Dreamer's Refuge ב"ה

A Student of Sense and Nonsense

Autism, Asceticism, and the Holy Fool

Featured Image: Monastery of the Holy Trinity, Meteora

Saw an interesting article and it got me thinking.

Autism: More Than Meets the Eye – How ability can grow out of seeming disability (written by a cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman)

 […] there are multiple subtypes of autism. Nevertheless, there are some common threads. People who are diagnosed with ASD are typically characterized by their early language delays, atypical social behavior, obsessive narrow interests, and repetitive routines.

This got me thinking on what monks, and people in the priesthood do.

Language delays and nonverbal people with ASD lend themselves to things like the vow of silence.

Asocial social behavior lends itself to living in a monastery away from others.

Obsessive narrow interests lend themselves to things like philosophy, religion, theology and some of the other interesting things monks did, studying the heavens, the human body, making spirits, plant cross breeding, etc, etc…

Repetitive routines lend themselves to the regimented and repetitive monastery routines, meditations, prayers, etc.

 The Austrian physician Hans Asperger noticed among his patients with ASD many years ago that they had a “surprisingly accurate and mature observation about people.” More recent research confirms that people with ASD do not differ from typically developing individuals in the intensity of their emotional reactions in response to the emotions of others (for instance, as when seeing a picture of an upset woman in a hospital room). Research also suggests that people with ASD are just as able as typically developing individuals to recognize basic facial expressions and reason about social information.


multiple autobiographical accounts from people with high-functioning autism reveal feelings of loneliness and a strong desire to make meaningful friends. Many of these individuals work in occupations that require high levels of empathy and social connection, such as occupational therapy, nursing, general medical practice, and teaching and caregiving.

This again lends itself to the path of the priesthood as all early healers, caregivers and teachers were philosophers, priests, shamans, and mystics:

Across Europe, the quality of medical practitioners was poor, and people rarely saw a doctor, although they might visit a local wise woman, or witch, who would provide herbs or incantations. Midwives, too, helped with childbirth.


Some monks, such as the Benedictines, cared for the sick and devoted their lives to that. Others felt that medicine was not in keeping with faith.

During the Crusades, many people traveled to the Middle East and learnt about scientific medicine from Arabic texts. These explained discoveries that Islamic doctors and scholars had made, based on Greek and Roman theories. ( EDIT: Pythagoras, Parmenides, Empedocles, the forefathers of Western and Islamic thought were considered Iatromantis, “physician-seer,” or “medicine-man”.)

In the Islamic World, Avicenna was writing “The Canon of Medicine.” This included details on Greek, Indian, and Muslim medicine. Scholars translated it and, in time, it became essential reading throughout Western European centers of learning. It remained an important text for several centuries.

Other major texts that were translated explained the theories of Hippocrates and Galen.

Source: What was medieval and Renaissance medicine?

I am currently reading “Alone with the Alone” by Henry Corbin, and the subject of the book, Ibn Arabi was the contemporary of Avicenna; (Three Muslim Sages: Avicenna, Suhrawardi, Ibn Arabi) Ibn Arabi was a mystic/gnostic philosopher that had one special interest; the Divine in all its names (Love, Truth, Wisdom etc, etc).


That Asperger’s Syndrome lends itself to Asceticism has also been observed by others:

The Autism of Asceticism and the Genius of the Monasteries
A new study argues that asceticism has its origins in autism.

Asperger’s Syndrome and the Holy Fool: The Case of Brother Juniper

“To be autistic means you can become a shaman. Your autism is your license to begin practicing if you would decide to follow a Red Path. Red Paths don’t come quickly, they come through experience. When you stop seeking wisdom is when you begin to get a little wiser.”

 Dr Edward Hall, a Mohawk Shaman

Source: The Spiritual Component of Autism

People have also noted that Autistic people, who are so inclined, are “gifted” when it comes to pursuing the Divine:

Autism and the God Connection: Redefining the Autistic Experience Through Extraordinary Accounts of Spiritual Giftedness

Autism and Spirituality: Psyche, Self and Spirit in People on the Autism Spectrum

An Autistic Shaman Shares Why Autistic People Make Good Shamans

Do Autistic Children Have Special Souls?

Unfortunately, in Post Modern Western Culture this path is no longer acceptable or considered by most people.

And that is a pity, because I think some people with ASD (and also people with Schizophrenia) would benefit from a highly structured, contemplative, and meditative life. Where small talk is looked down on, and meaningful conversation is encouraged.  Or in some cases speaking is not at all necessary. 

I think that options like these are no longer considered contributes to why people with Asperger’s Syndrome have such a high suicide rate:

A 2015 study of adults with autism in Northern California, for instance, found they had double the rate of depression and anxiety, and eight times the rate of bipolar disorder, than adults who do not have autism. They also were five times more likely to try to kill themselves. To put that in perspective, about 1 in 56 people with autism attempted suicide, compared to 1 in 313 other adults, according to that study by Kaiser Permanente. A different study found that the risk of death by suicide was seven times higher in people with autism than in the general population in Sweden.

Source: The Link Between Autism and Suicide Risk 

Fortunately for me, who is on the spectrum, I found, through Jung, a way to adapt that lifestyle with modern living; and for that I will be eternally grateful to him. I honestly think if it were not for Jung, and others who are connected to the same line of thought, I would either be dead, or highly medicated.

To end this post, I thought I would share a quote:

My work will be continued by those who suffer — C. G. Jung

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