door to a church that had it. I also considered emigrating at one point – so I looked online at the UK and Ireland for houses near churches with a Latin Mass. It must have been God working this out, because of the first three houses I looked at locally, my favourite turned out to have a collapsing roof, and my next favourite was next door to an SSPX chapel. I don’t subscribe to the SSPX way of thinking, but that’s the least of my worries. It was hard to even go next door for a while, till I got to know the priest. I now even keep the parish car locked in my garage when he’s not visiting (he flies down twice a month.) It’s still not exactly easy, but I manage.

    As for the EF vs OF question, for me it’s not an issue.

  21. boredoftheworld says:

    My social anxiety disorder has gotten so bad that it took almost 3 hours for me to even post, and that’s with the full panoply of meds backing me up. I’m very glad to see this issue discussed here and in some way I’m glad to see that I’m not alone in often needing to find a way to hide out at Mass.

    Picking up the phone to make a call or writing a post on the net (things I used to enjoy greatly) have in most cases become more trouble than they’re worth.

  22. pookiesmom says:

    Our 28yr old son is severely handicapped with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Autism. He truly finds peace in the TLM–he has to focus on the Mass so that he doesn’t miss anything. It transports him out of his anxieties for that time. It really brings him peace and he always has a good day when he starts it out by attending a TLM. Since we started attending in 2001 he told me his faith has really grown over that time period. He is made very anxious by any social contact so all the NO community engaging stuff is very difficult for him. We do have to sit right up front so he can hear Father and see the action. It is hard if we have a new priest who maybe says Mass faster, more softly etc. He tends to get lost in the High Mass.

  23. APX says:

    I know my uncle has social phobia as well (he doesn’t know we know, but my aunt (his wife at the time) had told my mom many years back. Going to Mass is difficult for him. He tried to go to my Confirmation, but it was so packed, he could only stand by the door for a bit until he had to go outside. At my cousin’s wedding he was sitting in front of us, but halfway through had to leave the main area. I was amazed he made it through my aunt’s funeral, as that was the first time I ever saw him make it through an entire Mass.

  24. Bea says:

    I don’t know if I had a mild asperges or just a social phobia that flared up every so often.
    That said, I don’t think I could ever miss Mass, but then I have no idea how bad asperges can be for others. I missed Mass once as a teenager because I was afraid to speak up to “friends” with whom I thought we’d all attend Mass together. They decided to go “joy riding” and l was too chicken to contradict them. It bothers me to this day and after that I alway went to Mass by myself.
    When I did feel the social phobia coming on, I tried to arrive early, look neither to my right or left and ignore everyone, then I would wait until everyone left, hopefully even the parking lot before coming out of church. I took the Dale Carnegie Course, payed for by my boss. (He must have noticed something). It helped quite a bit to get over the fear of people or at least I learned to suppress that fear. I could so relate to Jesus pulling away from the crowd to pray. In prayer (especially Mass) is where we gather our strength. One sometimes feel like running away but where do we go? Like I say, I don’t know how bad asperges may be, but I would say don’t run away, run TO God. He can and will help overcome any fear. God is greater than fear. In his fear He sweated tears of blood in the agony in the garden, but He remained waiting for the Will of God, the Father. Fear and anxiety comes from another source and God is greater than that source too.

  25. paglia says:

    I am also a late-diagnosis Aspie and can very much relate to the Sunday morning panic. I have cried my way through many Masses. This led to much after-Mass questioning by other parishioners. Not good.

    Our parish is a felt-banner, holding-hands, guitar-strumming kind of place. However, I have come to a point where I can manage my anxiety by focusing very intently on what is actually going on in the liturgy. (And before-hand by focusing very intently on what is GOING to happen in the liturgy.) Considering the distractions we do have — it requires great concentration. This turns out to be a good thing for me.

    I’ll be sure to pray for all those who may be going through the same thing on Sunday morning. For some reason it never occurred to me that others suffer in the same way, so I really appreciate this post. Thanks, Fr. Z.

  26. Jael says:

    I can’t stand being stared at from the altar. This asperger’s issue is another very good reason for the priest to face liturgical east. Even so, I wish, when the priest and acolytes sit at the side during long pieces from the choir, that the priest would maintain custody of the eyes. Why not enjoy the music, maybe even pray, rather than stare around at us? We have a priest now who DOES maintain custody of the eyes. It’s wonderful. I can relax.

  27. Diagnosed Aspies are probably already familiar with the movie “Adam” (http://amzn.to/KG1gT0) but for me it suggested the diagnosis that had escaped myself and everyone else for decades. It was a kind of “Rosetta Stone” for me that allowed me to read the script of my life and finally understand it. The diagnosis was professionally confirmed once I was able to suggest it as a possibility.

    I now understand the sensory overload and consequent anxiety and panic that I so often associated with going to Mass. For decades I had a defined pattern when entering church for Mass: 1) find a seat with the most number of empty seats around it; 2) sit on the aisle with my wife on the other side; 3) be aware of all potential escape routes. Then, since I value order and predictability, “endure” a typical Novus Ordo Mass. The “open confessional” was an absolute nightmare for me (what insane person thought that “open confessionals” would make people more comfortable with confession?!?!?!)

    I did this for decades. Now, in my 60’s, I have been blessed with a parish served by the FSSP, and I haven’t once been anxious during Mass or left Mass angry. (There are OTHER and FAR MORE SUBSTANTIAL reasons for appreciating the TLM, but form and structure and predictability alone would have been enough for me!). I have not been to a Novus Ordo setting of any kind for over two years now. So, yes, the TLM is a VERY REAL option for Aspies. It’s not perfect for everyone e.g. if you have problems with large crowds of people, but at least you don’t have to worry about being “touched.”

    Since I didn’t have an understanding of my condition until shortly after joining my FSSP parish, it was not all that surprising to receive a diagnosis that just made all the pieces fall into place for me. I missed Mass frequently for reasons I judged “weak” at the time but now, in hindsight, know to be directly related to how I’m “wired.” I’ve never missed Mass since “rediscovering” the Mass of my youth.

    Fascinating how wise the Church can appear when you consider that the EF had more than a few centuries to work out all the “kinks.” The Novus Ordo is absolutely frightening to a small but significant demographic, e.g., Aspies, agoraphobics, people with various social anxiety disorders, etc. I doubt there were any introverts on the “design” and “manufacture” team for the Novus Ordo. I don’t like thinking of myself as being “somewhere within the autism spectrum” because I have functioned pretty well throughout my life. Except when I didn’t. And now I understand why.

  28. pinoytraddie says:

    I Also go to an NO by the way and Some of Triggers I Have are Managed 90% of the Time. If I Should Get Irritated with The Priest’s ad-libbing and Strong Homilies that Provoke Hostile and Loud Reaction from Modernists,I Pray more Fervently and Silently.

  29. James Joseph says:

    The Revised Translation is great (for those who have heard it), but things continue to get worse ever since it’s introduction. I thought I’d seen it all. But now I actually hate going to Mass. I don’t like it one bit. I love the prayers. I love the books. I love the people. I love all of it because it is a gift from God. What I cannot stand is the filth and pandering, and totally lack of self-respect. After all these years I am finally worn to the nub. I drag myself there because I do not want to be dis-obedient like the clergymen saying the Mass. It is seriously the least edifying thing I can think of.

    If it weren’t for the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, I’d never go. But, even worshipping in liturgical hell is worth it for Jesus and Mary. It all goes to show that holy Mother Church is inviolable and if the fellas running around probably hate God that doesn’t mean He isn’t there during the holy Sacrifice.

  30. St. Rafael says:

    I suffer from shyness and anxiety myself. Though it is not as bad as some of those above. The only times I feel anxious sometimes, is when I go up to receive Communion. Nerves get to me when it’s time to receive on the tongue.

    For all those Catholics who suffer from Social Anxiety and any type of Aspergers, I strongly and highly recommend Eucharistic Adoration. Eucharistic Adoration with the Blessed Sacrament exposed, is higly effacacious for those who suffer from shyness and anxiety. Weekly Eucharistic Adoration of at least an hour spent with Our Lord will do wonders to calm and heal the body and the soul. It lessens the symptoms and triggers for anxiety.

  31. St. Epaphras says:

    Thanks to everyone who has posted on this subject. Can someone please recommend a good site on Aspergers that gives a lot of information on symptoms through all age groups? I can so relate to a LOT of what you all have written here. Thank you especially to the late-diagnosis people who spoke up. Hey, do these types of issues tend to run in families?

  32. Philangelus says:

    St. Epaphras, check out http://aane.org/about_asperger_syndrome/what_is_asperger_syndrome.html

    On the sidebar on the left, there’s a section for “diagnosis in adults” and another for diagnosis in children.

    It can run in families. I don’t think AS and ASD are “diseases” as much as certain clusters of character traits that happen to be in fairly extreme form. You’ll also see people who are high systematizers and “geeky” types in the family tree with all autism spectrum disorders. (Self-proclaimed geek here, married to a geek.)

  33. Margaret says:

    My eighteen-year-old Aspie apparently marches to a different drum from most on the thread. He has very low tolerance for using Latin in the Mass (“Don’t they know this is America?!??”) and is wildly attached to Haugen’s “Mass of Creation.” (I do apologize for that– I’m a classically trained musician, and I’ve tried my best, but there you go…) He was in tears outside of Mass a few weeks ago, trying to explain to a very tolerant family friend that the choir really, really should have been singing “Mass of Creation.” He is one of the reasons I would never bring my whole family to an EF Mass. But God love him, he never misses Mass, and gets himself to confession regularly, so I will not complain.

  34. OrthodoxChick says:

    I have 4 children – 2 boys and 2 girls. My two boys were both classically autistic when they were diagnosed at age 2. Through much prayer and being led by God (through prayer) to some dietary interventions and therapies, my boys have made amazing gains toward recovery – Praise God! My oldest though, does have a mild form of Asperger’s these days. My younger son would now be classified as high-functioning autistic, but both of these now fall under the broad umbrella of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders). What has worked for us is for both boys to become altar boys (make that “servers” here in liberal-land). My oldest has the anxiety issues but he can and does sit in the pews at Mass when he is not serving. Altar service has made it easier for him to cope with being among the general congregation when he’s not serving. My younger one thinks he’s next in line for the papacy and doesn’t understand why he can’t skip altar serving and go straight into the seminary. He’s 11. It took him much longer to learn the right way to serve and at first, it wasn’t very easy for me to act Christ-like at church. Those first few months, every Mass he served resulted in people shaking their heads in disgust because it was taking him so long to get the hang of it. That didn’t bother him a bit. He was just so excited to be up on the altar serving. I’m the one who had to beat back the impulse to give people an earful. Instead, I took a deep breath and started on a long campaign to educate some of my fellow parishoners as to what autism is and why my son was taking a little longer to figure it all out. You’d be surprised at how many people, especially the older parishoners, do not understand the implications of autism, even if they are familiar with the term. Once the shaking heads heard my explanation, they at least stopped nodding their disagreement.

    Wait. What was the moral of my story? Oh, yeah…both of my boys, but especially my oldest with Asperger’s, are much more relaxed when they are up on the altar. No one mugs them during the sign of peace, and when they feel like too many eyes are on them, they just look at what they’re doing or (during the readings) look down at their feet or close their eyes. They also don’t have to stand in line for Communion. That can make some folks with anxiety issues, and sensory issues as well, feel like the walls are closing in on them.

    Of course, this requires a patient and understanding pastor as well. We have been blessed in that regard.

  35. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Margaret — “Mass of Creation” has been part of the routine for at least twenty years, so it’s not surprising that your son absorbed it into his routine.

  36. St. Epaphras says:

    Thank you, Philangelus, for the link to that site. The part about the highly eccentric and socially awkward but brainiac relatives sure rang a bell. I am thinking of two right now, so I guess my brother got it honest (he is on the spectrum).

    Anyhow, we are who we are, weird or not. God knows all about it and still loves us individually.

  37. goodone121 says:

    I have Asperger’s, too, but only slight social phobia (I get embarrassed when, say, I meet one of my teachers at a store), and I can pretty much only use OF, as I have a problem understanding foreign languages, even with formal training. As for my disability, I have different symptoms, mainly an inability to speak or write more than a few sentences on a topic without outside help. I have tried to explain this to my mother, who was a program director for Methodist University until a month ago, repeatedly, but I can’t seem to formulate it correctly to get her to understand me.

    BTW, I also have an increased intellect, so it’s not all bad.;)

  38. goodone121 says:

    (Methodist University, to be clear, is of Fayetteville, NC, so I am not forgetting “Southern” in the title.)

  39. marthawrites says:

    This is one of the most illuminating, instructive, inspirational posts I have ever read on your blog, Fr. Z. The responses shed light on why people in the pews respond (or not) as they do and the revelations call us to compassion. Thanks so much.

  40. notenoughflair says:

    I’m a Daily Masser and while I don’t have Asperger’s, I do have flare ups of anxiety that are seriously bad. Daily Mass is normally not stressful, because it’s quiet and I can always sit in “my” seat – the one closest to the door in the back, in front of a holy water font so no one can sit directly behind me.

    But Sunday or busy masses is different – I have to sit as close as possible so as to have as few distractions as possible. Little noises, like pages ruffling or someone whisper-praying around me or the slurping of a nursing baby (yes, they breastfeed DURING Mass at my parish) will trigger my anxiety something fierce. There’s only so much “offering it up” I can do before I just want to run out of there and cry. And I’ve done that a few times.

    I’ve talked to my priest about it, and he said as long as I made the best effort I could make, that I fulfulled my obligation. I’ve had Sundays where I couldn’t make it past the Gloria. I’ve had Sundays where I’ve bolted out of two Masses and made it through the third. And I had a Sunday where I sat outside, and couldn’t even make it to the chapel doors. Father understands, and asks only that I do the best that I am able, with the intention of pleasing God as best that I can in my littleness and nothingness. God has given me this weakness for my own sanctification, and the lesson in humility that it provides is very much needed.

  41. Kathleen10 says:

    Ah yes, social anxiety, I know it too well. My siblings and family chalk it up to I don’t know what, but they are social butterflies, who thrive on meeting people and making small talk, and I am more of a social caterpillar. I can make small talk, enjoy it, but it’s making friends that is impossible for me. I don’t have any! My mother was always my best friend, but she’s gone now, God rest her beautiful soul.
    My work demands much social interaction, and at the end of the day, I am spent, often going home to sleep for two hours, because it takes everything I’ve got. I haven’t worked in awhile, since my Mom passed. It’s heaven not to work. I could be home virtually every day, and be perfectly happy.
    Mass presents a challenge for me, as any social function does. I need to sit in a place that feels “right” to me. It varies week to week. I love a church that has little nooks and crannies in it’s seating arrangements! Side doors are excellent. There is something about a nearby door that soothes me. I usually choose the back of the room, any room. I want to know I can leave when I want to. I drive myself to functions, always. I want to know I can leave.
    Most everybody has quirks. They run the gamut, and if we knew the quirks of others, we’d be surprised. The funny thing about autism and Asperger’s is that some aspects are shared, but every single person with either ones of these has his or her own unique constellation of symptoms! No two are exactly alike, like snowflakes. Poor children who suffer these things don’t know how to make the world less stressful, be proactive in their own comfort, but this is a previous thing to teach them! It’s not about indulging oneself really, but as adults we do it all the time. Children with these sensitivities do better when they realize they can take action and help themselves with their own functioning. They need help even learning what sets them off, and what they can do about it. Being proactive about one’s quirks and developing strategies for handling them helps alot.
    God bless all the snowflakes of the world!

  42. Kathleen10 says:

    I mean “it is a PRECIOUS thing to teach children”.

    When will I have the self-discipline to edit what I write? Maybe never.

  43. Melody says:

    I have clinical depression and ADD and sometimes it has been difficult for me to get to mass as well. When it’s bad I get a serious case of sensory overload where the slightest sounds are painful and nerve-wracking. My Aspie friends say their experience is similar. Somehow, the chant at the local abbey brings me out of that. Sometimes when alone I pray and sing the Salve Regina to beg for calm. So I agree that the TLM would be worth a try for this woman. It’s a disorder than is much affected by individual personality, so I cannot say for certain.

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