BCC: Ministering on the Spectrum, Primary Help for Special Education Children

Bean wears ear-protection all three hours of church.

There are nine Primary instruction manuals (yes, nine!) for teaching Primary lessons to children in the LDS church.

The Primary manuals are thick with ideas, support, scripture references, instructor guidelines and suggestions of age-appropriate activities. There are additional supports for teaching children found on the church websites— that support includes resources by topic, additional ideas for sharing time, and even short videos with weekly topics and tips.

While there are occasional blurbs at the end of a lesson about making accommodations for children with special needs, conspicuously missing are basic instructional guidelines and support for teaching children with learning, processing, or Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). This includes but is not limited to Autism, Asperger Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, and Sensory Processing Disorder.

When a Primary Presidency and classroom instructor learn they have a student with an ASD developmental disability or Autism, if can be disconcerting. Managing a classroom of squirming kids for two hours each Sunday is no small task, and the idea of adding a child with special needs can feel overwhelming. There are frequently questions about disruption of others students, modeling of what is considered “reverent” or classroom-appropriate behavior, physical boundaries, and a myriad of other honest concerns and questions.

It’s important for instructors in the group environment during Sharing Time and in the smaller classes to be on the same page with understanding the individual child, and with a plan of how to manage the child’s needs, while still respecting the needs of the other children and rules of the classroom.

The starting place with this understanding always begins with the parent(s).

The first call a Primary Presidency should make is to ask the parent(s) to tell them about their child. The parent(s) will be able to easily and most accurately convey the strengths and the possible trouble areas for the child.

Frequently a child with Autism will function better when an individual is called to be their teacher in a one-on-one capacity, rather than as a group setting. This may not always be possible, but depending on the needs of the child and the resources of the ward, this can be a very successful starting point. If the child has one person with whom they feel comfortable and trust in a small classroom, they can often manage the louder, less structured Sharing Time lesson with less anxiety or disruption, and can be easily taken out, if the need arises.

The following are tips leaders and teachers may incorporate in the classroom and may discuss with the parents regarding how best to teach the child. Parents will be the best source of information on how these particular issues influence their child, and will be able help choose and incorporate which of these suggestions will be most helpful for their child.

  • Sitting in a chair for two hours with “reverent’ behavior is difficult for all children, but it borders on impossible for a child with ASD. While it’s important to respect others, having a separate space for the child with autism to sit can be successful. A small carpet square at the back of the room, a corner designated as ‘their’ spot, or sitting under a table in the back are accommodations that can allow the child to listen and be present without the stress, anxiety, stimulation and disruption of a front-row chair.
  • Teaching specific social rules such as turn-taking and acceptable social distance can be challenging. Touch and proximity can either be sought, or avoided aggressively.
  • Physical contact should always be initiated by the child. Hi-fives or even something as nice as a gentle hand on the shoulder to praise can be overwhelming. Touch and uninitiated physical contact can be challenging and stressful. Sitting in close proximity to other wiggly children coupled with a loud classroom or sharing time can raise anxiety and behavior issues.
  • Children with autism can have obsessive behaviors, or “stims”. These can include rocking, hiding, squeezing into tight places, humming, flapping of hands or feet, vocalizing, and other things. The use of weight blankets, belts or vests, ear protection, small therapy items to chew or wring in the hands can all help with stims. Allow for this in the classroom.
  • If you ask a question or give an instruction and are greeted with a blank stare, don’t take it personally. While manners and consideration for others should be part of the church environment, communication of emotion can be difficult for kids with ASD. The reading of social cues and facial expressions to infer direction is also often not comprehended. While a stern glance or long pause might correct a typical child, it will probably not be understood by a child with ASD.
  • ASD children tend to be very literal in their thinking. Try and keep your language simple and concrete. Inference and guessing can be frustrating.
  • Avoid using sarcasm. Even lightheartedly or jokingly- ASD children may not understand, and can take a silly “Great!” over a wrong answer to be literal.
  • Avoid using idioms. “Put your thinking caps on”, “Open your ears” and “Zipper your lips” can leave a child completely mystified and wondering how to do this directive, and can lead to frustration.
  • Give clear, closed choices: “Do you want to read or draw?” rather than asking, “What do you want to do now?”
  • Give very specific tasks in sequential order, which the child may follow. With a typical child, you can say, “Open your book” but to child with ASD, you might have to say, “Pick up your book. Put it on the table. Find page 1. Point to the picture of the ark.” The more specific, the more able the child is to follow the directive.
  • Structure and routine are very important, and if the child knows exactly what will happen each Sunday, (s)he will be far more successful. Drastic or even subtle changes in behavior often reflect anxiety. Anxiety can manifest is different ways, and is frequently due to stress about change in routine or instruction.
  • Provide advance warning of any impending change of routine, teacher, or switch of activity, if at all possible, even if just a phone call or email. The parents can let the child know at home what to expect on Sunday, with greater successful outcome.
  • Avoid overstimulation. Music time can be particularly difficult for some children with Autism, as can Sharing Time. Be prepared to make changes to the expectations. This might be a good time to take a walk around the building, or to plan on a separate activity in a quieter room.
  • Providing other children present with simple explanations of the needs of a child with a disability can help them understand why there might be different rules and expectations for others. It is a perfect opportunity to discuss the Gospel and how Heavenly Father makes each of us unique, and can be a chance for young children to be exposed to others of differing abilities.

Teaching children with ASD can be rewarding and tremendously enriching. These children will ceaselessly surprise you with what they learn and remember, even if that learning happens unconventionally or it seems they weren’t paying attention.

Suspending expectation of learning occurring in a particular, anticipated manner is key to successfully ministering to children with Autism and developmental disorders. (And probably the rest of us, too…)

No Sparkle Here


Dear children, of all the wisdom imparted on me by your father (and yes, there is plenty) one of his greatest lessons was that there are such people as vampires. Oh, now, don’t be all silly- as much fun as it might be to imagine moldering old French vampires preying on the criminals of New Orleans, or as shallow and vapid as those sparkly versions that came later might be- that’s simply misdirection.

The vampires you must be careful of- the vampires that are not fun to imagine but who do exist and can actually harm you are Spiritual Vampires.

Common folklore tells that a vampire cannot see their reflection in a mirror. Spiritual Vampires cannot see their own reflection in anything. A Spiritual Vampire cannot see how they effect others or what repercussions their actions have on other lives and souls. Even more damning, they refuse to see or acknowledge their part in anything that happens in their lives. Everything— everything— is the fault of someone else. It doesn’t matter how many loving people try and give them genuine feedback, try and guide them, plead with them, hold up mirrors (if you will) for them to see themselves accurately, it doesn’t work. The Spiritual Vampire cannot see themselves except from their own side.

Just like a French Vampire or a sparkly one (if you insist. sigh) these vampires prey on the weak or those who wish to please. It’s in their interest to keep people naive to their natures, and they will obfuscate and manipulate and deceive, and the part that makes them so (very, very) dangerous is that they believe their own lies. When prey ceases to surrender to the narrative of the vampire, when the mark starts to question the story, or look askance, the vampire must slander or excise that person from their lives, lest the fear of being discovered- or worse, having to look at themselves. This must be avoided at all costs. All roads lead to their own control. A person who actually sees the Spiritual Vampire is a great threat to their perceived well-being.

These folks burn through friends. Or at least, what they call ‘friends’. It’s impossible to cultivate a real friendship with a vampire, because they cannot let go of their control, or of their insatiable thirst for validation of their own rightness of position. It’s not blood they need to survive, but undying loyalty to their rigid beliefs. Do remember, the weight of their own construct is crippling. Have pitty. But don’t get too close.

If you find yourself engaged with a Spiritual Vampire, your life actually can be in danger— no, you won’t be exsanguinated— but your energy, your identity, your will to power, your individuality, your unique opinions and sense of self will all be expected to be sacrificed upon their altar to support their construct and beliefs. And all that you have to offer will never be enough.

In fighting this kind of vampire, just as in the models of yore, sunlight is your best weapon. Fling open the windows, invite in fresh air, speak what you know as your own truth, and never be sucked into the idea that you are responsible for anyone else’s self worth. Never let anyone convince you that they are the arbiter of yours, either. Treat people with love, kindness and honesty, take responsibility for your own actions, don’t control, don’t blame others, stand in the sunlight. If anyone tries to tell you that you owe them more… get out your mirrors. Or…just get out.

The emotional and psychic drain of a Spiritual Vampire is real, children. Consider yourself warned. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to watch old reruns of Buffy. (Of course that’s true for a multitude of situations and is always good advice.) Now, here, eat this garlic bread and go play. Love, Mama

Recipe: Oooh Pretty! Too Hot to Cook Recipes


I understand why they call DC The Swamp in the Summer. Holy heck it’s been hot this week. I apologize for not believing in the heat-index back when I lived in the mercifully arid west. This plain sucks. So the last thing I want to do is cook, right? But the kids want to eat. Every day. I know. It’s time to feed them again??! Yeah. So yesterday I dug out my trusty cookbook, and decided to find a way to make cold dinner. No oven use, and only the barest of stovetop- you’ll need one frying pan, used for two things. It’s three separate recipes, which I served family-style and everyone had small tapas style portions. Except Bean. He had… wait for it… peanut butter toast! I know, you’re shocked. Anyway… There’s plenty of leftovers, and while they may not be as pretty the next day, they taste even better.

Recipe #1: Apple Curry Chicken Salad


  • 1 Rotisserie chicken from Costco, shredded. (I made Jeffrey do this, because… bones.. ick… he thought it was fun)
  • 1 red onion, small dice
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tart apples (fuji or macintosh work well) diced
  • a handfull of grapes, sliced if you have them, but not utterly necessary
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • 3 green onions, sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped or sliced almonds

Dice the red onion and get it in a frying pan over medium heat with the olive oil and a dash of salt. Let this saute and caramelize while you work. Tear up the chicken and add to a bowl big enough to toss everything. Add the apples and grapes, if you have them. I kind of like it better without them- the apples add tartness and crunch. But I had them, so there you go. In a smaller bowl, mix the mayonnaise, curry power, lemon juice and salt and pepper with a whisk. When the onions are caramelized, pour them on top of the chicken and fruit, and add the dressing. Toss well. Top with green onion and slivered almonds, and serve in a pretty bowl.

Recipe #2 Marinated Italian Vegetables

IMG_0776First, prep all your vegetables:

  • 1 small American eggplant, 1/2″ dice. No need to peel. Keep this separate. Everything else can go in the same microwave safe bowl:
  • 1 red pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 yellow pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 container of button mushrooms, quartered
  • 1 medium zucchini, quartered and sliced
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced thin
  • (any other veggies you like- cauliflower works, yellow squash, broccoli, etc…)

Lay the eggplant out on a layer of paper towels. Microwave it for five full minutes, then toss it, put on fresh paper towels, and microwave for another 3 minutes. This gets all the moisture and bitterness out, and makes it like a little sponge to soak up the marinade. Put it in a big bowl and set aside.

Add all the other vegetables to a microwave safe bowl, and zap them for 3-4 minutes, then add to the bowl with the eggplant. To the same bowl, add the following:

  • 1 can of olives, whatever kind you like- black, kalamata, spanish, whatever, drained
  • 1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed
  • 1 can artichoke hearts (in water, not the marinated ones), drained
  • 1 cup of sliced, cherry or grape tomatoes

For the marinate, the best part, that turns all these colorful awesome veggies into a dance party:

  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp kosher salt (or 1 regular)
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp sugar or honey

Mix this by hand with a whisk, or you can whirl it up in the blender/food processor if you want it really emulsified. Either way is fine. Pour it over the warm veggies, toss them well, and wait for them to soak up the yummy marinade. That’s the purpose of briefly heating them, by the way- makes the suck up the goodness.

Top with some basil chiffonade and some extra pepper, and you’re good to go.

Recipe #3 Mozzarella A La Capresse with Reduced Balsamic Vinegar Syrup

Everyone knows how to make this, right. Yeah, pretty much. The only difference is reducing the balsamic vinegar turns it into a thick, sweet syrup the likes of which you won’t believe.IMG_0775

  • 1 pound pretty heirloom tomatoes. Splurge, and buy the pretty ones- they actually DO taste different and better!
  • 8 ounces fresh, soft mozzarella cheese, sliced, or use boccacini (the small balls, cut in half)
  • good salt and fresh pepper
  • fresh basil, shredded
  • 1/2 cup dark balsamic vinegar, simmered in the same frying pan you caramelized the red onions, until it’s reduced by half and is thick and syrupy.
  • Drizzle of your best extra virgin olive oil.

That’s it. Toss the tomatoes and cheese together sprinkle with salt and pepper, top with basil, drizzle the syrup over the top and follow with the fine olive oil. (Add the olive oil after the vinegar, or the vinegar will just slide off) This is a place for your best, freshest ingredients, since there are so few. It really is sublime, and worth the 5 minutes it takes to reduce the vinegar. So, SO good.

A New Fog

photo_mood_san_francisco_wallpaper_landscape_mood-132-1Each morning on the mountainous peninsula between the cold-cliffed Pacific Ocean and the shallower, salty marshes and estuaries of the south San Francisco Bay, huge banks of marine inversion condensate roll up over the Santa Cruz mountains and down into the valleys below. The fog, a byproduct of the unique geography and climate of the peninsula, naturally cools the valleys and keeps the temperature mild all year long. That fog was a part of the first three decades of my life, and I have a natural love of the seeing it roll down the mountainside, like a silent and gentle grey landslide.

The fog almost always burns off by mid-morinng, and leaves behind crystal blue skies and mild sunny afternoons, then often returns around sundown, when the cooling water recreated the condensate. It’s pretty much perfect. This marine layer is what create the only “Mediterranean Climate” in the world, outside of the actual Mediterranean, and what makes San Francisco summers legendary in their coolness.

Now transplant that Northern California girl to the east coast…IMG_0681The strangest thing happened the other day. On our way home from errands, as the sun was setting, I noticed “fog” for the first time since moving- and my heart leapt! As we sped down the freeway towards the sinking daylight, I kept glancing into coves of trees and valleys, and sure enough, there was a thick, ground-level mist forming. It looked magical, and the kids wanted to stop and get out, so we pulled into the deserted parking lot of the Battlefield, and piled out of the car. Only, instead of relief,  we met… dear lord… HOT FOG. A lifetime of conditioning had hardwired the anticipation of cooling, thick and chilled fog and when I stepped out into what was nearly a sauna, it was shocking to the point of near tears.IMG_0680Both Jeffrey and Abby shared my horror, and quickly got back in the car. Bean, on the other hand, was fascinated, and took off into the mist (which I have been informed is the correct name of this beautiful- yet ghastly- east coast hot-fog phenomena).IMG_0682He was quite pleased and didn’t share my horror. Not in the least. And I have to admit- it was beyond lovely. But still… hot fog. No. Just no.IMG_0678

Random Crap: Catching Up

Running around chasing my tail isn’t my favorite way to go about things. Whooosh, it’s the middle of July already- good grief. I’m not a person who takes joy in busy-ness- I don’t mind getting things done, but they better have a purpose and get to a point where I can find enjoyment- I’ve never been about filling up all available hours. So being busy… yeah, I’m over it.

I’m painting again. For the first time since we moved, I set up my easel. I’m not going to show you what I’m working on yet- it’s for a former bishop and dear friend, and I don’t want him to see it… but here’s the set-up. The kids were enchanted when I got it all out. I didn’t realize how much they like that part of their mama.IMG_0729Abby has discovered Pinterest. She spends as much time as she can weasel pouring over the science boards, and follows me around telling me about whatever mineral has captured her imagination. She can’t decide if she likes Rhodochrosite or Tourmaline with minor Albite better. I’m pleased to report I actually do have a clue what she’s talking about. That may not always be so.IMG_0718For the 4th, we kept it pretty low-key. A friend of mine was in town from Idaho, and she invited us to join her and her kids on the steps of Lincoln for the Capitol fireworks, but as a now-local, I just couldn’t bring myself to go near the Mall on a holiday. I know, I’m a wimp. Instead, we just headed to our little downtown, threw a blanket on the grass, and enjoyed a quite-nice and uncrowded show just the same. Way more my speed. I hope my children someday forgive me for depriving them.IMG_0721IMG_0723Speaking of my friend who was in-town for a visit, it was fantastic spending time with her. She had a little blog you might have heard of- Feminist Mormon Housewives? Yeah. They who started the whole Scholarship fund, honored me, saved my biscuits, and will be helping single-moms every year heading back to school in perpetuity. I’ve seriously been graced to know some pretty amazing people. We held a small luncheon for local friends at Cafe Rio. How Mormon are we?IMG_0726998183_10151726637761183_309468804_nPlease ignore the fact that my hair is taking over the world. Virginia summer humidity is not kind to my vanity- but I’m so happy about this picture and the amazing women I got to hang out with and meet, that I’m willing to pocket my pride and say, “Yay!” I love this community, hair-mess be damned. In this photo is the founder of one of the biggest Mormon websites out there, the founder of a social activism movement you’ve certainly heard of, two senate staffers, various other amazing women, and me. I’m humming that Sesame Street song… you know the one…

Happy Anniversary, Virginia Landing

One year ago this evening, my tired children and I landed in Virginia. Accustomed to the San Francisco fog and the Northwest steel-grey skies, we walked out of the terminal at Dulles International into a nasty heatwave and swamplike humidity. I don’t remember a lot from those hectic and stressful days, but I do remember, clearly, all three children looking up at me as the first waves of thick steamy air hit with baffled confusion and horror. “What IS this, mom??” We were too tired to to anything but get to our place and crash, but I’ll never forget the scowling confusion at the cloudy skies that stayed HOT.

We’ve learned a few things in the ensuing year. First, folks like to visit here, and we’ve enjoyed a lot of friends and even family passing through. It’s a wonderful perk.

Virginia still doesn’t feel like home; will it ever? I don’t know- but then I don’t know how long we’ll be here, either. For now, it’s where we’re at, and despite Virginians not knowing how to drive (the California girl in me will say that about everywhere) we’re making the best of it. We’re doing alright.