Patron Saints of Autism

PatronSaints ofAutism (1)

For those of us who ask the help of saints in our daily lives, one of the first questions that comes along with an autism diagnosis/recognition is, “Who is the patron saint of autism?”

As far as I know, there are no official patron saints of autism. Yet, I can attest to the help and intervention of several saints in our autistic lives. Here are some of the saints that have made themselves known to us as helpers for autistic Christians.

  1. Holy Theotokos. Sometimes it’s easy to read past important parts of scripture, like when the educated people of the time were surprised at how much Jesus knew when he had not studied in the temple or gotten the best education of his day. But his mother had studied in the temple, and she taught her son. Of course, when you’re talking about Jesus, you’re also talking about a lot of divine revelation. But there is also the human mother whose youth before the angel appeared was dedicated to the study of scripture and prayers. The Mother of God is also mother to us all, parents and kids alike. She prays for us and can help us with our anxieties and fears and with guidance in teaching and therapeutic living.
  2. St. Anthony the Great. When my youngest son’s profound cognitive delay was first diagnosed, my son did not even have an idea that communication or language were possible. I remember looking at the paper work that declared my son’s abilities to be less than first percentile, and I immediately thought of St. Anthony. St. Anthony was taught to read by angels. I went to my icon wall in the kitchen near where I was standing and asked God to help my son and help us to teach him. Then I specifically asked that St. Anthony would pray for him, that my son would learn by divine intervention the same way that St. Anthony had been taught to read. Since I thought of language as reading at that time, I even asked that the saint would come and teach my son to read. One week later, my two year old son wrote the word “Hodegetria” on the magnet board with his little letters. It means, “She who shows the way,” and it’s the name of an icon of the Holy Theotokos holding Jesus and gesturing toward her son. We took a photo because we were astonished and thought we might be imagining it at first. Then, a couple of weeks later, our boy wrote Down Stairs Go on the board with his magnets. He could read and spell.
  3. St. John Maximovitch of Shanghai and San Francisco. This beloved modern saint has reached out to our family often. We ask him for help in forming helpful connections in our brains and in helping with speech and language processing delays. He, too, was slow of speech, and I think his great love for us helps us a lot.
  4. St. Nathaniel (AKA Bartholomew) the Apostle. When we first meet Nathaniel, Jesus calls him an Israelite in whom there is no guile. Guilelessness is one of the hallmarks of autism, and I am encouraged to have this Apostle’s prayers for helping us train our attention towards God’s love and for helping us navigate a world that is friendlier to lies than truth.
  5. St. Panteleimon the Unmercinary Physician. While all of the Holy Unmercinaries are helpful, St. Panteleimon has reached out with his mercy. He was known for healing both the body and soul by the love of Christ and the best medicine of his day. We ask him for help to know which supports to implement and for healing and forming connections across our different bodily and spiritual systems.
  6. St. Anastasia the Defender Against Potions, or the Healer. St. Anastasia is one of the saints who helps you with your problems and also has your back. She helps to defend us against malice and gossip or people who would attack our vulnerability. She was known for taking care of the Christians in prison who were going to be martyred. She is not afraid of anything, and she can bring comfort and lower anxiety. If you’ve noticed a theme here, yes, anxiety is a big challenge in autistic life.
  7. St. Nektarios of Aegina. When my twins were a few months old, I had their little cribs right next to my bed. One night I woke up to feed my older twin. While I was feeding him, I looked over in his crib and saw an icon of St. Nektarios and had a strong sense that he was praying for us. I made the sign of the cross over myself and the babies and blew a kiss toward the icon in veneration (but veneration where you’re not going to risk waking up twins in the middle of the night). The next morning, I suddenly remembered that we didn’t have an icon of St. Nektarios. But I bought one right away! Since then, we have felt his love and guidance and prayers in our lives every day. He’s the patron saint of our therapeutic homeschool. In the broader Orthodox Christian world, St. Nektarios often helps people suffering from epilepsy as well as other ailments and conditions. We ask him to guide us and to help our minds, bodies, and spirits work together to love God and to give us a sound mind. Being in your right mind is a gift of the Holy Spirit that is open to autistic Christians, too, and this saint helps us toward that fullness.
  8. St. Sergius of Radonezh. When I asked around from several autistic Orthodox Christians and family members of children with learning disabilities, I encountered a great love for St. Sergius. This saint, who struggled to read, has encouraged many people with communication, learning, and reading difficulties. His great love seems to reach out to many autistic people.
  9. St. Seraphim of Sarov. This saint’s great love and teaching on acquiring the Holy Spirit inspires many autistic Orthodox Christians. His suffering after living in the wilderness and surviving a terrible beating helps us to see his great compassion. When I surveyed Orthodox autistic adults, it seemed that almost everyone has a special relationship with this loving saint. He helps with anxiety, focus, and sensory integration, and he helps us all to know that the Holy Spirit gives each of us gifts that come to fruition in our ongoing lives with Christ. 
  10. St. Dymphna, the patron saint of mental illnesses, also encourages lots of autistic Christians. Her intercessions help not only with the comorbid conditions that often appear alongside autism, but also help to clear the confusion that can handicap autistic life and prayers. 

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Do you have patron saints to add to the list? Share your stories in the comments!


Read more about autistic faith and fullness of life in Of Such is the Kingdom: A Practical Theology of Disability, available from the Ancient Faith Store or Amazon (aff. link).

18 thoughts on “Patron Saints of Autism”

  1. Congratulations Summer! I’m excited and very proud of you over your new writing project! Thank you for sharing the roles of each of the Orthodox Saints and how each have helped your family. It makes my heart happy to read how each of you have been truly impacted by each one! I loved reading how y’all’s prayers were answered with the babies!! So amazing and beautiful.. I’m looking forward to reading your next book! ❤️🙏🏼

  2. This is an amazing website you have created. I am Catholic so the fact you found patron saints for autism is really powerful for me. I love everything you are doing here, especially how you incorporate your faith. Thank you.

    1. Thank you for saying so! If I added Catholic patrons, they would be St. Francis and St. Teresa of Avila for the concrete ways they explained and navigated God’s Love.

  3. Within the Catholic saints there is also St. Thorlak, Bishop of Iceland, who showed many signs of autism and whose example is helping many with autism today. His life is highlighted at mission-of-saint-thorlak.com Thank you for posting this, and may God richly bless your endeavors!

  4. You should definitely consider St. Theophil, fool-for-Christ of Kiev Caves for your list. He may even have been autistic. I have found the fools for Christ, in general, to be helpful and compassionate intercessors.

  5. As someone who was born premature (and more recently told I have autism), who am a slow learner and took a while to learn to read and write, I think of three Saints. (I guess not all autistics have struggled with the type of issues that I have, so maybe this is more of a: Saints- Who-Care-For-Slow-Learner’s type post, or Saints-For-Those-Who-Have-Trouble- Communicating).

    One Saint would be St. Mammas the martyr. He was born premature and didn’t speak for a long time. He became known as Mammas because that was what he finally called his own foster-mom, Ammia.

    Another is St. John of Kronstadt, who really struggled in school and was doing terribly. But after deep, true prayer, God illumined his mind and showed him that he would now understand. He became top student and was even chosen for Seminary.

    Then there’s St. Sergius of Radonezh. Even in the womb, his parents felt that God was preparing them to raise a holy child. After his birth, God granted him to be a good faster. But at school, he did poorly. His teacher gave him more attention than the others, but he still fell behind. He was scolded, chastised, and made fun of by people around him. St. Sergius tearfully asked God to help him read. One day, he met an angel of God disguised as a monk, to whom he told his struggles. The ‘monk’ blessed and comforted him, told him he would now understand things, and giving him a piece of prosphora to eat as a sign of the grace of God. St. Sergius persuaded the ‘monk’ to come to his home, and his parents treated him well, only to be surprised when the monk had their son read the Psalter before eating. (I like the Nesterov painting of the ‘monk’ and St. Sergius). More about him can be read on the OCA site.

  6. There is also St. Joseph of Cupertino. He tried to enter the Franciscan monastery but was considered too stupid. He finally got work feeding their farm animals and eventually became a priest. He then could levitate while saying Mass.

    St. Benedict Joseph Labre tried entering 2 monasteries as a Brother and was rejected both times. With that he became a wandering pilgrim who would minister to the poor and sick.

    St. John Vianney struggled in seminary and was assigned to a “backwards” parish at Ars, France. Yet he became famous for dispensing wisdom in Confessions, often hearing them for 16 hours a day!

    St. Gemma Galgani tried to be come a nun, but was wasn’t considered smart enough and had to settle in joining a third order and remain a single lay person. She experienced the stigmata.

    Servant of God Leonie Martin was a sister of St
    Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face (The Little Flower). She was expelled from school and had horrid meltdowns. An aunt had to develop a different way to educate her. She later became a Sister.

    St. Andre Bessette and Blessed Solanus Casey both did poorly in school. Andre became a Brother while Solanus became a priest but was not allowed to give homilies or hear confessions. They became porters in their communities and were noted for healings thanks to their prayers.

    St. Thorlak was thought to be a genius despite having a severe speech impediment. That, along with his extreme fasting and great dislike for crowds did not keep him from becoming a Bishop in his native Iceland.

  7. Autistic Catholic guy here! St. Dymphna’s been one of my favourite saints since I was little; my family prays to her as the patron saint of autistics, since she’s the patroness of neurological disorders. She’s an Irish saint, but she’s been venerated since way before the schism (she was martyred in the 7th century), and her feast day is May 15th.

  8. I come back to this post often. I added all of these saints to my list months ago (some of them were duplicated) but I just re-read the whole thing, especially the part about St. Nathaniel.

    Since I started this journey, my conscience has been hyperactive (even more so than normal) and I constantly hear accusations that I’m terrible, I’m worthless, I’m awful, I’m prideful, I’m full of guile and deceit, and it makes me want to cry (as I am doing right now).

    I know that in and of myself, yes, I am terrible, and I have never seen to much pride and anger in myself. But my conscience seems over-sensitive all of the time, and it just hurts like crazy.

    This is so hard, converting. I know I am on the right path, but being a catechumen is so, so difficult. I thought it was going to get better once I was chrismated, and was hoping that it could be this year, but my priest said I need to wait until at least I go through one church cycle, and ideally bring my family on board as well–which is wise, but it *hurt like hell*.

    I was hoping to have some relief from this near-constant torment soon. Nope.

    My mental health issues (hearing voices, and the basic stuff connected with autism including anxiety–thankfully I haven’t had a seizure) have gone off the charts at times. I am having to constantly fight, because I can’t get any medical help (any time you say ‘voices’, the doctors reach for the phone, where they have the men in white suits on speed dial, OR they throw more pills at you) and I can’t find any Orthodox doctors ANYWHERE, who may have a grid for such spiritual warfare, so I am just going to have to press through.

    Please pray for me. This week has been really rough, and the news that I am going to have to keep fighting with no relief, potentially for a long time, is very discouraging. Granted, I don’t expect life after chrismation to be easier–I expect it will be harder, in some respects–but I had hoped that, with it being reckoned as ‘one’s own personal Pentecost’, that I would have some extra ‘oomph’ to fight this stuff off, and maybe sleep a little better and have some peace.

    Now that that hope’s been postponed, it’s back to Klonopin for some relief from the anxiety (before I decided to convert, I had actually been down to one pill a day, now I’m back to two and the stubborn doctor refuses to give me more so I can take three) and fighting all day long, and sleeping as much as I can to get away from the torment.

    I am asking for blessings and prayers from priests as much as possible, and that helps, but the feeling that ‘nobody understands’, weighs on me constantly.

    I don’t know if my priest is afraid of me or not, a lot of ministers hear ‘mental illness’ and they treat you like you have leprosy (and people treat catechumens like that anyway, so…)

    (He doesn’t show many signs of being afraid of me, that is probably just paranoia from being abused by almost all spiritual leaders I have encountered before, not to mention teachers, bosses, and every other form of authority…)

    I know maybe three people on the Internet who are Orthodox and have autism, and since 1% of Americans are Orthodox, the autistic population is 5%, and America is big, I count the chances of every getting to meet someone who is both, in person, to be close to zero.

    So, yeah. I hit rock bottom all the time.

    1. As I read your comment, I prayed for you constantly and asked your patron saint Stephen to intercede for you that by the power and mercy of Christ you be granted a sound body and mind and the joy, love, and peace in the Holy Spirit. May the Holy Theotokos guard you, and you be guided into all peace by our Lord Jesus Christ. Above all else, as St Anthony tells us, “May Christ be as the breath you breathe.” Call upon Jesus.

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