The Terrifying Blessings of Seminary and Autism

In August, our son turned 14 years old and entered high school. Just that transition alone is enough to stress out any mom – special needs teen or not. As much as I worried about my son moving to a huge school, I was more worried about his new morning routine.


I joined the church when I was 16 years old. My small branch didn’t have enough youth for seminary.  So the whole early morning thing – wow. The more I thought about it, the more terrified I became. Would the loss of sleep cause melt downs? Would he be disruptive in class? Would he even understand the concepts the seminary teacher discussed? Would the other kids be nice to him? Would the new schedule of EVERYTHING overwhelm him?

Yes, I am mom. And yes, I worry, worry, worry.

I talked with the stake seminary leader, who suggested we try early morning seminary first. If that didn’t work out, we could sign up to be an online or home bound student. One thing I knew though was if we did an online class, it would be forgotten between all the craziness of sports, homework and youth activities.

So we prepped for early morning seminary.

We talked about the new routine. Wrote up a written schedule with items to do to prepare each morning (eating breakfast, shoes, scriptures, brushing teeth, etc) so nothing would be forgotten in those early hours when, honestly, mom is barely functioning. Even with all the prep, I was still terrified.

But then my son surprised me. He transitioned just fine. No bumps. No “holy moly get me outta here!” Not only that, but he LOVES seminary.

My son is one of those kids who doesn’t really talk about all the things wandering around in his head. Sometimes I think he isn’t listening during family night, then a few days later, he asks me more detailed questions. Seminary is like that for him.

My son is also a cross country runner. A few weeks into the school year, he started sharing his seminary thoughts on our drive home. It went something like this – "Today while I was running, I was thinking about Nephi and . . ." 

It was the awesomest thing ever to have gospel conversations with my son. But he took it a few steps further. 

He started outlining a story about a boy who finds an old arrowhead that allows him to see Nephi, who is still working here on earth to influence youth to make good choices. There are some awesome twists and turns he’s already plotted out. How exciting!

Then he shared his feelings about the gospel through his homework. For theater, he was given a bunch of wire and asked to create something. Isaac designed a snail. Now, we haven’t seen the new Turbo movie yet, but I thought it was probably inspired by that.

I was wrong.

As part of the assignment, he had to write a paper detailing why he chose that creation and what it symbolized to him. I was astounded as he described the snail and its symbols. That the outer shell symbolizes the armor of God and how it can protect us. That the snail is a good example because it moves slow, and how that if we slow down, we have more time to think and make better choices, which he then tied back to how choosing the right gives us protection from God.

What an amazing miracle seminary has been. I love that my son is absorbing the gospel, feeling Heavenly Father’s love for him, and the power of the Holy Ghost. 

So, a note to moms and dads – it’s absolutely okay to worry about your children, but don’t let it hold your child back from exploring new things. You never know how it will help your child to grow and bless both of your lives.

Would you like to comment?

Donna Nolan said...

Thank you for sharing. My son with Aspergers turned 14 in June and I have been in full blown panic mode since then. I grew up in Utah so I didn't ever have to worry about early morning seminary either. I really had no idea what to expect from my son. He really struggles with a testimony and isn't a huge fan of anything church related. Also, his biggest behavior trigger is lack of sleep. We spoke to the bishop and the seminary teacher and decided to start him out with just one day a week at the church and then the rest of the days at home. I homeschool both my children so we have just worked it into his daily curriculum. He has done so well with the one day a week we are looking at pushing it up to two and seeing how that goes. I hope that he continues to make progress and we can get him up to all 5 days and with him gaining a testimony. It is all about baby steps for us.

I'm so happy to hear about the success with your son. It gives me hope. Thank you for sharing.

Danyelle Ferguson said...

Donna - I'm so glad your son is doing well! I think you're awesome and love how you're adapting seminary so it works for your son. Each person is different and I love when church leaders are willing to think outside the box. We've had other activities when our son has needed to ease into the new routine. Taking that extra time can make a huge difference in our kids' success. Please keep me updated. I would love to know how he does.

Maybe you might consider writing a guest blog post about it in April for Autism Awareness month?

Northern Nickle Clan said...

Wow, Danyelle! NEAT post!!!!! I'm so glad that seminary has been such a blessing to your son. :) That's so awesome! Thanks for posting that.

G. A. Edwards-Writer and Speaker said...

This was such a positive post. One of the things I learned as a middle and early high school teacher is that students began to surprise their parents with ability to understand the world around them and their own place in it. All students. There were times when teachers got the joy of saying, "Your child IS capable of doing this here and now." Sometimes it was more than they were doing at home and that was the reason for the surprised reaction of the parents. But it was most evident in the homes where a young person was supported and when the parents were willing to say, "Let's try it," even when worried about the outcome. That is a hard thing to do for parents who have spent the child's whole life trying to get them the support they need. Congratulations on realizing sometimes they don't need as much support to grow and achieve. It is something all parents come to realize at some point. And what great and wonderful things our youth come up with.

JoLyn Brown said...

This is a great post! I shared a link to your page on Facebook and wanted to let you know. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

Danyelle Ferguson said...

Thank you, everyone! And thank you for the insight from an educator's point of view, Goldie. When it's your first special needs child, there's so much parents don't know what to expect or how/when to change their parenting strategies. Thank you for sharing your experiences too. =)

Rebecca Birkin said...

Thanks, Danielle. I wish my Aspie son was this positive about seminary, but it gives me hope that the non-concrete concept of faith is something some seem to have in abundance.

Rebecca Birkin said...

So sorry I misspelled your name. My sis-in-law spells hers with an i.

Kellie said...

I love this post. Love, love, love it. I wish I could have attended the mid west conference this year. Things have been crazy here. I tried to convince my dad to go to the conference with me, but it didn't work out. Next year!