Several years ago I worked as an aide in a program for youth with developmental difficulties. One of the students, David,* was autistic and had limited verbal skills. He was a daily challenge for all the aides to handle because instead of sitting still to work, he often would run around the room, turn off the lights, stand on the table, and yell and laugh. It was not uncommon for us to have to call in one of his disheartened parents to try to calm him down.
One afternoon my session with David was even more frustrating than usual. I finally decided to take him to an area away from the other children so that he could no longer take their things and disrupt their sessions. He followed somewhat reluctantly as I led him to the top of a stairwell.
“Let’s say our numbers,” I said when I had gotten myself situated.
“No!” He threw his arms upward. “You go out. Now!” He pointed down the stairs. I repeated the same request several times, but he became even more agitated.
“How about looking at your picture book?” I suggested.
“I said no!”
“Tell you what. If you do your work, I’ll give you one of these.” I held up a bag of his favorite crackers.
“NO!” he yelled.
I sighed, not knowing what to try next. After a few moments I found myself singing to him softly, “I Am a Child of God” (Hymns, no. 301). A calm came over this young Latter-day Saint boy, and he listened intently. I finished the first verse and waited for his reaction.
He reached over and hit me lightly on the arm. “More!”
I sang some more. Smiling, he reached over and hit me on the arm again. “Thank you!” he said. He settled down and did his work, carried my books down the stairwell at the end of the session, and behaved himself for the rest of the afternoon—even as he worked with other aides and students.
The next morning David began causing problems again, as usual. At the end of his first session, the aide working with him dropped into a chair, exhausted. Yet when it came time for David to work with me, he sat down and went to work. He did so well that I gave him a cracker. He ate it and continued with his assignment.
After a time he poked me with a puzzle piece to get my attention. “More, please.” I offered him another cracker.
“No,” he said, shaking his head and pointing to my mouth. “More. Sing more!”
I began singing “I Am a Child of God.” He was delighted. I sang another Primary song. “More, please,” he said. I repeated “I Am a Child of God,” and that seemed to gratify him the most. When I finished, he happily finished his puzzle and we completed our session.
I have long known the soothing effects of sacred music in my own life, but I never would have thought it could be so effective in this situation. The experience reaffirmed to me that Heavenly Father loves His special children and that sacred music can bring peace of mind to all of us.—Karen T. Sheets, Nampa 16th Ward, Nampa Idaho Stake