The Friday Column: Jehovah’s Witnesses – a safe group for children with Autism?
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Jaden - a boy with autism being raised as a JW, as featured in the October JW Broadcasting episode

Jaden – a boy with autism being raised as a JW, as featured in the October JW Broadcasting episode

When I became a father I was so excited about raising a child. I eagerly awaited the arrival of my son and when he joined our family I immediately fell in love all over again. It was an amazing journey raising him through infancy and early childhood.

When he was a toddler I noticed there was something extremely different about him, but I could not put my finger on it. It was his preschool teacher that helped me understand what was happening. She’d observed what appeared to her as “sensory processing” problems.

The environment of a structured preschool socially overwhelmed him. He would not interact with the other children and he was always found doing his own thing away from others. He was kind of trapped inside his own little world.

Social situations overstimulated him to the point where he’d have to sooth himself with various hand motions in front of his face. Slowly, over time, he joined the group and preschool became a therapy for him in all kinds of ways that he was developmentally behind with.

My wife and I decided to have him checked and what we got back was the diagnoses of “high functioning Autism.” Autism can be an extremely frightening word for a parent, and the term hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew something was wrong, so part of me was relieved that we now had a direction to go in and didn’t have to guess anymore.

I’m very glad that my family were not Jehovah’s Witnesses through that part of my life. I cannot imagine trying to get to meetings, stay at meetings and go out in regular field service while having a child with special needs. I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to take him to stadiums full of 10,000 people where they all clap simultaneously to someone speaking on a loud PA.

That, I can safely say, would be absolute hell.

Apparently, that’s exactly what families are doing according to the October 2015 JW Broadcasting episode (53:45). It features a testimony given by a young boy who happens to have the same diagnosis as my son.

Not the whole picture

The video is well produced and directed, and has a very effective soundtrack. The boy tells the story about how being a Jehovah’s Witnesses is “easy,” but didn’t use to be. At first being Autistic was extremely difficult, both for him and his parents, but over time things got better and he ended up loving his life as a Jehovah’s Witness.

I must admit the boy seems genuinely content with his life, but the producers of the film are not telling you the whole story. The boy recalls that, at first, the congregation didn’t understand his issues, but then he goes on to say:

“The friends in the congregation have helped me by doing whatever they need to do to help me stay on the road to life.”

When you read the above statement just as words on a screen, away from the rich production, they come across totally differently. In the video there are light chimes and a spirited piano melody playing in the background. Strip away all that, and it’s easier to see the true state of affairs.

His congregation believes in a scenario where their deity would brutally execute an Autistic boy for not being a Jehovah’s’ Witness. That’s why they are helping him, because they see him as being in grave danger.

This amounts to phobia indoctrination, and is tantamount to coercion by way of emotional control. In other words, they are using the fear of an imminent and painful death to retain his membership in their religion.

The very next scene shows the boy and his mother at a desk with one of the JW.org comic strips laid out next to a self-typed report. This really shows that the comics are not mere leisure activities, but are actually study tools for the young Witness children.

These comics sometimes cover stories in the Bible with extremely graphic content, such as their comic on the story of Lot’s wife and her divine execution. The pictures they use to depict her death are extremely graphic and intense.

Instead of being simple fables, these stories are considered to be historical accounts that are taken extremely seriously. No doubt the Autistic boy in the film has studied these images, and is deeply affected by them.

Using fear in this manner is no way to raise any child, let alone one with special needs.

Only a matter of time

Even though the video really does have this depressing feel to it, there is a silver lining to the story. No matter how hard the Watchtower tries to control the information their membership takes in, they can’t control it all. Because of the time that this Autistic boy lives in, he will no doubt one day encounter the other side of the story. He will find his way to the ex-JW’s.

High functioning Autistic people are often highly logical and have a knack for critical thinking. There is one thing that the organization is lacking severely: logic. Their doctrines don’t make sense, and as this child grows up he will undoubtedly see this.

There are so many plot holes in the story that the Watchtower tells about itself. There are so many questions they leave unanswered or half-answered. Once this boy encounters the truth about the “Truth,” it will all likely start to click for him, and he will leave. Unfortunately, as ex-JW’s know, this experience doesn’t come without a price, and is never easy.

Better options

If you are a parent with an Autistic child, and you are a Jehovah’s Witness or considering joining, I urge you to proceed with extreme caution. Watchtower is an organization with a history of exploiting children for their own gain. And judging by this new video, they are not above targeting children with special needs and their families.

In my experience there is a lot of support available for families who are caring for children with special needs. There are a lot of people out there who want to help, and don’t employ undue influence, like group shunning or phobia indoctrination.

One of the most important things you can do is create a strong support system of people who will be with you through the good times and the bad. The worst thing you could do is surround yourself with people who love conditionally, impair critical thinking and are constantly obsessing over the end of the world.

 

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130 Responses to The Friday Column: Jehovah’s Witnesses – a safe group for children with Autism?

  1. Alexandria R says:

    These comments are an eye opener. We have so much in common.

  2. Pat says:

    Loved this article. I had a child who had learning difficulties which made reading a real chore for him. He was excluded from many things because of this as he was late joining the ministry school and therefore considered spiritually weak and not one to associate with. Fortunately, by age 16 he refused to attend meetings. Anyone ‘different’ is always given a hard time, no question about it, especially when they don’t have a physical disability and appear ‘normal’ to the congregation.

  3. ruthlee says:

    Oh dear friends. Now the tears are really flowing.Thank you all for the love and practical support you give and the sincere love you share ,words are not really enough. We are all in the same boat . Isn’t amazing how many of us have these dear children and have been beaten for it by the judges called jws. On good days i can knock the house down and have energy to take on the world but on the bleak days its a bit tougher i’m sure you understand. It seems to me we are awaiting relief from the prison tower, may it fall soon. I heard a quote today i thought interesting.”you had my blood now i’m after your money” I think i’m all about exposing the hypocrisy and callous attitude genuine jdubs have as opposed to ordinary folks have, and the ones that got away. Yes i do have to toughen up it’s true. Ive tried to be fairminded and give the borg credit where credit is due and taken the tack that we were protected to a certain degree from the outside world and the extreme end of wordly influence.Of course that reasoning is complete eyewash because the reward for that protection is shunning our children, contradictory rulings and actually no spiritual content to our lives. My kids are the smart end of ASD which does mean thay have worked out the poo spew form what is true but they are still young and need friends and to make some mistakes all not allowed of course! They are both of unbaptised publisher age and i can get down on my knees and thank God im dithering on this sooooo much. Have been pressured to comply but not lifting a finger on that score so its up to my husband who is too busy with the lame ducks in his care. So in a tiny way i’m keeping them from making progress so they won’t ever be dfd. Is that not crazy preemptive reasoning? Only a cult could produce such false thinking. I remember when i was quite ill and my first was young and i said to husband if i die you need someone to take over the role of mum to my kid ,he said that the cong would help and i said even then you must be joking no one not no one would lift a finger i saw it even then but didnt have my eyes open. I guarentee all of you GB types reading this your little party followers would rather spend 10hours knocking empty doors exercising their tongues in gossip than help a poor sister in dire straits with a special needs kid. May YOUR god punish you for the punishment you put us through. We have this growing community that have been through fire and are not afraid to let others know the maltreatment that is standard to those who don’t fit the WASP profile. Nasty wasps all flying round the sickly honey.ruthless/ruthlee.

    • Just the facts says:

      Here is a short video that exemplifies the wall we all eventually hit when comparing the Watchtower teachings with the Bible. I can imagine these poor children who cannot ignore logic, what they must go through.

      • Caroline says:

        @Just the Facts, what a powerful film and yes that is what it is like for children trying to reason with their parents and the Watchtower “truths” with anyone who is completely indoctrinated.

        That is why the Watchtower spends so much time and money on those cartoons for the kids like the cartoon where Jehovah God is going to kill them like all those people at the flood if they fall asleep at the meetings.

        Threatening them with death is no different than the child who was shot to death in this video for refusing to believe two plus two equals five. That is what happens to us as adults in the Watchtower too when we get disfellowshipped for standing up to the Watchtower lies too. It is emotional suicide and that could be compared to all those other children shooting that kid that dared to stand up to lies when all our friends turn against us when the Society forces them to shun us.

        It is nothing but evil, the way religion is used to make people do things that would otherwise be crazy.

        This analogy was a school setting but the same thing happens in churches because they are led to believe that they owe their lives to their Gods and so whatever God wants them to do, they will do it, just as the teacher in the illustration forced compliance from the children in his classroom.

        The JW religion is no different than all those other crazy religions that think God is supporting their terrorist attacks on innocent people. The Watchtower and all religions want to indoctrinate kids early before they can reason on things.

        Yesterday I was listening to the radio and the man who had the talk show was going on and on about the attacks in Paris and how those “crazy” people do what they think their God is asking of them by killing all those people etc. and then he went on to say something to the effect: “Not like the “real” God, our God” and he was serious.

        • Just the facts says:

          Forced conversions and Orwellian cult control were definitely not something the God I believe in thought me. My God doesn’t say obey me blindly instead he wants me to get to know him and form a personal friendship with him without a human middle man. The Christ came to get rid of those and sad I couldn’t see it sooner.

  4. Wip it says:

    [off-topic comment removed, see posting guidelines before posting again]

  5. Robert67 says:

    @observer If God does exist, and I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that he does; he has nothing to do with the Watchtower Cult Society.

    The evidence against this organization is so abundant and condemning, that it even seems God himself is making sure the truth about the Watchtower “truth” reaches those seeking him. There is nowhere to hide their anti Christ behavior anymore.

  6. phoenix_rising says:

    So a lifelong friend of mine just got df’d – and from what I can tell its for drinking. And after talking with him it became apparent to me that he is depressed and miserable for not living up to his families expectations. His crime? He never regular or aux pioneered. He worked fulltime and provided a great life for he and his wife. But apparently years of not feeling worthy and never being used turned into bad habits. I having been df’d for just two years and having fully awoken was able to ask him some tough questions. When he admitted he had been depressed and the elders advice to him was “Pray more – read more magazines – and go out in service.” I was of course expecting that. So I kindly but strategically asked him “When your tooth hurts who do you reach out to?” he responded “The dentist.” I asked him if you need new glasses who would you go to? He replied an optometrist. I asked “So if your mental health needs a tune up who do you go to?” and he responded “The elders.” and I said “Really? So everything else that requires a specialist you go and see someone trained in that field. But your brain – the CPU and regulator of your emotions is qualified to be handled by a window washer and a sales associate from Best Buy?”
    He got a good laugh about it as did I. I scheduled an appointment with a family therapist the same day who helped me during my shock and loss. Why is it so damn hard for an intelligent adult elder to say “Here is spiritually something to focus on. But you should also seek professional help. Use caution – and make sure their help aligns with your beliefs. But explore your options and keep us posted on how that goes. Here are times in the future we will be checking in with you. Please don’t hesitate to let us know what more we can do for you in the meantime.”
    ^ why if one out of two elders applied that logical thinking you’d see a lot less faders and drifters.

  7. rob says:

    @phoenix_rising

    your reasoning and logic on seeing a mental health professional is very good and your comments are very insightful.

    I know from experience that many elders in the witness religion use the standard line and direct individuals who are depressed to the witness literature as a “cure all”. They usually do not provide any further guidance or follow up and the individuals are usually left on their own to deal with depression and other issues.

    I also have heard comments that a therapist does not understand the “truth” and will try to instill worldly thinking in the individual.

    We are all aware of the fact that the witness religion is very controlling of its members and will at all costs keep them from any independent thinking – they do not appear to care about the person and their health – they only care about keeping the person in the religion.

    I have seen witnesses who have been depressed for years and have never been properly diagnosed or treated, all because a cult like religion tells them that as long as they read the literature they will be ok.

    Guidance and reasoning, such as indicated in the comments made by phoenix rising will help people to realize that it is important to see specialists who can help them.

    • phoenix_rising says:

      Thank you you are far too kind. When I was df’d I felt I was in the truth and the overwhelming sense of dread forced me to turn to metal health professionals as I was dealing with PTSD. The panic attacks, anxiety, depression etc. And in my experience the family therapist never once tried to destroy my faith or make me question anything other than the actions of others and how they made me feel. I will never forget this ‘ah ha!” moment when she described my being df’d as this: “So basically its like your entire family and friend and social circle were on a plane at the same time and it crashed – and overnight you lost everyone you ever knew and cared about. But worse for you they aren’t dead – but you are made to feel like they are. You’re body is in shock because its trying to grieve for people who are still alive.”
      Wow! That is disfellowshipping as viewed from a neutral trained professional. Fortunately for me the therapy helped and being young I have bounced back and am working on my family.

  8. Alexandria R says:

    My psychologist never tells me what to think. I believe real professionals listen and don’t want to tell people what to do out of fear of being sued. I was treated for clinical depression after my right lung was removed. I had precancerous tutors. JWs are very biased.

  9. GEM says:

    @Robert67: your remarks could be addressed to all religion. . The last BAC I met on line was quite happy to slate other groups but not so happy when I questioned the bullying of Iraqi kids by American Evangelical soldiers, into accepting Jesus. These people having just murders their innocent parents with sophisticated weapons. Then to hold them in fear by instilling the fear of hellfire and eternal torture. No wonder some of these kids are irreparably damaged by these religious hypocrites . . Perhaps that is why many of us feel we answer to a Creator but not to a Religious sub set . . I no longer subscribe to WT . .but I can comfort those kids by assuring them that no JW would have pressed that button that destroyed their lives and ripped their families apart. It is great to see issues raised on this forum. Thank you James for raising the issue of Autism and how it is handled by JWs.

  10. rob says:

    It is good to see that many individuals have, notwithstanding the poor advice given by elders, gone to see therapists who have helped them.

    Despite what the witnesses say about “worldly people”, therapists are educated and trained to be objective and to provide the individual with avenues and mechanisms to deal with depression, PTSD and other mental health issues. They are not there to change a person’s thinking on religious issues or to discredit any religion.

    When I was a witness I was repeatedly told that any “worldly person” (a term which I absolutely abhor), would influence me in a negative way and that my associations were to be limited to witnesses only and that good “therapy” came in the form of meetings and witness literature and association with witness people only.

    Provided that I attended all meetings and did all of my personal study and did more and more and more for the witness religion, I would be happy. But I was not happy and even though my family were all witnesses and my friends were witnesses, I never felt like I could speak freely or think freely and the rules were getting more and more burdensome and the kingdom hall just seemed so empty and lifeless and it became a chore to associate before and after the meeting as it felt like a corporate marketing event. Most of all I could not stand the fact that like a corporation, the hierarchy was so pronounced within each congregation and so many that struggled with meetings or service were like outcasts and even ridiculed during the gossip session that was wednesday morning service.

    I guess the “witness therapy” did not work for me.

  11. Alexandria R says:

    Going door to door never brought me happiness. I’ll never do it again. Those days are over. The pioneers I’ve known were guilty of showing off and snobbery. There was a lot of look at me, look at me I’m a good example while they cheated on their hours. It was sad watching witnesses stress out over their hours. That is a life style that doesn’t bring happiness. I hated pioneering and the witnesses around me hated it too. They looked worried and wouldn’t smile most of the time. I have a co worker who is catholic. He uses his vacation time from work to go with his teenage son and daughter to orphanages in Hati. Mentally retarded children and physically handicapped children live with the orphans. My co worker brings photos of his trips to the orphanage to work to show us. The photos are interesting. The Hati military escort him to the orphanage. JWs never think of doing things like that because the Jw religion is superficial.

  12. AutiesAreOk says:

    Ok, so I’m a ‘high functioning’ (I find the term somewhat insulting) autistic person that was raised as a JW. I don’t know what you’re going through as a parent. (I have no kids of my own, but from what I hear parenting is hard) But I do have a few insights on what that experience is like growing up.

    ‘She’d observed what appeared to her as “sensory processing” problems.’

    Nobody knows what it’s like to live in someone else’s body. The idea that other people experience the world in a way that’s very different from you is difficult for adults to grasp, let alone children. Autistic people can experience the world in more detail than non-autistic people do. On the plus side you notice things most people don’t. On the downside you get overwhelmed more easily than your peers. Think of it like internet speed. You can download lots of small files, or a few large files, but not lots of large files. We can’t change how we process information, but we can throttle our sensory intake by controlling our exposure to external stimuli. (at least we can as adults, as children we have parents and teachers to contend with :p ) Autistic kids know this intuitively, but may have a hard time expressing it out loud. ( I couldn’t until my late 20’s )

    ‘I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to take him to stadiums full of 10,000 people where they all clap simultaneously to someone speaking on a loud PA.
    That, I can safely say, would be absolute hell.’

    Yep. Hot humid weather and itchy ‘meeting clothes’ don’t help either.

    ‘High functioning Autistic people are often highly logical and have a knack for critical thinking. There is one thing that the organization is lacking severely: logic. Their doctrines don’t make sense, and as this child grows up he will undoubtedly see this.’

    Ok, so one of the fun things about Autism is social blindness. As an autistic kid I came to accept that other people could jump through the invisible hoops that I couldn’t, both with social cues and with the jw stuff. ( I tended to lump them together ) So yes, the things the organization says and does don’t make any logical sense, but as an autistic child none of the things people do or say make any logical sense. If you’re already primed to accept this reliance on logic as a ‘disability’, it makes you easier to manipulate than someone that more intuitively understands social norms.

    ‘One of the most important things you can do is create a strong support system of people who will be with you through the good times and the bad.’

    Having an atypical neurotype can be challenging. In the JW world, being an atypical anything is automatically ‘bad’. If you have a kid on the autism spectrum, the best thing you can do is to help them to be a better autistic person. You can only improve yourself after you’ve first accepted who you are.

    • ruthlee says:

      Bravo! Autisareok. I just love your comments thankyou so much. You summed things up in a nutshell. Raisng two kids in hell is no paradise (see earlier comments). but to have an adult perspective is what some of us need. After that broadcast i have all the bloody “experts” telling me what to do with my kids. One goon actually said that of course they don’t have any feelings. Is murder allowed on grounds of exasperation. So i calmly said actually you have got that so wrong in fact the asd people have so many more fine tuned emotions in puts you neurotypicals on about neanderthal level smiling sweetly as i watched his brain fizz. Just a small victory. Have you noticed all the hypochondriac jdubs are such experts in things they know nothing about. Autism will be the latest fashion. wev’e suffered bipolar. fibromyalgia aka multiple excuses for not going in fs. Umm let me make a pseudo list of all the illnessess in my kh. i hope they put them on the report slip as doctors note why we never see them! candida (so ill the fungus got in the brain) i kid you not a reason for not doing anything. yuppie flu aka worked hard once.ADHD yes i know this is genuine but some just love a label.Here in brit you can get help and many do a lot have such terrible problems they do get gov assistance. They get to an age where they are all so ill and feeble and make one excuse after another. Iv’e seen a sis milk her particular medical condition till the cow needed reviving no milk left! So folks you know autism is real and our dear ones suffer and are ignored bullied made to feel guilty and generally misunderstood. To me the life’s irony is that asd people would never make up pseudo illnessess because it is not logical so they actually suffer more because they don’t fudge the issue and play at being jws. What a dilemma never being actually free. One thing i will say is that i encourage my children to read whatever they want to find out what interest them. So back to Autiesareok, cool name blessings to you and keep posting with thanks ruthlee.

      • Tara says:

        To all those who suffer with or have children or family members with Autism etc I take my hat off to you. I have never had this in my family so find it hard to understand. I have read your comments on here and apart from the fact the WT is way off with giving help and understanding it must be a day to day struggle…. that sounds very ignorant of me and yes it is because again, I have no idea what you are going through. A sister in out hall has a daughter who I am told is Autistic’. She, on observing her, after reading this article, goes into a world of her own and seems quite content until something disturbs her or distracts her attention, then she is obviously distressed. Sometimes she will speak but mostly she has her head down and has her own agenda yet I have known her come out with remarks regarding her environment that are quite profound. They lost a pet this year and when everyone was out looking for it – myself included, she just sat back and watched then said ‘You know we all die at some point so why stress. If she comes back then great, if not it is just part of life’. Not bad for an 8 year old.

        So thank you for the article but also for the experiences that have made me look in a new light at those who deal with this.

        • dee says:

          ‘You know we all die at some point so why stress………it is just part of life’.

          Not bad for an 8 year old indeed. Hopefully one day she will make the connection and come to see that the WT’s promise of never dying, living forever on a paradise earth is not possible, it’s just hogwash since mortality is the natural order of things.

  13. Art Fern says:

    I have heard so many Witnesses make reference to group pressure to use corporal punishment in order to “train” the little ones to stop being restless and to pay attention to the dry and repetitive messages in meetings. Is it possible that children who do have unrecognized symptoms of autism might have the bloody hell beaten out of them for not doing whatever it is that all parents are to teach their little kids to do? The author of the piece makes no mention of this but logically I would have a hard time eliminating the possibility that a child who went off into his or her own world might be recognized as being rebellious and refusing to listen. I hope I am wrong. The stories I have heard haunt me as it is.

  14. Kaytee says:

    My husband and I are just starting to wake up to the abuse our family has endured for the sake of so-called “truth.”

    Two of our beautiful children struggle with differing degrees of autism. I cannot stress enough that their needs have been totally ignored by our (former) congregation! TOTALLY! They’ve been ignored, excluded, and shunned for no other reason than the fact that they’re different. Worse still are the CONSTANT comments about how “they look perfectly normal to me.” So, on top of being ignored by the “brothers” they are invalidated and their difficulties minimized to the point of nonexistance.

    It was heartbreaking to watch them for years, sure that I was condemning them to destruction because I couldn’t bring myself to force them to go to the hall several times a week. They hate the hall—it’s loud and bright—they hate field service (an activity that seems tailor-made to torture a neurodiverse person). Now, I’m realizing my mothering instincts were rebelling against putting them through extreme stress 3-4 times a week, with the end goal of indoctrinating them into a life of servitude. I’m so thankful now that my husband and I have been abject failures at “spiritual” parenting!

    Please forgive my ranting! I’ve been up all night reading this forbidden “apostate” website. I’m in my mid-thirties, was baptized at 15, and two days ago was the very first time I even considered reading anything like this. I’ve struggled with PTSD for years, sure that I was displeasing to Jehovah because my prayers didn’t make the symptoms better. Although I feel like my head is spinning and I don’t know what comes next, I’m at peace. Finally! I don’t feel like the worst mother their ever was. That is such a powerful feeling!

    Most wonderfully, I have discovered that my husband has been having all the same doubts, so I won’t have to do this scary journey alone (he’s apparently been reading “apostate” sites for months, afraid to say anything that might “stumble” me). Thank you!

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