I should be at church. But my son has refused to go. So that’s how this morning has started. Great, right?
As I fumed my way into my room for a break, a quote on my board by Richard G. Scott jumped out at me and changed my perspective. He says, “The Lord sees weaknesses differently than rebellion. . . . When the Lord speaks of weaknesses, it is always with mercy.” And I realized that my son’s refusal comes from weakness and not rebellion, and that I need to have more compassion to help him adapt.
My sweet little boy turned 11 at the end of December. In January he got the priesthood, and the next week he passed the sacrament. I am so proud of him. But his anxiety is overwhelming him, and he hasn’t been back to church to pass the sacrament in almost a month. They want to call him to be the deacon’s quorum secretary. And I know he wants to serve — he has told me so. But Sunday morning comes and he is physically ill from the pressure to do what he feels is overwhelming.
Adapt to the Overwhelm
As I witness this sweet boy struggle with his anxiety and overwhelm, I can’t help but remember the discussions on the autism support Facebook group I belong to.
Many of these boys are struggling with the new responsibilities of the priesthood. For example, they don’t feel comfortable in the stiff clothes, and being up in front of the congregation is so nerve-wracking!
But I’m here to tell you that they are being prepared for future leadership through these experiences, and we need to help them adapt. These new jobs are hard at first. I remember being new in Young Women. I was overwhelmed by the older girls, spending time with the boys at activities, and just about anything related to puberty. It was awful! It must be worse for my son because he also has the burdens that come with being on the autism spectrum.
As I witness my son struggle, I know this isn’t rebellion. I know this is his weakness trying to hold him down. I am praying for him daily that he will be able to adapt and overcome, because these times are instructional and a safe place to learn how to serve in God’s kingdom. Here are a few ideas that may help your son if he is struggling.
Be Consistent with Expectations
My son knows that if he is not at church, he needs to be in bed. So today he is in bed even though I know he isn’t deathly ill. He needs the consistent consequences because when they are not there, he thinks that church must not matter to me because the rules aren’t being enforced.
He also earns a reward when he goes to church — and clearly that reward is not given when he doesn’t attend.
The reward will be as individual as the kid. It could be dessert after dinner or extra time on a favorite activity. Adapt it for your child and reevaluate it often. Since kids are always changing, the rewards will likely need to change often too. As you keep up with what motivates them, your efforts will be more effective and you’ll be more successful in helping them adapt to this new part of their lives.
Adapt Clothing For His Needs
My son hates dress shirts. After some digging, I learned that it’s because the fabric is so much thinner and colder to his skin — so we have adapted by getting him white T-shirts that he wears under his dress shirt. They feel more consistent to what he is used to, and his dress shirt isn’t as unpleasant.
He also hates dress pants. He struggles with the tightness at the waist, and dislikes the belt and tie. So, I have found some pull-up pants that have elastic at the waist. There is no belt needed for these pants. They are nice pants. Plus, the bishop told me that if the pants are clean and in good repair, he can wear what he needs to. We have an understanding bishop.
The tie is another hurdle to overcome. I found a zipper tie that can be worn a little loose around his neck. He endures it for as long as he must, but he’s still not a fan. I’m just grateful that there is something that works for him. And honestly, his not returning to church in the last month could be because I haven’t solved things as much as I thought I had. But these ideas are a start, and hopefully we can help him overcome his other hurdles.
Prepare His Leaders
Our ward has amazing Young Men’s leaders. They genuinely care about the boys and their success. But they don’t all have children on the spectrum, so if I expect them to succeed, I need to help them be prepared and help them adapt to my son’s needs.
Every kid is different. We have another young man (age 17) in the ward who is on the autism spectrum, so our leaders have had some experience adapting things to what my son may need. However, I made sure to give them a heads-up for some triggers my son has.
I also make sure to prepare him beforehand so he knows what to expect at the activity. Then once he is there, they make sure he has someone to engage with him and involve him in their group.
I appreciate how they are delegating responsibility to my son and giving him plenty of time to adapt and prepare. The week before he passed the sacrament for the first time, there was a special activity for all the deacons. They learned what their jobs were and got to practice as much as they needed.
Then before church that next Sunday (and every Sunday they need to), they can come early to meet with a leader who will walk them through things again. My son was very anxious that first day, but he did well — and I know it was because he was prepared.
Gear Up to Help Him Adapt
So far, things are going well. But things with my son are usually smooth sailing until there is a problem, and then he slams on the brakes and it’s a full stop. Then I must dig out of him what is bothering him so we can fix it, and then he is back to being himself again — until the next thing goes wrong and he stops dead again. But that is his pattern. I get to play detective a lot for that reason. One day he will be better able to tell me what we is wrong, and hopefully we can fix it before he loses momentum.
Preparing myself takes effort and energy. I don’t know why I am still surprised when my son slams on the brakes, but I need the Lord’s help to stay patient in those times and adapt to my son’s needs — so I have started reading my scriptures before I get out of bed every morning.
I used to do it at other times, but reading right after I wake up seems to help me be more patient. I am seeing my son more as the Savior sees him. And even though I still get frustrated often, I am seeing that he’s not rebelling, but has weakness. And just as Elder Scott reminded me, the Lord works with those weaknesses with incredible compassion — and I need to also.
Abby is capable and caring. She is learning more about Autism and parenthood every day. Having completed training to be an RBT (Registered Behavior Technician) for ABA therapy she is beginning to understand her son. And even though she is the first to admit she makes a lot of mistakes, she is so grateful to be on this journey. She comes from a family with many autistic members. She invites us to join her, as she shares her adventures. She wishes to emphasize that Autism is a difference not a defect. If you or a family member have autism, Abby wants you to know that the challenges can be overcome, and there are blessings in autism. You or your loved one are not sick or broken. Together we will teach the world this new language.