I grew up in a Christian home on a dead end street. Around the corner was what we used to call a “home”—a group home for the mentally disabled sited in a typical residential house. Its residents didn’t seem to get out much, leaving only a thin residue of childhood memories. They shuffled by the end of our street in single file in the company of a single caregiver. These incongruous moments lodged in a child’s mind as spectral and discomforting reminders that the world is full of strange and unmentionable things. It was only in such public spaces that I ever rubbed shoulders with the mentally disabled, for this was the end of a long age in the developed West of hiding them away (Schweik, 2009). Such people were to be kept in “homes” and special schools and largely away from churches. (The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics, Chapter 11)
This article takes a Christian theological approach to autism to re-narrate the relationship of carers for individuals with autism. The discussion displays concrete ways that our care for those with autism is reshaped by being set within ontologies that privilege engaged self-investment, within a cultural context that rarely transcends its desire to study phenomenon through highly self-aware and disengaged description. Also presented is a phenomenological exploration of the challenges for carers by the experience of caring for those with autism, and the article concludes by entering a theological debate about how best to conceive our relationship to them.
This paper speaks biographically in order to introduce a real time snapshot of the forces genetic technologies bring to bear on the disabled and their families. We do so as an academic theologian and a neo-natal nurse experiencing the joys and frustrations of first-time parenthood. Our son, Adam, now two years old, has Down’s syndrome, and it is the events of his first six months on which our account draws. This paper will outline the
pressures we experienced as parents of a ‘genetically handicapped’ child, and then, in conclusion, offer a few theological reflections.