My oldest daughter has autism and often asks me very specific questions. If I tell her to pray, she asks me how. She doesn’t mean that I should only tell her the words to say. She wants to know the meaning of prayer.

A couple of weeks ago, she got frustrated after bedtime prayers and kissing icons. She said, “But how can I pray?”

(Again, she wasn’t asking about the words to say, as she knows the Lord’s Prayer and will repeat prayers that we guide.)

I had a sudden gleam of inspiration for how to tell my literal, visual thinking daughter how to pray.

Imagine everyone you love and every beautiful thing one at a time. Think of what they would look like if God lit a candle in them on the inside. That’s prayer. Think of every part of your life, every circumstance, and every story, and ask God to light it from the inside with his love. That’s prayer. 

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My daughter loves birds. We thank God for birds to help her calm down. Over the weekend, her favorite bird flew into the living room to visit her. It was a moment of pure grace and joy.

Like so many practices that communicate better with a visual aid, prayer as I described it to my daughter can be done with physical symbols. I picked up a few supplies over the next week and gathered the sheet protectors we had on hand. {Buy the transparency film HERE and gold metallic paper HERE using my Amazon affiliate links if you’d like to support my blog.}

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We recently purchased a color laser printer to accommodate the many therapeutic visual aids my children need.

On Sunday morning, my husband woke up sick. His fellow preschool Sunday school teacher was out of town, so I filled in. With the help of 8 preschoolers and toddlers, I taped gold mylar paper to the wall.

We talked about light. The sun gives light. The ceiling lights give light. The candles in church give light. The gold in icons reflects light and symbolizes the light of God.

Everyone looked in the gold paper. It was like a mirror.

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Since we’re Orthodox, the language of icons with their gold backgrounds already shows us the way God shines through the creation that He saves. Many of the pages in my daughter’s visual prayer book are icons like this one of Jesus blessing the children.

What if we were lit from the inside by a candle from God? We said thank you to God for making us.

We learned that Psalms are songs that God’s people have sung for thousands of years. We adapted the Byzantine chant tune for Psalm 135 (136) and thanked God for several important parts of the children’s lives: our patron saint, St. Barbara, their families, their teachers and classes, and their pets. (As I get a chance, I’ll add to their transparencies so that they have a broader repertoire of images to guide their prayer.)

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We thank God for St. Barbara, our dear patroness. The static cling between the mylar and the transparencies keeps them on the wall.

What do we do when we pray? We thank God for His love shining through every part of what He made.

Tonight, I put together my daughter’s portable visual prayer book. I cut a sheet of the gold paper in half, folded it over a transparency page to keep it in shape, and slid it into a sheet protector. I trimmed the excess and taped the top closed. I’m printing icons, birds, family photos, and people she loves on transparencies this week. By Lent, she’ll have a visual prayer book, a way to hold her loves up to the light of God represented by the gold.

I hope this prayer method helps other Orthodox families with special needs as well.

It’s simple, though it takes a little while to set up. The act of moving the pages and looking with intent gives a filter to prayer that older persons might access through becoming iconographers, perhaps. That framework enables a deeper practice for children with all types of neurological function.

If you would like to purchase a complete prayer board set, visit my Etsy shop Awetism.

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The prayer board is the short cut for the visually adapted prayer method above.

I also made a decision board for my daughter that I’m sharing here, in case it might help other children who loop in church. We take a quiet book with stickers as well as the Visual Schedule for Orthodox Liturgy with us each Sunday, along with some aids for sensory needs.

Decision Board for Use in Church: choice-in-church

Feel free to download and share, but do not reproduce for profit, as the images are copyrighted by Boardmaker. I would appreciate a link back to this blog, since I write about accessibility in the Church and would like to make connections in the Orthodox special needs community.