Autism & Religion

As it has been previously established, individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) emphasize systematic, rational thinking and are deficient in empathy and in orientation towards social rewards. Additionally, it is presumed that religious belief is predicated on the human tendency to presume the existence of an intelligent agent, theorized as agency detection (Guthrie 1993). While many people turn to religion to provide them with the answers science cannot sufficiently provide, we believe that those diagnosed with ASD cannot turn to religion because of their social deficiencies and inherent emphasis on rationality.

Although autism research has recently expanded, there is still much we do not understand about the disorder. Especially for the families of those with ASD, there is not much information to provide them on how to support their loved one. While many use religious communities as a system of support and knowledge, many ASD individuals are unable to understand or adhere to religion. Given this disadvantage, we believe our research will help provide the information necessary for ASD individuals and their families. Additionally, it will inform religious parents why their ASD child is non-religious so they can better understand and support their child. Therefore, our research could allow family and loved ones to either breakdown religion to the ASD individual in a more appealing fashion or find other means of support for the individual.

There are three stages of our research: Web forum analysis, distribution of survey, and the in-lab empirical tasks.

Web Forum Analysis: This stage entailed a systematic analysis of religious beliefs of public discussion forums of both neurotypical and ASD online communities. The data sources are wrongplanet.net representing ASD individuals and teenforums.student.com and golivewire.com/forums representing the neurotypical population.

Survey Distribution: This stage entailed distributing a survey to both neurotypicals and ASD inviduals. The survey inquires the individual’s religious affiliation, attitude towards religion, parent’s religious affiliation, childhood religious practices, and the Autism Quotient.

In-Lab Empirical Tests: We are currently in the process of this stage. It entails administering seven tasks to both neurotypicals and ASD individuals. The tasks will measure the correlations between ASD, religion, and special interests. Upon completion of the in-laboratory survey and tasks, statistical analysis of the data will follow and we will be able to draw conclusions to our hypotheses.

(2010) Murphy, Caldwell-Harris, McNamara. (In preparation)

Here is the powerpoint presentation on our most recent study conducted on the message board website WrongPlanet.com:
Born on the Wrong Planet?

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