I didn’t have insomnia last night, but I woke late again and felt burnt out and even sugary Pesach (Passover) cereal and coffee didn’t help. Lately I wonder how much of my depression was actually autistic burnout. Some of it was definitely clinical depression, no question, but all of it? I suppose there’s no real way of knowing from this distance.

I had a quiet day again today. I did about half an hour of Torah study, went for a walk and collected my repeat prescription and had therapy on Zoom. We (my parents and I) also went to my sister and brother-in-law’s garden for tea and biscuits after dark now the ban on seeing people outdoors has been lifted. It was pretty warm even before they turned their outdoor heater on. It was good to see them again. I found I was clock watching a bit though. I often do this when I’m with people or at social events. I think not knowing when something will end leads to some kind of anxiety. I suspect this is an autistic thing about wanting control rather than coming from social anxiety or disinterest in socialising because I don’t just do it when “peopling.” Even watching TV I have one eye on the clock to see how much time is left and if I’m streaming something online I will bring up the time left counter even though it’s a distraction from the image on screen.

***

Therapy was good. We spoke more about my autism diagnosis and fitting into the frum (religious Jewish) community, that maybe I can open up to some people about my autism and why it makes communal involvement difficult for me. Potentially I could speak to the rabbi about it, although, as Ashley suggested regarding “coming out” as autistic in the workplace, it probably would be helpful to come with some suggestions of what practical adjustments I would like (if any) rather than just dumping all my difficulties on him. I do have a lot of fear about autism stigma and ignorance in the community and I’m not sure how many of the adjustments I would like are “reasonable.” In British disability discrimination law, employers have to make “reasonable adjustments,” but not adjustments that are considered unreasonable. I would like people not to bang on the tables to accompany Kabbalat Shabbat (part of Friday night prayer services), for example, but given that it’s an accepted part of the service, particularly in the current COVID climate where loud singing is forbidden, I’m not sure it would be reasonable of me to try to change it.

I did talk about the frum community being generally conformist and not necessarily an ideal place for people who are quite individualistic even without autism or mental illness. I have encountered other individualistic frum Jews online, particularly on Hevria.com, but that site seems fairly dead these days as are many of the Orthodox blogs I used to follow; I think discussion has moved to Twitter and Facebook, where I don’t feel comfortable.

My therapist felt that speaking to the rabbi as a first step might also have the benefit that he will know other rabbis and can see if they have dealt with autistic congregants. My therapist felt that there must be other autistic people in the community. I’m sure this is true, but I suspect a disproportionate number of those diagnosed are young, given the trends in autism diagnosis generally. There may not be so many diagnosed autistic adults out there.

***

I had an awkward moment at my sister’s where I misunderstood something in the conversation and said the wrong thing, perhaps as a result of losing the thread of the conversation because of autism. My parents have two friends’ with the same name and I got confused about which one we were talking about and said something that would be completely innocuous regarding the one I thought they were talking about, but hugely tasteless about the other one. Naturally it was the other one they were really talking about. Fortunately, I don’t think anyone heard me.

I feel unheard a lot in social situations and wonder if I mumble. I was often told that I did as a child, although I never sounded quiet to myself. On this occasion it was probably for the best, although it is possible that everyone just politely pretended I hadn’t said anything because it was so tasteless.

9 thoughts on “Frum and Autistic

  1. I read Hevria from time to time, but it always struck me as somewhat of a clique. I can’t quite put my finger on why, exactly. But I never felt frum enough or creative/talented enough for Hevria. Not Frum enough would be reasonable; I’m not Orthodox. But the not creative/talented enough stung. Anyway, point being that some communities are not so welcoming, autism or not, or even if they claim to be

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        1. No worries about the misreading.

          Yes, I guess it does prove that. I find it is hard to connect with those kinds of people in real life though. The Jewish community in the UK is so small that if, say, 1% are a bit “different”, 1%of UK Jews is a lot less people than 1% of US Jews.

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          1. Fair enough. I admit I think like an American and that I do not have intimate knowledge of Jewish communities outside the USA. I mentally associate the UK with being the birthplace of Limmud, (https://limmud.org/) but that does not necessarily mean anything. Despite working for a company with an office in the UK, I’ve actually never been. (I’ve had two planned business trips to said office cancelled due to budget)

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            1. It is the birthplace of Limmud (which I’ve never summoned up the courage to go to, although I know lots of people who have, and some who have been involved in running it). It’s also the home of United Synagogue Orthodoxy. The US is, on paper, Modern Orthodox. In practice, its rabbis are increasingly Haredi, as the community doesn’t produce enough MO rabbis, while the congregants are mostly traditional (at best) and not shomer Shabbat. I don’t go to a US shul any more, although my parents do. Philosophically, it should be right for me, but I found it hard to connect with people in a shul where people mostly attend once a week or once a year and have no real commitment to ongoing Torah study or prayer. On the other hand, the Federation (where I currently belong) is Haredi. Moderate Haredi, but still I feel a bit stifled and out of place sometimes.

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              1. I think the lack of engaging, committed Modern Orthodox rabbis is an issue in USA as well. Husband grew up in a Modern Orthodox home, but in a community and school that went very much towards the right over time, as the rabbis/teachers really weren’t Modern.
                I’m not quite following why going to Limmud would require more courage than going anywhere else?

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                1. Limmud is a LOT of people, so difficult from social anxiety reasons, but also it’s residential (they usually take over a university campus for a week in the holidays) so adds in a lot of autistic “new experience/environment” fear, doubly so if I would be sharing a room with someone to save money (admittedly less likely now so many of my peers are married).

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