Preparing an Autistic Child for a Religious Ceremony

I recently attended a Bat Mitzvah for an autistic girl. I was very interested and ultimately impressed with the steps it took to prepare an autistic child for a complicated religious ceremony.

Will this be a personal experience?

No. My son is not going to have a Mitzvah or a confirmation. As a matter of fact, religion doesn’t really play a huge part in our lives.

However, I still want to support my family, friends, and associates.

I was invited to attend the Bat Mitzvah for a friend’s daughter and I was eager to go. It was my first Bat Mitzvah and the experience was very satisfying.

I participated (somewhat) in the ceremony as well as observed its complexity.

I walked away impressed by just what it takes to prepare for a ceremony that has been around for thousands of years.

What was my experience?

I’ll discuss a Mitzvah since my friend’s daughter’s Bat Mitzvah was my inspiration for covering this topic.

I learned the following:

A Jewish child can choose an abridged ceremony or the full ceremony.

My friend’s daughter chose the full ceremony. That in itself, I was told, was considered impressive due to her issues with anxiety. However, my mother informed me that she wanted to do the full ceremony.

The child has to attend classes as well as practice the one thing in a Mitzvah ceremony that has made many a thirteen-year-old’s knees tremble, speak Hebrew.

(My husband told me that his friend had nightmares about that part of the ceremony.)

My friend told me that even though her daughter had committed to the full ceremony, she still worried about speaking Hebrew. She practiced diligently, never missed a class, and eventually learned the text by heart, yet she was still filled with anxiety.

What about the ceremony?

A child with autism has to get up in front of a large gathering and speak a foreign language. She wants to do this, but when the event was finally upon her, she was also facing her worst fears.

I get it.

I get very nervous talking in front of people and I don’t have autism. Some people have a knack for that sort of thing and others (me) do not. Public speaking is a horrifying experience for me, especially when I feel all the eyes on me and realize I am the one talking.

On the day of the ceremony, here is this autistic thirteen-year-old reading English and Hebrew passages. And, guess what?

She did great.

What happened?

She did it, that’s what happened. She drew on her studies and found the confidence to succeed.

Were there hiccups?

Yes, reading the Hebrew was the main hiccup during the ceremony. And, like many a thirteen-year-old before her, she stumbled a few times.

And, did a fantastic job of dealing with it.

She either started over when she stumbled or plowed through it.

My favorite was when she began reading a passage in Hebrew, stumbled once or twice, and then announced, “Shoot, I’m starting again.”

And, she did.

I thought gave her credit for a natural save on that one. She took a breath and started over.

Remember, our kids—once they’ve committed to something—have a tendency to want to be perfect. If you tell them you’ll pick them up at 5:30 and you’re there at 5:31, some kids struggle with that. They strive for perfection and exact it in return.

Yes, they need to learn flexibility, and my example is a bit extreme, but my point is that once they really want something, they are determined to get it.

I think that this young girl decided wanted this and she wanted to do it right! She had worked hard and she was going to get through it.

Determination galore. And, success—for an autistic person.

They can do these things, and don’t let anyone tell you our kids can’t. Like my previous blog about getting braces for my son, autistic kids can do many things that typicals can do. Our kids can be just as determined and focused and can have all of the same successes.

Offer things, listen to their concerns, give them proper instructions, and please let them try.

They can do it!

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