Lamar Hardwick’s life took a turn when he was diagnosed with autism at 36, leading him to discover his true self and become a renowned advocate for faith and autism. Despite facing stage 4 cancer, he remains hopeful, relying on his spiritual strength and continuing his mission to advocate for disability justice within churches.
“I spent my whole life not knowing what people wanted from me, what they expected from me,” Hardwick said in a Zoom call from his home in Georgia. “When I was diagnosed, it was like for the first time I understood I was human.”
Not long after his life-changing diagnosis, Hardwick began blogging about faith and autism. A few viral posts later, he adopted the moniker given to him by one of his new online connections: The Autism Pastor. He was soon speaking at national conferences and securing book deals, all while pastoring a church, completing a Doctor of Ministry program (and, later, starting a Ph.D.) and ministering directly to folks on the autism spectrum. Described by friends and colleagues as “brilliant” and “surprisingly funny,” Hardwick is also known for his dynamic sermons.
“He’s soft-spoken, until he’s preaching,” said Larry Asplund, who served on a pastoral team with Hardwick.
In church, Hardwick appreciated the predictable rhythms and rituals: Communion every first Sunday, choir practice on Wednesdays, Sunday school. In his historically Black church context, autism and other disabilities usually went unmentioned. The exception was the disabled folks on the “sick and shut-in list” that embellished the back of the bulletin.
Despite his academic abilities, by high school Hardwick was still struggling socially. He found a remedy in the form of drugs and alcohol.
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