Living with Autism: Brant Hansen
An autism diagnosis in his 30s rocked the world of radio host Brant Hansen. Brant gets real about the social and faith-related challenges of life on the spectrum—as well as practical ways to embrace anyone living with autism.
There wasn't a name for it. My mom just knew I was different. Actually, when I got diagnosed as an adult, it was explanatory to her, and she said, “Oh, that explains this. That explains that. That explains a lot of good things, like why you would compile information like you did about everything, and how you struggled with relationships; why you didn't date.” She always loved me, you know? I know that. -- Brant Hansen
About the Guest
Show Notes and Resources
- Connect with Brant on Twitter @branthansen or on Facebook @branthansenpage.
- Learn more Brant on his website: branthansen.com
- Listen to Brant and Sherri's podcast: Brant & Sherri Oddcast
- And grab his book, Blessed Are the Misfits: Great News for Believers who are Introverts, Spiritual Strugglers, or Just Feel Like They're Missing Something
- Find resources from this podcast at shop.familylife.com.
- See resources from our past podcasts.
- Find more content and resources on the FamilyLife's app!
- Help others find FamilyLife. Leave a review on Apple Podcast or Spotify.
- Check out all the FamilyLife podcasts on the FamilyLife Podcast Network
Radio host Brant Hansen gets real about challenges of life on the spectrum—as well as practical ways to embrace anyone living with autism.
Living with Autism: Brant Hansen
Brant: There wasn't a name for it. My mom just knew I was different. Actually, when I got diagnosed as an adult, it was explanatory to her, and she said, “Oh, that explains this. That explains that. That explains a lot of good things, like why you would compile information like you did about everything, and how you struggled with relationships; why you didn't date.” She always loved me, you know? I know that.
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.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: Alright, let me read you a listener comment. Actually, it was sent in to us. It said, “Hello. I contacted FamilyLife a while back about wanting representation for autistic adults, as I've never heard from a Christian autistic adult before. Being autistic myself, learning about Brant Hansen from your podcast has been such a huge encouragement to me. I just wanted to say thank you so much for having him on. It means so much to me to be able to have someone I can finally relate to who is also a follower of Christ.”
What a great comment, and guess what? We’ve got Brant Hansen back with us on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back, Brant.
Brant: Thank you. I’m glad to be back.
Dave: Did you even know we got that comment?
Brant: I don't remember hearing about that.
Dave: You don't remember writing that? [Laughter]
Brant: No, that's really cool. And I noticed that, too, for people who are believers and on the spectrum, there's not that much discussion about just the spectrum itself. People talk about it; there are TV characters about it; there are movie characters—but in the church, I'm not sure we know what to do with it. I am honored to welcome other people in and say, “Hey, this is me too.”
Dave: You're a radio host, the Brant and Sherri Oddcast, and [an] author. We talked recently with you about Blessed Are the Misfits, Unoffendable, The Men We Need. I could keep going. And even if you don't write a book, you're welcome to come back.
Brant: Thank you.
Dave: But do you talk about it, this topic on your show, because that's what we're going to dive into?
Brant: I do; I do, for the same reason. Because even if you're not on the spectrum, you might know somebody, like your son or daughters or your cousin. It's always good to move the fences out and welcome more people in and say, “Here's how I relate to God as somebody who's on the spectrum.” Because it gives people hope.
A lot of people who are on the spectrum leave the faith because they can't relate to a lot of the way the church relates to them (or doesn't relate to them).
Dave: Talk about growing up. When did you know, and how did it change your life?
Brant: I knew I was different from the get-go, [Laughter] which I talk about in the book, some of that. My wife, actually, when I was in my mid 30s, she's—
Ann: So, you had no idea before that.
Brant: I didn't know what to label it.
Ann: But you knew you were different?
Brant: Yes, I just—you don't know, but it has such great explanatory power in retrospect. My wife found out about it to research me and my son. And she said, “This is clearly what you are both dealing with.” I was glad to hear it. It was very helpful to know it for him. It was helpful for me just to know, even though I've changed over the years and some things have gotten better socially, to look back and say, “Oh, that's what was going on.”
Ann: Do you wish you had known earlier?
Brant: I think so.
Ann: What were some of the indicators?
Brant: Struggling to relate to people socially. A lot of it is social. I don't understand why people do what they do [Laughter] in a million ways. Like you're always saying, “What is this?” which gives you a really fresh way to observe.
Brant: Some people who are stand-up comedians are on the spectrum for that reason. Because you observe, and you see absurdity, maybe, when other people don't. But for me, I didn't date. I didn't have any girlfriends in high school.
Brant: I didn't know how to relate to girls or talk. I didn't know what to talk about. I just didn't have anything to say.
Dave: [Did] you have guy friends?
Brant: Yes, I talked baseball statistics.
Dave: You hung out? Really.
Brant: I was obsessed with baseball statistics. I would compile them using a typewriter to put everything in perfect rows, and computing, and coming up with algorithms and whatnot. And baseball statistics is not uncommon.
Brant: Yes, but it's hard to relate to other people that don't share that. I don't know what to talk to girls about if they don't want to talk about Tim Raines batting average in 1983. [Laughter] I didn't.
Ann: Okay, but you're married, and you have two kids.
Brant: Yes. So that's my first and last girlfriend. I'm married to her.
Brant: And what happened was, we were on a mission trip in college, and I met her. I didn't know what to talk about, but we got snowed in. It was in Appalachia. We were with a group of people, and we would play games—board games—because we were snowed in. We were forced to interact, and she thought—
Ann: Ooh, I bet you're really good at board games.
Brant: I’m pretty good. [Laughter] Nobody likes the celebratory dances, but still, the point is she liked me, and I didn't know. She thought I was funny. She wasn't attracted other than that. She saw this funny, smart guy. And then I was genuine, and she had had enough of fake stuff.
Brant: We were best friends. We would hang out. I didn't know how to do the romantic thing, and I didn't even really consider it a possibility. But I did have strong feelings for her, and I did really like her. We were studying one night together, and I turned to her—this was no romantic anything that happened, but I turned to her—and interrupted and just said, “I love you.” [Laughter] And she was like, “Thanks?”
Dave: [Laughter] That's out of nowhere.
Brant: Yes, so that was our courting.
Brant: That was just me going “I love”—and then that's how it came together. We've been married 33 years, and she's helped me tremendously, like how to—even with posture stuff, how to—stand up straight, how to walk. Well, you know, straight up, because I would usually tip forward some; how to stand more naturally so people are at ease, so I'm not standing like a robot, sort of.
A lot of people now, they'll say, “Well, you can't be on the spectrum. You're on the radio.” But radio is perfect for somebody who enjoys words and doesn't have to read body language. I get to share what I think God's given me. Whatever talents He's given me, I get to share that in a low leverage social situation, even when I'm speaking.
I do some speaking in big churches or conferences or whatever. Well, that's different than small talk, isn't it? I've got ideas to share and things I want to say that I hope are a blessing to people, but I control the conversations on stage. I don't have to read everybody's body language or think, “What's the next thing about the weather I have to say.” But I think God's blessed it. It has helped me. I think it makes for good radio. I'm blunt.
Dave: And you're funny.
Brant: Thank you.
Ann: You are funny.
Dave: You are really funny. Every chapter I read, I laugh at something. [Laughter]
Ann: Me, too.
Dave: It's profound, and it's deep.
Ann: That's what's I was going to say. You're also deep.
Dave: Yes, but I'm always saying, “Hey, you got to read this,” because I'm laughing.
Brant: That's funny.
Dave: Is that common to someone on the spectrum, or is that just Brant Hansen?
Brant: I think it is. I think we have quirky senses of humor as a general rule. I also think a lot of people on the spectrum have a high quirk tolerance. I can hang out with people that other people find tough to hang out with. Everybody loves an underdog, but I think a lot of us on the spectrum, we really go for something that's vulnerable. A lot of us really connect with animals, especially when we're young. Any vulnerable little things, you really feel it.
Ann: You mentioned earlier that faith can be a tough thing for somebody on the spectrum. Why is that?
Brant: We do tend to be analytical and ask a lot of questions. That scares people, sometimes, in a faith environment. We ask “Why?” a lot: “Why do we do it this way?” It's difficult (socially) to function in a social environment sometimes when people think you're weird. If I don't respond like a normal person, then some people think, “That guy’s odd” or “He's arrogant” or something, when I was just thinking—I wasn't thinking anything negative. Or I give off a vibe of being angry when I'm not, because I come across too blunt or something; or I just look like I'm thinking too heavily.
Ann: Did you have to help your son learn how to handle social situations?
Brant: Yes, but that's primarily my wife now. She also hired, very wisely, a psychologist who’s a believer to help. And he was great at it. He really learned how to shake hands, make eye contact. To me, eye contact is—I just don't do it. Now, I've learned to do it, so I'm doing it to you now, but I'm very conscious of it: “Act like a human, Brant. You're the—you do the thing.” [Laughter] But if you don't make eye contact with people, they implicitly think you're up to no good, or you're not being honest, or you're not— But I listen best when I look at the ground.
Dave: Now, as I hear you say this, I wish I had some of that, because it would make it—I think it would make you—a better listener, husband, dad; is that true at all?
Brant: I think that—
Dave: —that Carolyn loves it probably. I mean, I'm sure there are things, yes.
Brant: Okay, so this doesn't apply to everybody, but yes, it can be a real asset, because I don't lie to her. It's just not a big temptation for me. I also do have compassion for her and for the kids and loyalty. She knows I won't flirt with other women. Why? Well, because I'm true to her, but also, I can't flirt. [Laughter] I can't flirt with her. She knows that. I don't do that, so I have to say things. But because it's true, saying, “You look great.” “Well, thank you.” It's a fact, you do. I'm not flirting. It's just a fact. I'm saying the truth that I've learned. I need to say that.
Dave: She's never said—because Ann will say—”You're just saying that because you're my husband.” I'll say, “No, I really think that.” You're just—she knows you mean it.
Ann: You would just say, “No, it's a fact.”
Brant: Okay, so this is a reason to appreciate this friend that may be a little odd to you. You don't understand what's going on.
Ann: Or a child.
Brant: Or a child. That's a good friend to have.
Ann: Yes, it is.
Brant: Because they're genuine. They're not just saying stuff.
Dave: Well, plus, you said you appreciate quirky people.
Dave: And I thought, “That's the heart of Jesus.”
Brant: I think that's one of the things that draws me to Him. That's one of the chapters I wrote in this book.
Dave: Yes, you said because of being on the spectrum, you're drawn to Jesus. Talk about that.
Brant: Yes, a lot of people do lose connection with church or with faith who are on the spectrum because they don't feel comfortable there, or they have questions that aren’t answered. They don't get it. I understand that. I'm drawn to Jesus Himself. That's why I'm in this whole Christianity thing. It's Him. But that's one of His things; His own acknowledgement of the underdog and turning things upside down where the last are first and the first are last. I love that.
Dave: Yes, but you’ve felt you're the underdog—
Brant: Totally, yes.
Dave: —for a lot of your life.
Brant: And we're just rooting for the vulnerable. I'm telling you, there's a special thing for little people, little animal; and I see that with Jesus. I love that. And again, He says, “If you've seen me, you've seen the Father.” Well, if that's what God's like, that speaks to my Aspie soul, I call it, for Asperger's syndrome. Or I used to call it but being on the spectrum. That just speaks to me.
Other things about Jesus. I love how He flips the hierarchy over. He doesn't do this thing where, “Oh, you're a very important person. I'm going to act this way around you.” And then somebody who's not important, “I'm going to act this way around you.” He doesn't do that at all.
Ann: You mentioned Asperger's. What's the difference between autism and Asperger's?
Brant: Well, Asperger's used to be in the diagnostic manual for—it's a high functioning autism. But again, I love that Jesus is the same to everybody.
Brant: And look, again, if that's God, that's awesome news that He would treat people that way.
The other thing—when we're called aliens and strangers as believers; if we're followers of Jesus, we're supposed to be aliens to this world. I already feel like an alien in this world. There's a Facebook group called Wrong Planet, and it's just for people on the spectrum, where you feel like, “Am I from another planet? I don't understand what's going on here.”
Brant: You really do feel that way. For me, being outside the mainstream culture and being different is like, “Well, I get that. I don't have a problem with that.”
Another reason I'm drawn to Him, and I outlined these in the book; I love how blunt He is.
Ann: To the highest of that day, the Pharisees.
Brant: Yes, and to have someone speak that bluntly and that plainly is wonderful. He doesn't let people get away with their religious, moralistic idea that they're good people.
Ann: Yes, to put on a show.
Brant: Yes, I love that, too. Because you're—if you're analytical and skeptical, it's like everybody thinks they're a good person, but we're not. We can see that. He doesn't put up with that.
Ann: Yes, well, how could churches be better in terms of reaching and identifying with someone on the spectrum?
Brant: I've had a lot of people ask me this question: “Can I find a group in my home?” because I’m syndicated, right? So that they'll hear me talking about this. “I don't know of a group in your town. I wish there was. You may want to start one.”
Brant: And I think a church who was really thinking would say, “Okay, let's start with a middle school group for people who are on the spectrum.” You will get people from far away driving to your church who aren't even believers.
Brant: And you want to be somewhere where people don't think you're weird. You know how heartbroken you are as a parent when your kids struggle socially, and they want friends. They come home crying because they thought they had friends, but it turns out they're just people that make fun of them. And they still think they're friends.
That's the other thing for me, too. We get easily fooled because we're being genuine, and so it's hard to feel that. “Wait a second, they're not my friend.” Oh, it hurts! But it really hurts when your kids go through it. So, if you do something like that, where you have a place you can go, people will beat the door down.
Dave: Did you have people that you thought were friends and you realized otherwise?
Brant: Oh, yes. Oh, totally.
Brant: It's a very common, heartbreaking story. Because again, in your book, if you say something, you meant it. “Why would somebody say that if they didn't mean it? I don't understand. He said we're getting together on Saturday. He said it two months ago that we're going to go swimming on July whatever.”
Ann: And you wouldn't forget.
Brant: So, I'm showing up. “Why did he say that?” That's the level that we're operating on; and it's not a bad level.
Dave: Right. Did your parents see this? Treat you any differently? Did you feel loved? Did you feel not?
Brant: There wasn't a name for it. My mom just knew I was different. Actually, when I got diagnosed as an adult, it was explanatory to her and she said, “Oh, that explains this,” “That explains that,” “That explains a lot of good things”—
Dave: Yes, yes.
Brant: —like why you would compile information like you did about everything, and how you struggled with relationships; why you didn't date.” She always loved me. You know, I know that.
But it would have been wonderful if there was a church that was like, “We're getting people together.” People who are not believers will come into that. People from all the other churches will come to that. Start it. If you're not an expert on this, it's okay! Learn on the fly. That's alright. But do it. And then have this high tolerance, because that group of kids is going to be fascinating, hilarious, fun, super honest. They're going to ask questions you never thought of in your entire life. [Laughter] You're going to love it, and they're going to love being loved. They're going to love it!
So, you don't have to be perfect at it. You don't have to have a doctorate in this. You don't have to be a licensed, clinical whatever. It's like, just be somebody who likes these people. My son was in a group in college.
Ann: What kind of group? What would they do in the group? Are you talking about going through the Bible?
Brant: You could do Bible study. Yes, it can be a Bible study, but then you'll learn what works and what doesn't.
Brant: And how, you know, attention spans and how deep we can go and who wants to dominate conversation and who doesn't. You want to learn on the fly how to do it. But what was fascinating, my son was part of a group. It was a college age group; it wasn't a Christian group, but we read about it in the paper, and we said, “He wants to go.”
We get there, and there are tons of college kids there. These are all people who are different socially, and really cool, but different. I overheard one of the conversations [that] got really animated—some people were quiet; It takes a while—really animated. They were talking about the paint on the Hindenburg. [Laughter]
Brant: Yes. I thought, “I love this crew.”
Brant: Anybody who's fascinated with stuff!
Brant: Because they all have these deep interests.
Ann: Because you're like, “How would you know this?” Of course, you would know it.
Brant: Right! And they're passionate about it. So, it's me. I hit on certain things, like World War I. I know stuff about World War I. Nobody else cares like I do, but if I find someone who does, we're off to the races, right? [Laughter] I like words; I collect words like etymology. I like linguistics. I like all that stuff. I can say these things, but in a lot of stuff, it's just like people who are quiet, and they're on the spectrum. They're into math, but they're thinking, “Yes, that's me; same thing.”
Ann: Could a parent of a child who's on the spectrum—could they lead a group like that? Or at least gather them together?
Brant: Yes. That's how this one formed, that I was talking about with my son. It was the guy's mom. And it turns out this guy, her son, was really into music; really into playing guitar. You can name any pop song, and he’ll start playing. Well, like you, Dave. If you met some kid like that who doesn't have a lot of friends, but holy smokes! He's an encyclopedia. He can play guitar. We did that. We had a blast.
Ann: Yes, you would be fascinated by that.
Dave: Oh, yes.
Brant: You wouldn't know if you just avoid awkward people. Starting this all across the country would be a brilliant thing. There's a huge niche for it that needs to be filled. It teaches us. And there are more and more kids being diagnosed. There are more and more people who are struggling socially anyway. Again, we have an expert culture, so we defer to experts: "I don't know everything about them.” Just do it.
Brant: Just learn from love; learn the hard way. There's going to be awkward stuff. You're going to do stuff like, “Okay, that didn't work.” That's okay. But my goodness, there's are—people are dying for this stuff.
Ann: I've been in ministry a long time with women, and there was this one situation where there were three women that people were, I could tell they were kind of running from them. There was an awkwardness in the conversations. So, my friend and I said, “Let's pray about these three women.” We ended up praying like, “Lord, what do you want us to know about, like, how can we minister to these women?” Because it felt like they were pushing people away in some circumstances. And as I went to prayer, I'm like, “Lord, what do you think of them?” This thought came to my mind, and I felt like it was from God. “Aren't they delightful?”
Ann: I started to cry, because I thought, “Of course, that's what You would say, God. They are delightful to You!”
Brant: Yes, right.
Ann: “And You see the beauty in who they are. You're celebrating how You've created them.” I think that if we would just take some time to say, “God, what do You want us to know? What do You want us to do?” we would find that God delights in the misfits.
Brant: That's right. And on a personal level, I talked about my wife and I how we met. She's really glad that she took the time to get to know me. She thinks I'm a really good husband.
Ann: We think you're pretty great, too.
Brant: I just use that as an example!
Brant: You don’t know!
Brant: She could have been like, “He's a little odd.” But having a high quirk tolerance, these people are delightful. It's wonderful. It's so sweet to—you know what, I had a coworker say something one time, which is going to sound strange, like, “Why was that moving to you?” But there are three of us on the morning show, and the guy who talked to this coworker of mine, this lady. He said, “What's the deal with Brant this morning?” I don't even know what I was doing. I didn't have a problem. [Laughter] I just looked too intense, or I said something too bluntly on accident. She said, “That's just Brant.”
When I heard that she had said that—now that sounds insulting, but it wasn't. It was like, “Thank you.” Just be my friend. It's so much energy to try to be normal. And if you can be yourself and somebody can have a little bit of tolerance for quirk and they say, “That's Brant. We love him.” Thank you!
It makes me feel comfortable. And you don't have to be on the spectrum; you could just be a little odd, in whatever way, whatever wonderful way, to experience and know what I'm talking about. The relief of that. No more—it's so exhausting to try to do normal stuff.
Dave: And boy, when a parent says that to his son or daughter—
Dave: —that's a word of life.
Dave: “I love my son and daughter. That's who they are.” And that's beautiful.
Shelby: Tolerance for quirk. Man, I love that!You know, for anyone who wrestles with trying to be quote unquote, “normal,” it's so freeing to know that God loves you. And today's conversation helps all of us to know how to better love anyone in their life who might feel like an outsider or just have a little quirk.
I'm Shelby Abbott, and you've been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Brant Hansen on FamilyLife Today.We're going to hear more from Brant Hansen here in just a second. But first, Brant has written a book calledBlessed Are the Misfits.This is a book for believers who are introverts, spiritual strugglers, or [who] just feel like they're missing something; or you know someone who would fall into any of those categories.
If you feel like you don't relate to God as emotionally or feel His presence as intensely, this book is going to help you discover that there's not necessarily anything wrong with you. It's going to help you normalize those experiences if you've ever felt like you're on the outside.
This book that Brant has written is going to be our gift to you when you partner with us financially. You can go online to FamilyLifeToday.com or you can give us a call with your donation at800-358-6329. Again, that number is800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” And feel free to drop us something in the mail. Our address isFamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, FL 32832.
Alright, here's Brant Hansen with some encouragement for those who are on the spectrum or know someone who is.
Brant: There was a doctor who made diagnoses. I remember—I can't remember who it was, but it's in one book about Asperger's back when we use that term. He said when he’d make the diagnosis, he would tell teenagers or whatever, “Congratulations, you have Asperger's.”
Brant: I embody that in my life!
Brant: I like it. I like it. I like people who are on the spectrum. I'm biased. [Whispering] I think you're more interesting. [Laughter] Than normal people that just try doing all the same stuff. I just. I'm biased. But congratulations! That's—the Lord is good!
Ann: That's good for parents to hear, too; to have kids that are there, [hearing], “Congratulations.”
Brant: Yes, “Congratulations. You are ready for—you're going to go through some heartbreak. You're going to go through some awesome stuff. You're going to be so thankful that you have that kid.”
Shelby: Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are back with Brant Hansen to talk about parenting kids on the spectrum. 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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