Autism and Family Relationships: Brant Hansen
Love someone with autism? Autistic radio host Brant Hansen offers real-life pointers for parents and spouses of those on the spectrum.
But when you're socially trying to figure out the lay of the land, and it makes no sense to you, it can be really difficult, and I just want to say, “better days are ahead.” I promise you, it gets better; and it gets better not when you're 40, but a lot before that. It gets gradually better and better. -- Brant Hansen
About the Guest
- Connect with Brant on Twitter @branthansen or on Facebook @branthansenpage.
- Learn more Brant on his website: branthansen.com
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Love someone with autism? Autistic radio host Brant Hansen offers real-life pointers for parents and spouses of those on the spectrum.
Autism and Family Relationships: Brant Hansen
Dave: Who's your favorite character on The Chosen? Besides Jesus, of course. [Laughter] I don't know the actor’s name.
Ann: Do you think a lot of our listeners have watched The Chosen?
Dave: I'm guessing! I would encourage them to.
Ann: And we're not saying that The Chosen is Scripture, you know?
Dave: Don't send us emails.
Ann: Yes, but we've really, really enjoyed it. And one of my favorite characters is Matthew.
Dave: Yes, why?
Ann: He is for you, too?
Dave: Oh, yes.
Dave: At first, I was like, “He's quirky,” you know? And I didn't read it that way in the Gospels. But then when you watch, you're thinking, “I could see why they decided to play him that way.”
Ann: That they could have done that.
Dave: Yes; why you?
Ann: Because he's just so unique. He sees the world in a different way. He doesn't take the same social cues that the others take, and I find him fascinating.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Dave: This is FamilyLife Today.
We have Matthew in the studio today. [Laughter] Disciple Matthew showed up. No, we have Brant Hansen back with us, who is also a man on the spectrum and [he’s] a very popular radio host and author, and one of our best friends. We love having you in the studio.
Brant: Thank you. That is an honor. I enjoy it.
Dave: I mean, did you think the same thing when you watched Matthew on The Chosen?
Brant: I loved that. I had listeners and other people telling me, “You’ve got to see this show. There's a guy who's on the spectrum and one of the disciples!” And I just thought, “That's so great.”
Ann: Were you surprised?
Brant: Yes, and I don't know how it happened. I wound up talking to Dallas Jenkins about it for like an hour. We did an interview, but it's just about that. And I really appreciated that portrayal of Matthew, whether or not he—that's just a guess.
Ann: Right, it could be.
Brant: Yes, but it makes some sense in some ways, like the way Matthew wrote that Gospel.
Ann: The details of it.
Brant: Yes, there's a detail orientation there that is remarkable.
Dave: Is that you? Are you detailed?
Brant: Not like that; about certain things—
Dave: You are brilliant though, right?
Brant: Yes. [Laughter]
Ann: I—we think he's brilliant.
Brant: Yes, sure.
Ann: You totally are.
Brant: Well, thanks. People on the spectrum, if you met one, you've met one.
Brant: Matthew is portrayed as being this mathematical guy, genius. I've never been math, per se. I like applied math. I like more theoretical physics and stuff like that. But I like combining ideas across fields, so I think that's what I do when I write books and whatnot. You have different talents, different abilities. I'm really good at trivia stuff. [Laughter] But nobody really likes that guy that dominates Trivia Night.
Dave: You're not going to go on Jeopardy?
Brant: No, I'm not. In high school we had Scholastic Bowl, and I dominated that.
Dave: Did you?
Ann: And your son is on the spectrum. He is going to med school at Yale to become a neurosurgeon. What's his specialty?
Brant: He just remembers everything.
Brant: He's very focused. He's remarkable about that stuff. He's a remarkable guy. Like me, he's able to focus at a really intense level. So, that's one thing in marriage that I've had to learn to change, to moderate, to allow myself to be interrupted. But it's hard. I know that's a kind of a running joke about men in general: they can focus and not hear what's being said or whatever. But truly, his ability—and I think I have a lot of that too—just being able to lock in, is intense. I've had to learn to be interruptible, to not be grumpy about it, because I love my wife, and I love my family, and I have to love other people. That's just one of those things you have to adapt if you're going to be somebody who loves people.
Dave: I mean, when you think about relationships, and you just brought up marriage, you know we talked on an earlier show about your book Blessed Are the Misfits, and we talked a lot about emotion and feelings. In the church, that seems to be something; that you feel like you're a misfit because you don't feel what other people feel. Talk about that in marriage, because feelings for your spouse are huge. If my wife's not feeling like I love her, I'm in trouble. And if you don't feel that deeply, how does that affect your marriage?
Brant: Well, the way it's worked out has been I say things that are true, and I say things like, “I want to spend time with you. Can we get together at 6:00 tonight? I want to hang out with you. Can we meet?” and that's daily. We hang out daily, because I want to. I want that. Most wives, I’m guessing, would think, “That's pretty cool that he wants to be with me, and he says it.”
Ann: Oh, yes.
Brant: I guess it's not that common, but I think that's maybe where it works. It's not a rush of romantic feeling, it's just this constant, faithful desire to spend life with you, and saying it. Again, I told you guys I can't flirt my way out of a paper bag. I wouldn't even know how. [Laughter] But I can speak truth. And I also know that she needs me to do that.
Ann: What does that look like when it comes to intimacy, physical intimacy?
Dave: Oh, wait, wait, are we going there?
Ann: Well, when there's no flirtation happening? Do you just state like, “Hey, you want to do this?”
Brant: I mean, it's sweet in any marriage whether somebody’s on the spectrum or not. You know this. You guys are experts at this. But it's sweet in any marriage to make allowances for each other and to appreciate it and grow to love it.
We did this thing they had years ago at Chick-fil-A or something. A guy came on the air. They were doing these marriage surveys to help marriages at the time. It was a nationwide thing they were rolling out, so they had my wife and I do it and then bring the data back. We talked about it on the show, and we submitted it to him. He came back from their lab or whatever and he said, “I'm not kidding. We've had tens of thousands of people do this survey. We've never had anyone rank as attracted to each other as highly as you two.”
Brant: I’m not kidding.
Dave: So, why?
Brant: I think she respects me. I know she does. And I make her feel really secure. We put effort into that. I appreciate the effort she puts into being who she is. And I find her really, really attractive, so that's not an area for us that's a problem. And I'm blunt. I'm not necessarily romantic per se, but there's some deep romanticism there. Though if your husband's wanting to spend life with you, and wants to take you to this place and that place, and wants to have just a setup and, “Can I do this for you? I really like that you look great.” It's blunt honesty. It's not flirting. It's just being honest.
Dave: Is that romantic there?
Ann: That is so attractive—
Brant: Right, right.
Ann: —for your husband to do that, especially maybe romance is what ignited at the beginning, but then that's what we're looking for. We're looking for faithful, honest [husbands] that are making our relationship a priority.
Brant: And that is my priority.
Brant: More so, even, I love being a dad so much! But this is it. I can't countenance anything else. This is it. So it’s all—
Ann: Who wouldn't want to be married to him!?
Brant: Right! Come on. [Laughter] See, you all missed the train.
Dave: Carolyn got it. I mean, when you first talked about it, you said you make her—she feels secure.
Dave: What's that mean? Because I was like, “Wow, that's what a woman wants.”
Ann: It’s one of our highest needs.
Dave: What is it?
Brant: If I'm sarcastic and cut her down, then that’s insecurity. It's going to cause insecurity. “I never know. He might cut me down. He might”—
Dave: And you could do that, because you're funny.
Brant: Well, right. She's very funny, too; very smart.
Brant: She's very verbally gifted and, all this said, I have to watch that. I've learned to watch it. I've learned to moderate how I come across to not threaten her in any way; not with anger, not with sarcasm. Are there occasions when I should say things better? Yes, there still are, but they're much more “few and far between” than when we first got married. She has made changes to her personality, very humbly.
Ann: And let me ask you, Brant, is that because you love Carolyn so much, or is it because of what Jesus has done in your heart?
Brant: Well, I think it's of the piece. I can't separate one from the other. I really don't.
Ann: They’re both.
Brant: Yes, like I want to honor God, and I want Him to change me. Repentance every day means rethinking, and to be humble and say, “I could do better with this or that.” Whether you're on the spectrum or not, there are things that you can get better at. I've had to become less blunt. It used to be like, “Well, that's the truth. I'm just saying it.” Well, that's not the loving thing to do all the time. That makes a woman feel insecure, too.
She knows I don't flirt with other women. I'm not interested. I never—I never do anything inappropriate. This is not about me being a perfect person at all, but this is why she feels secure. I make sure that there's nothing that could make her feel that way, to the best of my ability.
Ann: Talk to the spouses that are listening, that are married to someone on the spectrum. What would you say: “This is what could really help us.”?
Brant: Compassion for both spouses. You genuinely want them to thrive. And appreciation. My wife has been so good about affirming me. I can't fix anything. [Laughter] I mean, it's pathetic.
Ann: But you know every baseball score and stat.
Brant: Yes, right; which is not as important to her as, maybe, if I could fix something. But instead of making me feel small about it, she affirms the other stuff that I do. If she sees me speaking, as soon as I'm done, she'll tell me what she liked about it or [what] she appreciated and how people reacted. And when you do something like that, you're in a vulnerable space.
Brant: So, to have your spouse, whose opinion you respect, affirm you helps so much, and you really do—you guys know this. You shape each other over time.
Brant: So, to the extent that I have the courage to do what I do publicly—to talk, to write or whatever—that's largely a function of her building me up over the years. You kind of create your own spouse sometimes.
Dave: You're not the man you are today without her.
Brant: No way!
Dave: Yes, I feel the same way.
Brant: Yes. I wouldn't even—
Ann: I do, too.
Brant: Yes, that's a beautiful thing.
Brant: For her to say, “Okay, so my husband's not as good at this other stuff. He's quirky; he's odd; but I love that. I'm going to affirm that stuff and take the negatives with the positives about [he] can't fix the drain.” Well, okay! But I can write books, and she's okay with that instead of making me feel small. You know what I mean?
Ann: Yes, if we would all live that principle out, that we see and affirm the good and we give grace to the things that they can't do, but we're continually looking at what God has given and not the things that our spouse doesn't have. But we tend to focus on the negative—
Ann: —instead of—
Dave: —and try to change our spouse.
Ann: Yes, that's it. We try to change.
Dave: We don't want to change ourselves. We want to change them, and that never works.
Brant: I am so thankful for the things that she has told me over time.
Dave: What do you mean?
Brant: Well, even correcting: “You came across too strong.” “I don't think people understood what you meant there.” “I think you made people feel small.” My reaction to that now is, “Okay, I'm going to try to do better next time.”
Dave: Does that come up in conflict? Do you resolve conflict better?
Dave: Because you're so truth-telling.
Brant: Yes, but also her. She has humbled herself to say, “Hey, I can be too judgmental. I can pick at you. I don't want to be that way anymore.” That's a remarkable thing! The humility thing, where you're well into marriage, and then charting a new course about your own personality.
Brant: It's true that God wants to renovate our personalities, right?
Brant: He's really interested in that, and so, to allow yourself to have that happen. Well, marriage is this intense opportunity for that to happen. Do I give her the eye contact that she craves? No. I'm better at it, but it's really hard. I wish it weren't.
Brant: I wish I could be different in some ways. But I wouldn't trade our marriage for anything, and neither would she. We all have these deficits that come with positives.
Dave: How about as a parent on the spectrum? That's one side of it, and then, if you're a parent of a son or daughter on the spectrum. You've had both.
Dave: What advice would you give?
Brant: I have a lot of people contact me, and they're desperate because they have a son or daughter on the spectrum and it's heartbreaking, the lack of social success. It ranges. Some kids on the spectrum do great socially, but a lot of times they don't. I don't have a ton of great stuff to say, honestly, because I don't know that kid. It's hard over e-mail, because I don't know how you’re parenting or what's going on. I don't want to act like this universal expert on this, because I'm not.
Ann: But you do have a son on the spectrum.
Brant: I do, so I can say what I found to be true is that affirmation thing. You get enough from our culture if you don't fit in in a certain way. You know that! So, to affirm: “Man, you are really good at this. You are so good.” And then follow that interest with him. Okay, that guy's not an athlete, or that girl's not an athlete. You wanted her to be a star, or whatever. Okay, but she's really interested in history. Well then, lean into it. The athletes in middle school are the ones that, you know, everybody says, “Oh, he's awesome.” Okay, but ten years later—
I also tell them, and I need you to hear this if you're listening to this, and this is you: “Better days are ahead.” You need to know that. Maybe you're on the spectrum and you're 13 and you're happening to hear this, or you've got a kid: better days are ahead.
Dave: What do you mean better days are ahead?
Brant: When you're 14, 15, 16; to me, it's like the zenith of the problem, socially. And you haven't necessarily found your sweet spot. People don't value what you bring to the table yet. They certainly didn’t with me! Whatever I have to bring to the table now—no one in my small town: “What? You can't hunt. You're from a broken family. “You’re not on the football team; not a good athlete. What do you have? You're small.”
Okay, but times change. And then people will grow to appreciate your differences. And it does get a little easier socially, because you start—
Ann: Because you grow and understand.
Brant: Yes, you start to pick up on things. Adults have a higher tolerance for people with some differences than middle school, where there's no tolerance for anything.
Brant: I just think that's a really tough time for any person. We all know that.
Dave: Yes, right.
Brant: But when you're socially trying to figure out the lay of the land, and it makes no sense to you, it can be really difficult, and I just want to say, “better days are ahead.” I promise you, it gets better; and it gets better not when you're 40, but a lot before that. It gets gradually better and better.
I've seen that in my own life. I've seen it with my son. He's fantastic. He functions awesomely. Socially, he's doing great. But it’s a struggle when you're that age! I mean, it's tough; so, I’d want them to know, better days are ahead.
Ann: I remember, even with our oldest son who's brilliant, but he had ADHD, and he struggled in school, in certain classes.
Ann: If they were boring, he’d say, “This is boring. I'm checking out.”
Ann: But I remember crying at night, just because it was such a struggle. And if somebody would have told me, “Hey, there are better days ahead.” But just watching him endure and go through the pain of certain situations and teachers, thinking he wasn't doing that great; he wasn't that smart. We knew he was super smart, but do you remember those nights?
Dave: Ah, hopeless as a parent because again, you thought—I did—I thought, “He'll never get to college.” Not that that's the ultimate, but he'll never be able—and he thrived.
Ann: He won't get married.
Dave: He thrived. And you know, he literally went off on his own, and then he came back. We'd say, “So, how's it going?” He said, “I figured out how I study, and where I need to sit in the class, and how I need to get away to”—he figured it out!
Ann: He said, “I can listen to 20 minutes in the class, and that's it. But I do know that I can read the book, and I'll understand it. I can do it on my own.”
Ann: I thought, “What?” He said, “Oh, yeah.” He really is smart, but he figured it out. I think that was so helpful for me, and it would be so helpful for parents to hear: “It's not going to stay just like this.”
Brant: No, no; and keep praying for him.
Brant: Keep your cry out to God when you're feeling something like that. I was thinking about this the other day: when my daughter was little—
Dave: She's not on the spectrum.
Brant: She's not.
Dave: Totally different?
Brant: Totally different; totally different. Social skills—I'll never climb that hill of social skills. [Laughter] She's really, really good; a super-smart young woman. But when she was little, I was just thinking about your heart cry for your kids here. If she was in bed, and she screamed out “Daddy!” and I was in bed, I'd be in her room in one second.
Brant: I would break—it would be Usain Bolt down the hallway. [Laughter] That's all she would have to say, right?
Brant: And I feel like that's the way it is with God. Like sometimes, we don’t even know how to pray for our kids, but we're crying out. If you're just like, “God, help us!” You don't think He's going to draw close to you instantly? A genuine heart cry. You don't have to be able to articulate exactly what the diagnosis is, or what the future plan is, or what precisely you need. You just know, “This isn't working. I don't know. My heart's breaking.” That's how a lot of the parents feel.
Brant: And I do think if you continue to just keep going back to God on that and praying, He's got you. He draws close to the broken hearted. You don't have to be articulate.
Dave: Do you feel like you carried any hurts growing up on the spectrum into adulthood? Or maybe your son has.
Brant: I don't want to speculate about him, because he could answer that question himself, and I feel sheepish about doing that.
Dave: Yes, right.
Brant: He's a brilliant person with command of multiple languages. For me, yes; but I think [with] a lot of hurts, you see that used to bless people later on. I definitely think that's the case with me. The stuff I went through makes me a different kind of communicator on the radio. When people are hearing our show, they're thinking, “This is different.” And I think that's really good. I think—
Dave: What do you mean? How's it different?
Brant: It's blunt. [Laughter] Yes, it's—
Brant: —hopefully funny.
Ann: It is funny.
Brant: And that's born out of that, too; making up stories.
Brant: I mean, think about that! Since I wasn't hanging out with all the rest of the teenagers or whatever, I just made up a bunch of stories. [Laughter] But now, this is what I write.
Dave: You said you need 20 ideas a day.
Brant: Twenty ideas a day for content for my radio show—
Dave: Every day
Brant: —of something of some spiritual value that I didn't say yesterday, or the day before, the day before that, or something that's got some comedic value.
Dave: I mean I thought preaching once a week was hard enough to the same people.
Brant: It's exhausting.
Dave: You're doing the same people and others every day.
Brant: And I'm condensing everything. It is very tiring, but on the other hand I feel like I'm equipped to do this. And God put me in just the right place, where a kid that's coming from a tough space would develop in just the way to do that. The stuff that you're going through, God is really good at using that to bless other people. I think that's the beauty of it. It's just hard when you're younger to grasp that, but it's at least nice to hear it. Maybe you don’t fully grasp it when I'm saying this, if you're hearing this, but I'm telling you, better days are ahead.
Ann: Let's close with this. We're almost done, but at the beginning we talked about how a lot of people that are on the spectrum have left the faith.
Ann: And you haven't. How would you encourage them about that fact? In the church, about not leaving the faith? Because I look at you, Brant, and [see] your love for Jesus, your commitment to Him. And your faithfulness is inspiring.
Brant: Thank you.
Dave: And that's a fact.
Ann: That is a fact.
Brant: [Laughing] “I’m just saying it, because it's true.”
Ann: It’s true!
Brant: Thank you. That’s sweet.
Ann: For those that are on the fence, or maybe it's a parent whose kids are on the fence, how would you encourage them?
Brant: Parents, please ask God; please affirm the kids; please welcome their questions. And if you don't know the answer, because they're super-smart and they're asking tough questions about God or faith or something, say, “Oh, I don't know. Let's look into that together.” I'm a big fan of that.
As a person on the spectrum, if that's you, and you’re leaning away from the faith, I'm telling you there are no alternatives better than Jesus. He gets us as people on the spectrum. I'm convinced of it!
He's refreshing in the way He inverts things, the hierarchies; the way he calls out hypocrisy; and the way He brings the vulnerable to Him, the way He exalts the weak and the vulnerable, and the people who think they're big stuff get knocked down. That is sweet, sweet music to me. And to leave that behind, don’t! If you have tough questions, I understand. Me, too. I've had them. But keep investigating and cross examine the stuff that the culture is telling you.
And if you are a person who's skeptical by nature, and you're on the spectrum, be skeptical of the culture, too. It doesn't work. Okay, that's why I back, full circle as a skeptic, as a believer in Jesus. That's why I wrote this Blessed Are the Misfits book. Look, He's the best! And the alternatives are not as good, and He is so compelling. I'm not turning my back on that. That's God in the flesh, and He said it, “You've seen me, you've seen the Father.” That's awesome news for those of us on the spectrum. So that would—I would just leave you with that: keep going.
Shelby: Once we realize that in one form or another, we're all misfits, all of us, Jesus looks better than ever. He is the one and only who will never reject us. He welcomes us, embraces us, and loves us in ways our hearts deeply desire and can't find anywhere else. I love that Brant left us with that word.
I'm Shelby Abbott, and you've been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Brant Hansen on FamilyLife Today. Brant has written a book called Blessed Are the Misfits: Great News for Believers Who are Introverts, Spiritual Strugglers, or Just Feel Like They're Missing Something.You know, this is a great book for anyone who might be thinking, “You know what? I'm not very good at talking to people. Maybe I'm not on the spectrum, but I have a struggle engaging with people. If you've ever felt left out, or you've gone through the motions, or feel like you have more questions than answers, this book is perfect for you; and it's our gift when you partner with us financially.
You can go online to FamilyLifeToday.com or give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. Again, that number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” And when you give any amount, we're going to send you Brant's book as our “thank you.” Feel free to drop us something in the mail if you'd like. Our address isFamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, FL 32832.
Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be joined by Amberly Neeseto talk about her journey in humor and ministry.That's tomorrow. We hope you'll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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