This semester, I am writing a major paper (which I am calling a thesis because it is going to be 20-25 pages in length and includes a peer review and a defense of sorts) on the correlation between childhood bullying and Asperger’s syndrome. In this post, I will not be able to explain the research in any professional terms, as a blog is not the place to do so, however I would like to share with you all about why I have chosen this topic and the lessons I have learned along the way.
Just a few months ago, I became very passionate about the connection between disability theology and Christian ministry. I have become very enthusiastic about learning how to better include our abled brothers and sisters into congregational life and how to help them to reach their full potential in the incarnational mission of the church. At the same time, I have been learning so much from them – probably way more than I could ever teach them, about the virtues of humility, honesty, hard work, and pure determination. I see in these brothers and sisters a true love for Christ that far outshines anything that I have witnessed in any other group of people. For the lessons they have taught me over the past three months as I have been interviewing and spending time with them for all of my class projects, I am thankful. They welcomed and accepted me right away – far faster than any other friends that I have met in seminary have. Best of all, they love me for who I am without judging based on appearance or how smart or articulate I am. Regardless of how many John Howard Yoder, Karl Barth, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer books I have read.
At the beginning of the school year, I knew that I wanted to learn how to incorporate my discipline of peace studies with my new found passion in disability awareness (particularly in the area of developmental disability), yet, I was not sure how the two were related. It wasn’t until I attended the Intercollegiate Peace Fellowship (ICPF) hosted at Bluffton University back in early February, that I learned that peace studies actually is very related to disability awareness. At the ICPF, a gathering of young adults who are just as passionate about peace and social justice as I am and who attend Mennonite universities and one seminary (AMBS), I heard a speaker talk about how disability awareness can be seen as a discipline within peace studies because it is about giving people on the margin a voice. This woman shared with us her personal experience of having an aunt with down syndrome and how much she had learned from her, as well as her experience working with people with developmental disabilities through being a part of the Anabaptist Disability Network (ADNet) and L’Arche (an intentional community for people with developmental disabilities). This woman really sparked my interest and so I exchanged email addresses with her at the end of her address. That same evening, I joined a group of university professors over dinner to talk about peace research. I was a bit intimidated being with such well educated men (and one woman), but they welcomed me right away into their group even though I was only a student, and they already had PhDs. They were very interested to hear in my desire to study peace from the lens of disability awareness, and one professor in that group shared with me that he was doing some similar types of research related to inclusion and peace. He provided me with some handy books recommendations and conference suggestions. I left that evening thinking “Deborah, you truly are a Mennonerd.”
After that conference, I knew I wanted to do a project on peace and disability, but how exactly does one articulate giving someone else a voice and how does one even start on research which seems so broad? I let it be, until it was the deadline to submit our research proposal. That day I looked through a list of what had been done before and decide to talk about bullying in relation to children with disabilities. It wasn’t until I actually started doing research that I learned that there was so much information out there specifically on the topic of Asperger’s Syndrome and bullying. When I discovered this, I decided it was the direction I wanted to take.
I have since learned that there is relatively little information on the Spiritual implications that bullying has. Hardly any books talk about bullying from a Christian perspective, especially when it comes to children who are bullied because of special needs. I noticed that there was even less research done on dismantling bullying in an Anabaptist perspective. When I tried to find a book written about children who were bullied because they had Asperger’s, I found many non-Christian resources, but not a single Anabaptist resource. Perhaps there is one and I just am not aware of it, but either way, I realized that because bullying is such a peace studies issue it is important for historic peace churches like the Mennonites to get involved with it.
My research will be on bullying explicitly from an Anabaptist understanding of peacemaking and overall Shalom. It will be written as a scholarly journal and in much more articulate and thoughtful ways than this summary blog.
I feel very inspired by how I have seen the Holy Spirit work with this research paper. In all of my years of formal education, I have only had one instance where someone explicitly asked to read my paper (that was when I was writing a paper on the Iranian church and the Persian service that I visited wanted a copy of my paper). There was one other instance where I shared a paper that I wrote for my body images class with a friend and she in turn shared it with two others she thought would benefit from it. Yet, never before, have I had so many people interested in any topic that I was writing about. All of a sudden, after I started telling people about this project, virtually everyone who knew about it was interested in reading my scholarly journal. Furthermore, I have met so many people who have shared with me how their child, grandchild, niece or nephew has Asperger’s syndrome and is currently being bullied in school, and how they hope that this research will help them make sense of it in some way. This gives me great hope, not because it boosts my self-esteem in my own writing abilities, but rather because for me it means that finally Asperger’s and bullying will get a voice within the Mennonite church which in my own opinion is much needed and yet has been lacking.
I would be happy to share this paper with any of you readers who would like to learn more about bullying in the peace studies context. If you would like a copy of the paper please send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You might not receive a copy until the end of May because it will be edited several times to ensure good quality work, but I would love to help you in your process of bringing this voice to the church.