Preparing your ASD child for altar service, Part 4: Having an audience

Preparing for altar service pt4So sorry, folks. We’ve been traveling for Memorial Day weekend, and this post didn’t go live yesterday. Anyway, thanks for waiting it out and thanks for joining me today! Here we go, part 4 of 5.

Necessary skill #4: Ability to fulfill responsibilities in front of a group

It’s misdirected to assume that, because the child has autism, he won’t be comfortable in front of people. He’s first a person, and people may or may not feel naturally at ease in front of a group. Autism is irrelevant in this category. But, if your child with autism does feel anxious, he might have no reference point to identify it, and may not know how to describe it.

And of course, having stage fright is not just a spectrum problem. It can catch any of us. I know, because I’ve done performance. I’ve acted, I’ve sung, I’ve played piano, I’ve given speeches and presentations, and I still have that feeling that I’m either going to burst into uncontrollable laughter or my butt’s going to fall off.

Happens every time. Well, the feeling. Not the butt loss. That one hasn’t happened yet.

What I mean to point out is that agitated nerves are common, even among the well-practiced. The difference between those who appear at ease on stage and…everyone else isn’t necessarily the presence or absence of stage fright. A lot of times, the difference is whether or not they’ve recognized it, learned to expect it, and tamed it.

So, how about our kids? Let’s see about those professional thoughts.

BCBA recommendations

1. Practice altar server responsibilities. There’s a lot of ways to do this.

  • If you or your other children practice pretend play with him, play “church.” Give him a broom to carry for a fan, or a plastic spoon for a candle. Or a real candle. Depends how much you trust your kids with fire.
  • Whenever you light candles, let him try it (or start training him by putting his hand over yours as you light).
  • When it’s time to hang clothes up in closets, let him help, so he’s comfortable hanging up his sticharion when the time comes.
  • If you burn incense in your home, show him where the charcoal is and have him place the bits in the right place. Make it his job.

The objective here is to make him as comfortable as possible with his jobs. Think about yourself–would you be comfortable in front of a group doing things you’ve never tried before and don’t feel very good at? Or would you prefer to do things you already know how to do?

2. Practice performing

Of course, altar service is not a performance. It shouldn’t be. But, when you know people could be (even absentmindedly) watching you, the effect may be the same on the nerves. So, let’s treat it that way for this purpose, and practice actual performance.

Here are some things he can practice doing in front of family members:

  • Play an instrument (or sing a song!)
  • Recite a poem (or a word, or a phrase–depending on verbal skills)
  • Ride a bike
  • Bounce a ball
  • Work a rubix cube
  • Fill in a math or handwriting worksheet
  • Tell a joke

Or basically any skill he’s mastered. Whatever it is, ask him to do it while someone else watches. You have to actively watch, though. This exercises his ability to concentrate while he works in front of someone he can see and feel watching him.

3. Gradually increase the audience.

Once he’s been working his rubix cube regularly for Mom and Dad, sometimes sister or brother, have him try it when you have friends or extended family over for dinner. Then try it at your Fourth of July gathering. Try it again at Thanksgiving. As he becomes more comfortable performing, take advantage of any group you have at your disposal.

And you probably won’t have as much flexibility at the church as you would at home, but I’d encourage you to talk to your priest about working your child “up” from what he may expect to be more sparsely-attended services, toward any old Sunday at which the regular whole is expected.

So that’s it for the skills!  On Tuesday, I’ll wrap up the series with a list of dos and don’ts for parents. I was amazed, when I talked with my priest, how many things I did not think of to have in mind as we begin this process of bringing up an altar server. So be sure to tune in for those!

And, also, I am super excited to announce that I’m working on a social story called “I’m an Altar Server” with an extremely talented local artist, and it will be available for (free!) download with Tuesday’s post. Don’t miss it!


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