On the Spectrum

Autism, Faith, and the Gifts of Neurodiversity

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2022 Book of the Year Award, Academy of Parish Clergy

Nearly everyone knows someone on the autism spectrum, whether it's a niece or nephew, a student in their classroom, a coworker, or a sibling, spouse, or child. One in 54 children has autism, according to the CDC, and autism is reported across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. Yet most of what people think they know about autism is wrong.

On the Spectrum debunks myths with a realistic yet hope-filled deep dive into the heart, mind, and life of a Christian. Daniel Bowman, a novelist, poet, and professor, received an autism diagnosis at age thirty-five after experiencing crises in his personal and professional life. The diagnosis shed light on his experience in a new, life-giving way. In this captivating book, Bowman reveals new insights into autism, relationships, faith, and the gift of neurodiversity.

Rather than viewing autism as a deficiency, Bowman teaches readers--through stories of his heartbreaks and triumphs--authentic ways to love their neighbors as themselves, including their autistic neighbors who are fearfully and wonderfully, if differently, made.


Prelude: You Always Hurt the Ones You Love
Why You Should Read This Book (and How)
Diversity and Dignity
Speaking the Words
A Portrait of the Autist as a Young Man
The Neurodiversity Paradigm
Living Maps
Autistic Culture Making
Riding while Autistic
Community, Worship, and Service
Autism and Church
Shining like the Sun
Service and the Spectrum
Dancing in Fields of Wheat and Tares
Writing, Teaching, and Learning
Autism and Poetry
The Insidious Nature of Bad Christian Stories
Beautiful Loser
Meaning and Estrangement
The Tracks of My Tears
Family and Identity
A True Name
Loving the Expanse
Peace in Terabithia
Spectrum Interviews
Interview by Molly
Interview by Jenna
Interview by Brian
New Directions
Falling and Autistic Representation
Therefore Let Us Keep the Feast
SEND and the Future of Neurodiversity


"On the Spectrum rings with poetry, compassion, and wisdom, and it reveals so much about autistic experience. I felt nourished by the truths that Daniel Bowman tells and relieved to see them shared. This book may surprise you, and it will certainly inform you."

Katherine May, author of Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times

"What a gift! Moving from mere acceptance to unabashed celebration of neurodiversity is a long-overdue and necessary shift; truly, I believe this is an invitation from the Holy Spirit. I am so grateful to Daniel Bowman Jr. for searingly and beautifully sharing his own fearfully-and-wonderfully-made story and inviting all of us to a more full, more diverse, more compelling vision of the kingdom of God."

Sarah Bessey, editor of A Rhythm of Prayer; author of Jesus Feminist

"Dan Bowman's memoir is a wise pathway to loving our neighbors in a neurodivergent world, one where 'those of us on the spectrum will always deal with loneliness and alienation.' Using the metaphor of a plum tree growing in an inhospitable environment, and with a poet's eye for detail, Bowman engages different modes of interacting with the world and its multifarious senses. A sense of vigilance pervades the quiet universe of language unfolding in his soul, whether in church, outdoors in a field, or within a community of artists. Bowman reminds us of the role of poetry and faith in guiding us toward God and ultimately in honoring the dignity of our shared humanity."

Karen An-hwei Lee, author of The Maze of Transparencies and Phyla of Joy

"This is an illuminating, challenging, and deeply human book that we all need to read in order to truly embody solidarity. We need to read stories of neurodiversity from those who embody those stories best, and Bowman's book is a great place to start the journey."

Kaitlin B. Curtice, author of Native

"I can only imagine how many people will read Daniel Bowman's moving memoir and feel like someone finally sees them. His generous, vulnerable prose will surely make those on the spectrum feel less alone in the world. But for neurotypical readers like me, Bowman invites us to see our neighbors afresh. This book itself is one of the gifts of neurodivergence, adding to this teeming, diverse creation in which God takes delight."

James K. A. Smith, professor, Calvin University; editor in chief of Image Journal; author of On the Road with Saint Augustine

"With the gift of his experience as an autistic adult in the church, Dan Bowman's exquisite vulnerability lights the path toward greater understanding, better advocacy, and a compelling vision for inclusion that moves beyond stereotypes and tokenism. As a spiritual director, a mother to an autistic child, and a Jesus follower, I have been waiting for a book like On the Spectrum. This is the book the church has desperately needed. I want to give this book to everyone I know."

Nish Weiseth, founder and spiritual director, Formation Northwest

"Dan Bowman invites readers into another way of looking at the world, literature, and faith, through his artful and thoughtful eyes. It's both a gift and an indictment of our world to experience how autistic people navigate a society, including the church, that is not set up for them to thrive. I hope everyone reads this book and the many others that are sure to come."

D. L. Mayfield, author of The Myth of the American Dream: Reflections on Affluence, Autonomy, Safety, and Power

"In his remarkable meditations on autistic life, Bowman creates a living map to orient newcomers to our neurodiverse world. I cannot imagine a better guide than his generously empathic and richly detailed writing. On the Spectrum is essential reading, perhaps especially for well-meaning Christians whose limited conception of the Imago Dei has failed to recognize the divine hand in neurodiversity."

Amy Sullivan, religion journalist; author of The Party Faithful

"A deft and poetic affirmation of faith, Daniel Bowman's new book is able to 'honor autistic lives--breathed by the very breath of God--that often feel fragile in the exacting landscape of an allistic world.' Bowman accomplishes this through a pondering of self: a journey through his life, his connection to story, and his search for transcendence. Bowman creates a kenotic text: a book that shows us how to respect 'one's personhood, to listen, to default to humility and kindness.'"

Nick Ripatrazone, author of Wild Belief; culture editor for Image Journal

"June Jordan tells us that practicing poetry means taking control of the language of your life. Dan Bowman exemplifies what this task looks and feels like while inviting us to bear witness, alongside him, to the minute particulars of being human. By picking up what he's setting down, we're enjoined in the work of dwelling more knowingly in our own existence. Receive his voice."

David Dark, author of Life's Too Short to Pretend You're Not Religious

"Combining narrative, poetry, found material, letters, analysis, and interviews, this book compels its readers into a story of art, a story of faith, and a story of a life. Read and believe and act and change, Bowman invites, not because his is the only word but because reading and believing and acting and changing is the only way our world can be made safer."

Pádraig Ó Tuama, author of In the Shelter

"In fresh, clear, and crisp prose, Daniel Bowman Jr. takes us on a journey--his life is a living map--a revelation of the deepest essence of his being as an autistic person. Not only did his narratives educate me further about neurodiversity, they compelled me to pause in awe and wonder, in contemplation, as I considered the spectrum of beauty and wisdom contained within these pages. On the Spectrum nourished and nurtured me--and prompted me to take 'stock of reality.' Bowman deftly demonstrates that each of us has a place in this neurodiverse world. This book is a great gift."

Marlena Graves, author of The Way Up Is Down: Becoming Yourself by Forgetting Yourself

The Author

  1. Daniel Bowman Jr.
    Andrew Paul Davis

    Daniel Bowman Jr.

    Daniel Bowman Jr. (MFA, Seattle Pacific University) is an author, poet, and associate professor of English at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, where he codirects the Making Literature Conference. He writes and speaks regularly on neurodiversity,...

    Continue reading about Daniel Bowman Jr.


2022 Book of the Year Award, Academy of Parish Clergy

"[This] book, a fascinating and moving 'memoir in essays' written by an unusually reflective and transparent evangelical, aims to reframe our thinking on autism. . . . Coming to terms with our disabilities and disorders takes time--perhaps even a lifetime. And it requires abundant love and support from others. For me, this is where Bowman's book hits uncomfortably close to home. Just because I believe we're all made in God's image doesn't mean I treat everyone accordingly, or that I pursue relationships with this truth in mind. I'm a little embarrassed, then, to say that despite my psychological training (or maybe because of it), I've never really considered the value of understanding the world autistics inhabit. So I feel a sense of gratitude to Bowman for drawing this neurotypical reader into his world and challenging some of my preconceptions. Thanks to his book, I'm hopeful that the next time I meet an autistic, I will be a little more curious, connected, and compassionate."

Eric L. Johnson,

Christianity Today

"I wish that in 2003 (or even 2013) Daniel Bowman's On the Spectrum: Autism, Faith and the Gifts of Neurodiversity had been in the landscape of autism memoirs and advice books we were reading. This book of essays and meditations on autism demonstrates and advocates for 'passing the mic' to the supposedly voiceless, and realizing they have voices--clear, creative, insightful, humorous voices--after all. . . . On the Spectrum is the first book about autism I've read with an overtly spiritual lens. Pastors and community members will particularly benefit from reading 'Community, Worship, and Service' which shows both how churches and community can overwhelm as well as bless autistic people. But don't skip straight to those chapters--read the whole book, and pay attention. . . . The text is not just unflinchingly honest, but beautiful. . . . With thanks to books like Bowman's, neurotypical friends, relatives, coworkers, and community members can make life better for an autistic person simply by starting with one simple step: letting them speak for themselves."

Katie Karnehm-Esh,

Englewood Review of Books