Interview by Jenny Bristol
Illustration by Rebecca Burgess
Dr. Lamar Hardwick is a leader in his community, both in his role as lead pastor at Tri-Cities Church in Georgia and by being a positive force in the other parts of his life. He is very open about being autistic, for the purposes of educating others and for communicating his own needs. He has learned in which types of environments he thrives best, and has set up his life in such a way to make best use of his many strengths. Dr. Hardwick has written a book about his experience entitled I Am Strong: The Life and Journey of an Autistic Pastor. You can also read Dr. Hardwick’s interview with GCB’s Zoom Magazine in Issue 10.
What does a typical work/regular day look like for you (or, if there isn’t a typical day, describe one that is representative of your work/regular life)?
A typical day for me is usually filled with meetings, phone calls, or emails. Most of the time I am meeting with people with whom I am working on a project or people who come to me for spiritual counsel. I also spend quite a bit of time meeting with my staff and planning church or community events.
What hobbies or interests do you have outside of your work?
I love to read. I am usually reading anywhere between 3 to 5 books a month. I also love to watch movies, so I tend to go to the movies alone a lot. It gives me a chance to unplug and process my thoughts as I watch the characters on the screen. I also love to exercise. I do cross fit classes 4-5 times a week. It helps me with my stress and anxiety.
How does being autistic help or hinder your work or hobbies?
Well, it definitely helps in being able to keep a routine. I love to have all of my hobbies to fit into a set schedule or rotation. On the other hand, things like joining a new gym was difficult because I had to meet new people and interact with them in a strange environment. Eventually I adjusted, but the first several months were anxiety provoking.
What kinds of changes or accommodations do you make in your life to allow you to be successful?
I have to modify my schedule to fit my peak performance times. I don’t keep a typical schedule. I only schedule meetings between certain activities. I work from home two days a week because I need the time to be alone and work without distractions. I also spend a limited amount of time in my actual office. I usually only work in my office for a maximum of 3 hours. I am fortunate to be able to have complete control of my work schedule.
Have you experienced discrimination or bullying because of your autism or autistic traits?
I have experienced it from time to time, but for the most part people treat me fairly. I am very open about my diagnosis and I communicate to the people around me how to work with me and how they can help me to be my best. In the cases that I have had bad experiences, it has been something that I was able to address directly. Sometimes people’s ignorance about autism leads to discrimination. I continue to see my role as a teacher and educator about autism so that we can teach people not to discriminate.
What advice would you give to a young or teenage autistic person to help them live their best life, or what advice would you give an autistic adult to help them feel supported in their continuing journey?
I often remind young adults on the spectrum that there is always at least one thing that they can do that the people around them can’t do. Standing out isn’t always a bad thing. Once you know what is unique about your style, personality, and your perspective about life then you can actually be a trail blazer. Sometimes in order to make a difference we have to be willing to be different. Different doesn’t mean deficient.
What advice would you give parents of autistic kids about the best ways to support their kids in becoming their best selves? What advice from the “experts” do you think parents should ignore?
Every child has potential and the best way to support them is to ignore what others are doing and help them to find their greatest potential, whatever that looks like for them. Don’t measure success by measuring them up against other children’s achievements. Also learn to celebrate their progress more regularly. Building their confidence is important.
How has being diagnosed helped you communicate and interact with your family, your parishioners, and others? In what ways has understanding yourself better been a boon?
Being diagnosed has helped me to teach my family, friends, and parishioners how to interact with me, how to support me, and how to help me achieve my highest potential.
“Understanding myself has helped me to focus on getting better at my natural skills and gifts instead of spending time trying to become a person that I was never meant to be.”
What messages do you hope the public will take away from seeing you thrive and succeed in your life?
That success is often more a matter of having the right environment and the right support than it is living up to a superficial standard. If given the right support, there are many things that can be accomplished.
What do you see as some of the potential strengths of being autistic?
My attention to detail. My ability to understand patterns and make realistic predictions about what to expect. My ability to focus on tasks and complete them on time. My ability to absorb large amounts of written information and to communicate ideas.
What are the best ways for people to connect with you?
- Facebook: Autism Pastor – https://www.facebook.com/autismpastor/
- Instagram: @lamarhardwick
- Twitter: @autismpastor
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