Members Only: Life on the Autism Spectrum


Members Only: Life on the Autism Spectrum

I am visiting Ron at the hospital when my cell phone rings. “I’m quitting Planet Fitness,” Allen says. His voice through my phone sounds upset. “Things are just not right at that place.”

“What’s wrong?” I ask. Allen has been a member of Planet Fitness for exactly three days. They were supposedly a “No judgement” zone, a fact I emphasized when I signed Allen up.  What had happened to disturb the work-out of my autistic son?

“I’m locked out of the machines,” he says. “I guess they don’t want me in their club.”

“Okay,” I tell Allen. “I’ll be home soon and we’ll talk about it then.” My mother’s heart hurts for my son, whose learning differences and challenges locked him out of many groups during his school years. Allen is, in a word, “quirky”, but he is also sweet and moral and kind. It takes some work to get through the quirkiness and the lack of social cues that characterizes young adults like Allen who are on the autism spectrum, but I was hopeful that the physical activity and interaction with others at the gym would be good for Allen, whose own social outlets are limited.

I turn towards home when I leave the hospital, but change my mind part-way and head to Planet Fitness. A mother protects her children, no matter how old they are. If the gym has in anyway made my son feel that he is not welcome in their club, they will have me to deal with.

I think Jesus Himself knew a thing or two about being ousted from the popular lunch table. We need only to look at those He chose as his close companions—several common fishermen, a Zealot, a tax collector, and a thief—to know that Jesus was not hanging out with the Beautiful People. As He left Earth for Heaven, He desired for there to be unity among the believers.

Unity is never an easy feat. While Romans 12:4-5 acknowledges that the members of the Church have many functions yet belong to one unit, the concept can be difficult to grasp. The Book of Acts is full of challenges that faced the early church: changes in leadership (Acts 1:19), immorality (Acts 5:1-10), complaints (Act 6:1), false teaching (Acts 15:1), and diversity (I Thessalonians 19:11). Jesus’ command to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace” (Ephesians 4:3) was a tough act!

We’d like to think we’ve all evolved past the point of looking down on someone because of their job or the color of their skin, or where they live or how they comb their hair. Or in the case of my son, how adept he is at social cues. Despite our differences, I Corinthians 12:18 clearly tells us that each member has a specific value. All are important to God.

I am mumbling under my breath the part in Ephesians 4:16 about building each other up in love when I arrive at the parking lot of Planet Fitness. I compose myself, say a quick prayer, and calmly walk into the gym and ask to speak with the manager. She is kind in every way, mentions she saw Allen in earlier in the day and wondered why he had left so quickly without saying anything if there had been a problem.

“He wouldn’t have complained,” I tell her. “He would have just walked quietly away.” With the help of another employee, we figure out that Allen had been working on a machine that was glitching. The trainer offers to help Allen with the machines if he would come back. I promise to try and convince him to give it another try. I am glad, I tell the manager, that they are what they advertise: Judgement Free.

As I drive home, though, I remember my years as a middle school teacher, where cliques ran wild and those who, like Allen, were a bit different often found themselves hanging out with the teachers at recess. To be examples of Christ and to uphold the unity of the Church and our own common humanity, we should always strive to live in the Judgement Free Zone.

Let's all just sit at the same lunch table.

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