Breaking the stigma behind Autism

Published 7:08 pm Thursday, February 16, 2017


By Melanie Ruberti

LaGRANGE – When Pastor Lamar Hardwick published a book about his Autism diagnosis, he had no idea of the impact it would make within his congregation and worldwide.

‘I Am Strong’ debuted at No. 3 in the Special Needs category on the Hot Release list during the last week in January. The book also came in at No. 17 on the Best Sellers list.

In 2014, at the age of 36, Hardwick was officially diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a disorder that is on the “high functioning” side of the Autism spectrum.

The pastor of New Community Church shares his journey of struggle and achievement – before and after his diagnosis – in the book.

Since sharing his story, Hardwick has been inundated with questions and stories from other families also dealing with Autism diagnosis.

“I’m excited,” said Hardwick. “I tried to write about my life so it would also be a conversation piece. I wanted people to ask me questions.”

The pastor is opening up the conversation to a wider audience this Sunday during a Lunch and Learn at New Community Church.

“The whole goal is to give people an opportunity to ask questions about my book,” Hardwick explained. “But the larger goal is to have a bigger discussion about Autism and special needs within the faith community … I’m hoping that by having this conversation we will break the stigma behind those disorders … and how we can seek to do a better job within our houses of worship.”

Hardwick said that includes congregations being more welcoming towards people with special need disorders; plus understanding their capabilities –  not just their limitations.

” … Not so much about the statistics, but just getting a good understanding of a week and day in the life of people with Autism or another (special needs) disorder,” he stated. “We need to move past just ‘awareness’ and more towards acceptance. Our (people with Autism) brains are just wired differently and we experience things in a different way.”

The pastor also wants to encourage kids and empower them once they are officially diagnosed.

New Community Church is adding services to accommodate families with children who may have Autism or other disorders, Hardwick said. Staff members have discussed building a sensory friendly room, among other things.

The Lunch and Learn is open to the entire community.

The event will take place at New Community Church at 1200 South Davis Road from noon – 1 p.m on Sunday. The Lunch and Learn is free, but people are encouraged to bring their own lunch.

Copies of Pastor Hardwick’s book, ‘I Am Strong,’ will also be available at the event.

The book is also being sold in most retail stores and on websites including Barnes & Noble and

Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She can be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.