Preparing your ASD child for altar service, Part Two: The Art of Holding Still

Preparing your ASD child for altar service pt2

Welcome back!

I’m super excited about this series, so I’m glad you’re visiting to check out the second installment. Last week, we talked about safety issues. Today, we attempt to still our squigglers.

Oh, boy.

While I put this one together, I realized that skills #2 (Holding still) and #3 (Avoiding drawing attention to oneself) were very closely linked, so I’m addressing them in one post. No worries, though–I’ll still give you a fifth part to the series, Dos and Don’ts for parents, which will include a *surprise* of the free and downloadable variety. (Yay!) Come on back for that, k?

Anyway. Today’s business is keeping ’em quiet, auditorally and visually.

Necessary skill #2: Ability to avoid calling attention to oneself.

My priest very fairly pointed out (as did all the parents I talked with) that no person avoids this 100% of the time, special needs or not.

Proof: the time I may or may not have lost my shoe and, subsequently, my balance while venerating icons at a monastery.

Or the time I knocked over an enormous bowl of grain during the veneration of the cross at another parish I visited. And I’m a neurotypical adult. (I still don’t know what the grain was for, but it looked important, and it was *everywhere.*)

Sometimes we do the wrong thing, no matter where our neurons connect. What’s important is that we try not to do any of it on purpose, or out of carelessness, because Liturgy isn’t about us. It’s about Christ. So we humble ourselves, put aside any desire to be seen, and enter into His holiness. I love this verse in Romans:

For by the grace given me, I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

Romans 12:3 NIV

So, what about our kids who just crave motion? A few suggestions…

BCBA tips for behavior management

1. Motivate, motivate, motivate.

I opened up my last post with this point, but it’s worth repeating: in many cases, people with autism are not motivated by the same things neurotypicals are. We can be motivated by things that aren’t overt, like Dad’s beaming pride, while someone with autism might miss that social cue completely.

So, we find what motivates them, and we use it. In William’s case, it’s allergy-free chocolate. Here’s what we use:

enjoy life minichips enjoy life mega chunks

We buy them at Kroger for the immediacy factor, but we’ve used Vitacost (who I’ve linked from the pictures above) for the “cheaper” factor.

Vehicles work, too. He loves trips to the Street Department in town, or even a close-up look at the church’s lawnmower.

Start there, for behavior management in church. Have a talk beforehand about it. Tell him that you’d like to see him hold still and sing along, and that you’ll slip him a chocolate chip for every ten minutes (or less, depending on your situation) he stands still. As he gets good at this, you can start spacing out the increments, until you’re only rewarding him after Liturgy, when he’s maintained his behavior the whole service.

Don’t be worried if it takes a while. You may even give him a break at a point in the Liturgy that you and your priest agree upon as appropriate. During this break, give him some time to engage in stereotypy (flapping, obsessive quoting of movies, etc.), or eat a snack. Whatever helps wind him down.

You just have to follow through on promises consistently, or none of this will mean anything.

2. Use physical cues

William’s therapists have used the bracelet trick for years. 

It’s just one of those 80s slap bracelets. Guys. Remember these?

Slap bracelets

The rule is this: While you wear this bracelet, your hands are at your side; your feet are still. When I take it off, you can flap your hands again (or stomp, or spin, etc.). You can also do it the other way around (bracelet on=stereotypy time, bracelet off=time to be still), as long as it’s the same every time.

We’ve used this for school, and it’s been effective. He’s focused while he does his math, and then he can have a break with it off.

3. Use fidgets

Sometimes, you can help your child learn to hold still, and other times, it’s better to channel the energy in a different direction. Fidgets can be helpful in this case.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, fidgets are small objects, usually something that will fit in the hand, and can self-regulate sensory input, which increases attention. Depending on the object, fidgets can either calm or alert, and they might be squished, poked, pulled, chewed on, turned, etc.

I went to and almost spent my whole night there. Here are a few of my favorites, which would be subtle to wear or hold, and inconspicuous in use or if they fell to the floor.


Monkey Fidget web

Spiky pickle fidget web

And if you’re not interested in buying anything, a prayer rope has been pretty helpful in this function, too.

4. Backward chaining

Another method to consider is backward chaining, which has you working backward from your goal. For example, you could tell your child that if he’s quiet and still the entire time he’s in line to receive communion, he gets his motivator. Then it’s two minutes before you get in line, and the whole time in line, and he gets his motivator. Then you start when the priest closes the doors, and so on.

I’ve linked to this YouTube video before, and I’ll do it again because it’s such a good explanation. It’s only about three minutes, and well worth the watch.

I hope that these suggestions are helpful, and I would *love* to hear your ideas–remember, I’m in there with ya!

Next Tuesday, we’ll talk about responding to random requests. Come back and visit!


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