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Who Wins the Worship Heart Prep Award: Me or Our Son on the Spectrum?

I’m going to tell you a secret and trust you not to judge me.

I read the last chapter of a book first.

Technically, not first. I read the first few chapters to see if the book captures my attention, and THEN I read the last chapter. I like to know what’s going to happen. I need to prepare myself if one of the characters I’ve grown attached to has some kind of tragic ending. I’ve watched too many British TV shows.

Hey…you said you wouldn’t judge me!

Maybe someone out there does the same thing?

Thomas also likes to prepare himself for whatever is coming next. For Beach Camp Worship time, that looks like this:

Sitting in the Worship tent before all the other students come in. Listening to the voices of the singers and the sounds of the instruments during rehearsal.

Watching the movements of the lights as they pulse on stage to the rhythms being played.

Feeling the vibrations of the speaker and amplifiers.

The students aren’t supposed to be in the worship Tent while the band is rehearsing but the leadership has graciously made this accommodation for Thomas so he can prime.

Priming, allowing the student to preview the activity before it is presented for completion, is something we were taught to do with Thomas early in his diagnosis. It allows the student to process sensory information in advance as much as possible so when they are placed in the environment, it lessens the the chance of a meltdown caused by sensory overload. It’s not a bad technique to use for neurotypical people either, but it is truly helpful with someone with a delay in their processing.

When you are driving somewhere new, do you like to bring up the map and look at the whole route before you go?

When you are going to a party do you like to know who will be there and what they’re serving to eat?

When you are cooking, do you like to see a picture of what it is supposed to look like when it’s done?

You like to PRIME! Maybe you NEED to PRIME!

The first time we really tested priming on a big scale was the first time we took our kids to Disneyland in the early 2000s, we tracked down an old 1990 VHS copy of Sing Along Songs Disneyland Fun that took the viewer on a musical tour of the park. Four-year-old would Thomas watched it over and over. We would point out the different buildings and rides each time we watched, giving Thomas more information than he probably wanted or needed. But when we walked through those magical gates at Disneyland, Thomas already preprocessed some of the visual sensory stimulation he was receiving. There were still meltdowns because…have you been to Disneyland?

the noise of the crowds,

the slow rush of waiting in line,

and the smells of popcorn and beignets,

but it was smoother than we had anticipated.

As he has gotten older, he primes for himself. We will tell Thomas we’re going someplace new: a museum, a National park, LeggoLand, and he will go on the interwebs and find pictures or videos of the location himself. Sometimes the only priming he needs is knowing where we’re going. But he always asks, “When will we come home?”

Don’t we all want to be at a place where we know what we need to help us function more effectively? We call it self-regulating.

But then I had another thought. Why is self-regulation for worship so important to Thomas that he sits in the worship tent watching rehearsal? Because if he doesn’t want to do something, he won’t. There is no dialing it in for him. He’ll hang out in the bathroom or wander to an adjacent place. He is a ninja when it comes to avoidance.

Thomas self-regulates for worship because worship is important to him. He listens to the songs they will sing. He hears the instruments play. He sees the lights that will flash during the set. He smells the lingering scent of teen spirit left for the last time the tent was filled for worship. Oh yes…that scent lingers! There’s an abundance of sensory stimulation in that worship tent and he primes and self-regulates because worship is important to him. He primes to prepare his heart for worship.

I feel super dee duper convicted by this observation. How important is worship to me that I spend time preparing our hearts for worship? I would NOT get convicted if this were to go to trial. How many times have I swung into a church, late, and the worship music has already begun? I just dive right into whatever the song is. Or…if I’m honest, how many times when the kids were little was I yelling and snapping my fingers at everyone to get in the car so we could get to church and, “love people and learn more about Jesus!”

That’s only me, right?

So Thomas sits in on the worship team practice. He listens to the songs they will sing. He hears the instruments play. He sees the lights that will flash during the set. He smells the lingering scent of teen spirit left for the last time the tent was filled for worship. Oh yes…that scent lingers! And he prepares his heart, mind, soul, and strength for the onslaught of sixty teenagers worshipping. He’s come a long way.

I think I have a long way to go.

Shine Bright 💡

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