It’s because I’m busy containing my son. That’s challenging enough with neurotypical children, but holy moly. You add the spectrum and yeah. I can’t remember Lent. I mean, Advent. I mean, um… *checks calendar*
I decided to take a more active approach. And if I’m not going to feel like I’m absorbing the services, then I’ll teach my child to do so. And if he does, I will. Probably.
So, these are a few ideas for pulling our kiddos into the Church and making them a part of our life here. And don’t get mad at me! I know not every one of these will apply to your child; not all of them apply to mine. But autism is a spectrum, after all, so I’m hoping there’s a little in this for everyone. And of course, each of these are things that will require an investment on your part as the parent. Teaching your child to do any of these could take months, but the payoff could be very well worth the effort.
Let’s start at the door.
1. Sign up as a greeter with your child.
Why she might like it (eventually):
- ABA therapy has proved successful over decades for this reason (and a few others): repetitive practice works with this group.
- She gains a social skill she may have found bewildering before: when you greet someone, you make eye contact, shake hands, and (verbal kids) say “hello.”
- It’s the same every time.
- It forces others to interact with your child who might not have otherwise done it, which gives them a chance to see what you see in her.
- As with anything when you’re parenting a kid with ASD, you should probably have a backup plan so you can subtly sneak away if you see it going south. Try having a friend join you while you greet so someone can easily step in.
- Don’t be afraid to try again if it doesn’t work the first time. Or the first several.
2. Talk to your priest about serving at the altar.
Why he might like it:
- He gets to move around.
- Everyone has a job.
- The extra weight of the vestment might be pleasant from a sensory perspective.
Considerations to discuss with your priest:
- A “backdoor” plan–make sure your priest knows that there could come a time, even if it’s been working fine for years, that he’ll need to leave, and fast. Discuss and establish an exit strategy for him, and make sure he knows what it is. Remind him regularly.
- Ask about a longer training period, or training via backward chaining.**
- Find out if your child can begin by serving sections at a time, working up to the entire Liturgy.
3. Volunteer to help sweep up after coffee hour.
Why she might like it:
- Most kids, autism or not, like having a job that’s theirs, that they know how to do.
- The back-and-forth motion of a manual carpet sweeper like this one can be soothing and interesting for kids who stim.
- It can be a catalyst for learning social skills–saying, “excuse me,” or waiting until someone gets up from the table to sweep under it.
- Excepting the probably-rare children who actually love the vacuum, for the love of all the good things God gives, do not use a vacuum. I’m trying to help, here, not ruin your day.
4. Spearhead an assembly-line event that makes cards or gift boxes for residents in a nursing home.
Why he might like it:
- There’s satisfaction in creating something and being included in a group project.
- Crafts are a comparatively quiet thing to do with children.
- An assembly line has a predictable rhythm.
- It provides an opportunity to teach him about the emotional needs of others–the residents might be sad, or miss their families, for example.
- When you recruit, you may want to use language that encourages a peaceful atmosphere, such as “come enjoy a quiet group craft activity,” or “a nice, relaxing evening activity.” Peaceful music he enjoys can’t hurt, either.
- Try holding it in your home. This way you can control the environment, which can decrease the chances of something being “wrong.”
- Make sure you give clear instructions to the kids on how an assembly line works before you get started, emphasizing that you’re a team. Stressing each other out by working as fast as you can isn’t funny to everyone.
5. Consider passing out candles with your child on Pascha.
Why she might like it:
- It’s another predictable, rhythmic task.
- It doesn’t demand the same amount of eye contact that greeting does, and goes faster.
- She doesn’t have to wait in line herself.
- It’s an opportunity for your child to be visible to your fellow parishioners in a positive way.
- A backup plan is a must here. Make sure you have someone to step in fast if it’s needed, or have a ready, visible surface on which to place the candles so people can help themselves.
I hope these give you some practical ideas you can implement. What do you do to make your child a part of your church community?
As always, peace. And love and prayers.
**Backward chaining is a method used in behavior training that breaks a task into steps. You start teaching by way of backward chaining by completing all the steps for your child, then having your child complete the last step. It’s naturally reinforcing, because they’ve completed the task. Then, the next-to-last step is taught, and so on, until the child can complete the entire task independently. I found this Youtube video to be an excellent, easy-to-understand instructional on backward chaining.