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When the subject of autism comes up, one thing you can count on is that someone, somewhere will say something stupid. So it’s not all that surprising to see someone make a deeply uninformed statement like this:

“Autistic children do not know how to believe in God because they do not have a section for faith in their brains”…

The statement itself is stupid, but the author of it is even more shocking; Fehmi Kaya, the head of the Health and Education Associations for Autistic Children in Adana, Turkey. Yes, that’s right, the head of an organization supposedly dedicated to the needs of autistic children believes that there is a special section of your brain for your belief in God.

Fehmi Kaya with an autistic youth. (via Günaydın Adana Gazetesi)

What Kaya, who is a sociologist (and, I’m going to guess, not a neurobiologist), is probably referring to is the fact that individuals on the autistic spectrum have much lower levels of religiosity as compared to the non-autistic population. Rest assured, however, that the “faith box” in your brain is like the “God-shaped hole” in your heart: a figment of people’s imagination.

Kaya believes that this lack of religious faith in autistic children is troubling, saying that atheism is a part of the autistic disability, and that children would otherwise “normally” have religious faith. All is not lost, though, since these kids could learn to be religious through therapy!

“Autistic children do not know how to believe in God because they do not have a section for faith in their brains,” sociologist Fehmi Kaya reportedly said. “That is why they don’t know how to pray, how to believe in God. It is necessary to create awareness [or religion] in these children through methods of therapy.”

Every child understands when you tell him or her to fear God, but an autistic child will not,” Kaya told the Daily News. “Once he starts to develop normally, belief will come in time. We do not have the idea of creating a section for faith in their brains.”

It is very troubling that the head of an autism organization would understand so little about the condition itself, much less believe that children must have religion forced upon them with therapy in order to be properly “normal.”

His views are not shared by other Turkish autism organizations, who reacted with shock and anger to his comments. Unfortunately, it would appear that these attitudes may have actual harmful effects on autistic children:

Adem Kuyumcu, A Life Without Disabilities Association chairperson, told bianet that some rehab centers under the umbrella of Turkey’s National Education Ministry were recommend to add religion classes in their curriculum.

These centers offer classes only 8 hours over month. This is not enough at all. There is a variety of things autistic children should learn in these 8 hours. Officials had to change mind upon families’ criticism. I have been receiving complaint calls from families. We can’t sue the association chair for his remarks, but we fear that the unscientific therapy practice could spread across the country,” he said.

Autism is a condition that affects millions of children and adults worldwide. With no known cure, therapy is the single most important resource available to manage the illness, and it is absolutely vital for improving the outcomes for children with autism. These kids will face a multitude of challenges through their lives, the last thing they need is ignorant adults derailing their treatment for the benefit of their own religious beliefs.

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