"Realizing that I'm going to have these difficulties, I will try to put in as much effort as I can, even if that tires me," Schneider said. "And sometimes I will second-guess: Ok, I might not have picked up the best on that."
Ultimately, he said, he tries to keep in mind, "Ok, I'm not necessarily going to pick up every social cue, so I'm going to do the best I can and ask for clarification when I'm not sure."
"There's [no] magic bullet, and there's not a time that I'm not autistic, that I can just understand perfectly those social cues. I can put effort into understanding them better, but it's not going to be the exact same as non-autistic people would probably understand them."
But there are also blessings to life with autism, Schneider said.
"I have what's kind of a stereotypical autistic memory, which is a very good memory of details and facts, which has been helpful in different ways as a priest."
He has also found that he can overcome some of the challenges associated with autism by using a method called Theory of Mind, in which he guesses what another person is thinking as he talks to them. It also helps him prepare homilies and write articles, by anticipating how his audience may react as they read or hear his work.
"That's a conscious thing I do, whereas most people just do that subconsciously," he explained.
Even with those tools, however, there are some assignments that would be especially challenging for an autistic priest, Schneider said. A typical parish assignment or role as a school chaplain would present struggles for Schneider, given the difficulty that autistic people tend to have in picking up on nonverbal cues, particularly during face-to-face conversations.
Right now, Schneider is working on a doctoral thesis in theology, while also helping out at the Maryland retreat center where he lives. His said his goal is to become a seminary professor or a writer, since these "are fields that as an autistic I think I'm going to succeed in more than in a lot of other more stereotypical priestly ministries, like parishes or chaplaincies."
The priest said his superiors in the Legion of Christ have been very supportive of him.
"I wasn't sure what kind of attitude [they'd have] or what kind of things they'd want when I was diagnosed," he said. But he was met with support and encouragement, "just in simple things such as helping me move toward ministries where I am going to be more likely to succeed in as an autistic person."
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Until now, Schneider has not has spoken widely about his diagnosis with people outside of his community. He maintains two Twitter accounts – a public one under his name and an anonymous one with the handle @AutisticPriest, where he posts about faith and autism.
Schneider said he decided to go public with his story out a desire for transparency and a hope of evangelizing.
"I thought that by coming forward, I would be able to go through and look at how we can better present the Gospel in a way adapted to the autistic mind," he said.
A lot of contemporary catechesis presents the truths of the faith in ways that are not inherently wrong, but are not adapted to an autistic way of thinking, Schneider explained.
Oftentimes, "we can present the faith in an emotional way that is good for a lot of people, but we autistics tend to think much more logically," he said. "So just simply a more logical explanation is more helpful…so we understand why. We tend to be less easily satisfied asking why. We don't have the social cue that a lot of kids have, or a lot of young people have, where after you've asked why three or four times, you kind of stop…we'll keep asking until we understand it, because that's kind of the more logical way our brain works in that regard."
Prayer can also be a challenge for autistic people, at first.