Do as I say, not what I do: A False Model!

“I want to eat Jesus body and drink Jesus blood”!!!

That is what my son shouted in church one Sunday morning. There was a mixture of laughs and cries as the hearts of the congregation filled with joy. We were joyful that he desired to partake in such a holy sacrament and at 7 years old, wanted to eat the bread and juice with both his biological and church family.  One of our pastors expressed that “he just wants to be a part of what everyone else is doing”.

Jaxon saw his family walking up to the front of the church every Sunday taking the elements. He saw and heard the pastors talk about what the bread and juice meant. He saw the unity of the church eating and drinking together. And Jaxon wanted to be a part.

Modeling Behavior

Modeling…A simple and frequently used behavior modification term that is often implemented without realizing it is being done. It is the concept of “modeling” a behavior before expecting someone to copy it. Our children are video cameras and tape recorders, taking in everything that is presented to them. We as parents can use this innate instinct to our advantage by modeling the things that we want them to always hear and do.

This is especially true for our children with Autism. Neurologically, their brains are processing things differently and when there is not a visible, repetitive action placed before them, their memory is shortened. Giving instructions, directions, expectations, and task demands without a model can confuse the brain rather than expand the brain cells. When things are consistently demonstrated for them it becomes a model for them to follow, intentionally or unintentionally, and positively expands their memory.

*(Please note that the same is true for negative behaviors; if the child hears what to do positively but is only seeing negative demonstrations, they will become confused because there isn’t a positive model to follow)

Therefore, if there is a desired behavior we want our child to engage in but they are not familiar with it (or it is challenging for them), we have to present the desired behavior consistently. We have to be a model of that desired behavior.  To tell a child with Autism what to do without modeling for them how to do it is not only hypocritical and unfair but will also be ineffective.

I am reminded of David’s prayer expressed in Psalm 51 where he asked God to “create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit in me…” THEN “I will teach transgressors their ways”. David is an example of how we first need to address our own behavior before addressing the behaviors in others.  One of the recommendations our Pastor gave us to help Jaxon understand what communion means is to teach him why we need Jesus to forgive our sins; to teach him how to confess when he did something wrong and how to go to Jesus who will forgive us and make our wrongs right. Explaining this concept with just verbal words can be confusing for a child with Autism. But in the same way Jaxon saw us eating the bread and drinking the juice and wanted to model after it, he also needs to see us admitting when we do something wrong and desiring to do right by going to Jesus for forgiveness. This, my friend, is how we “train up a child in the way they should go”~ Proverbs 22:6. 

The process of behavior modification not only includes modifying the child’s behavior but modifying our own behavior as well. This is so we can be an example of the desired outcome. As a result, we also demonstrate that we cannot change our own behavior just by being told what to do; we too need someone to model after…and that someone is Jesus Himself! When we model after Jesus we can then tell our child:

“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you”~ Philippians 4:9