"I felt great, I felt relieved. I was WASHED CLEAN."

The baptism story of one young man with Asperger’s syndrome

By Dee Steele

Daniel was a young boy when he and his family started coming to Pequea BIC Church (Lancaster, Pa.). Even then, I knew he didn’t have the carefree existence of many teens. As a matter of fact, he had quite a few challenges.

The oldest of five children, Daniel became the man of the house at age 13, when his father was diagnosed with and then passed away from ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). Then, in sixth grade, Daniel was formally diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome (AS), an autism spectrum disorder characterized by difficulties in communication and behavior. For Daniel, situations in which he must interact with others or that make him feel like he’s the center of attention can be overwhelming and cause immense anxiety.

Today, at age 23, Daniel continues to navigate life with Asperger’s, and he often finds himself trying to avoid all social contact. At times, this is okay. But he realized that this might not be possible at our church’s baptism service in 2011—because, despite his fierce desire to blend into the background, Daniel had decided that he wanted to be baptized.

Learning and growing

Social interactions play a big role in Daniel’s life, which means that he must confront his fears and emotions on a daily basis. I ask him how he copes, and he explains that being alone is very soothing to him, so he often spends time in his room. He also benefits from the companionship of his dog and cat.

Yet he’s been intentional about challenging himself to adjust to his surroundings. For example, while studying architectural design at an area technical institute, Daniel encountered times when all eyes were on him. “I had to learn how to cope, because I had to present my projects to my classmates,” he notes.

Daniel is wholeheartedly committed to the Lord. In our congregation, Pequea Church, he helps with both the youth group and the technical arts team. And each year, he’s our go-to-guy when we embark on the project of making thousands of chocolate Easter eggs for community members. But for Daniel, taking the step of baptism required a lot of thought. He had the desire but did not want to be “in the spotlight.”

While many people can relate to this aversion to being the center of attention, for those among us who have Asperger’s or other conditions, this takes on a whole other dimension of intensity. When the week of baptism arrived, Daniel’s fears threatened to overtake him. He shares that he would often tell himself that he would not go through with it. “I didn’t even tell my family that I was going to be baptized,” he relates.

Knowing that Daniel was having difficulty, our senior pastor, Dale Shaw, encouraged him over the course of several months. Dale was about to conclude his time at our church before moving to pastor Sherkston (ON) BIC, and he kept saying, “Daniel, I want you to be the last person I baptize here at Pequea!”

A step of victory

On August 21, 2011, the day of our scheduled baptismal service, I sat in the back of the room. It was a packed house; 19 people were in line to be baptized. Daniel would be going last. I feared that his position in line might escalate his anxiety, so I checked in with him.
“Are you ready to do this?” I asked.
He confidently replied, “Yep, I am going to do it.”

Every second of that evening was a struggle for Daniel, but I watched as he stepped into the baptistery. Even though he stands over six feet tall, in that moment, he seemed small. I think it was his humble, gentle spirit shining through. I knew this was a bold step for Daniel—God was enabling him to tackle yet another obstacle in his life. We were all seeing Christ’s love in action.

Daniel could have been baptized in a more private setting, but in speaking to him today, I am so glad that he chose this route. I can see how empowering this experience has been for him, and I know his example has helped me examine how I can have the courage to take up my own cross—a lifelong struggle with weight and eating—daily.

I later asked Daniel about how he felt after being baptized, to which he replied, “I felt great, I felt relieved. I was washed clean!”

This article originally appeared in the winter 2011 issue of In Part magazine.
Dee Steele

Dee Steele and her husband, Ivan, have two boys, Cameron (14) and Braden (12). (She thinks it seems funny to call them boys because they are taller than she!) The Steeles are members of Pequea Church (Lancaster, Pa.), where Dee is on staff as the director of communications.

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