What More Can be Done for College Students With Autism?

 

Being a college student with autism can be quite challenging, research shows. In addition to the typical struggles that come with adjusting to the more rigorous but less structured demands of university classes, and the life changes of moving away from home and making new friends, young adults on the autism spectrum (ASD) tend to struggle with deficits in sensory processing, social skills, and executive functioning. While they can take advantage of therapeutic resources and government-mandated accommodations to address these concerns, there is more that can be done, according to BYU professors Mikle South and Jonathan Cox.

Mikle South
Photo by: Cheryl C. Fowers/BYU
Copyright BYU PHOTO 2007
All Rights Reserved

South, who is an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, and Cox, an associate clinical professor, analyzed two-decades’ worth of patient records from the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services Center to discover the effectiveness of therapy for autistic students as opposed to their neuro-typical peers. They found that the students with autism generally took twice as long and required significantly more therapy sessions to achieve degrees of improvement comparable to their non-autistic peer. In the United States in general, the graduation rate of college students with autism is 18 percent lower than that of the general population.

In an October 2017 Spectrum article, South and Cox suggest that, while BYU and other universities offer therapy groups and accommodations to bring more of them closer to graduation and farther from their difficulties, some universities have implemented other effective non-therapeutic measures, and there are more that can be taken that are more suited to the specific needs of people on the ASD spectrum.

What Can Be Done

“In large institutions,” say South and Cox, “the [social, mental, and organizational needs of people with autism] can easily be missed by everyone, including the parents of these students.” To address those needs, they suggest that universities offer programs like one provided at Utah Valley University. Passages includes weekly skill-building meetings, recreational and social activities like hikes and movie nights, and regular workshops for families. In addition, they say that universities can consider training aides in executive functioning coaching.

Too, they offer, “It may be possible to create safe spaces— areas with minimal sensory stimulation—for taking exams and other activities. And our data suggest that extending treatment limits for people with autism can lead to substantial improvements in well-being while decreasing costs associated with student failure.”

“Generating the institutional willpower to improve support for students on the spectrum requires advocacy, creativity and flexibility,” they continue. “Administrators and others should take the time to learn about autism and push for change. Autism is not rare; every college has many students with autism who can succeed with a little help.”

What We Know

South and Cox’s suggestions add to the large body of expertise produced by research group Autism Connect, whose purpose is to help everyone see autism as “a collection of disorders where each individual has unique symptoms.” These professors and researchers seek to improve the lives of individuals and families with autism spectrum disorders through research so that new understanding and symptom-specific treatments can be developed. Doctor South focuses his research on the relationship between anxiety and ASD. Using MRI and EEG brain imaging, South and his peers have found that people with ASD may have difficulties understanding their emotions and the safety of situations. These individuals may assume that everything is threatening and adopt anxiety as a default emotion. This anxiety may be a connection between ASD and aggression.

This research can help individuals and families get the help and assistance they need sooner rather than later, helping to decrease distress and isolation among families and individuals who have ASD.

 

 

Toward Finding New Perspectives for Psychologists by Acknowledging World Views

“For fish to understand the water of their environment, it’s not enough to describe different types of water,” says BYU psychology professor Brent D. Slife and his collegues in their new book The Hidden Worldviews of Psychology’s Theory, Research, and Practice. “The fish will not properly appreciate the environment they literally breathe through their gills until they have experienced a truly stark contrast, such as being jerked from the water altogether” (27). They argue that, like fish, people, and psychologists in particular, cannot appreciate the environments they are a part of unless they experience stark contrasts.  They would say that in general, neither individuals nor psychologists fully understand and recognize their unique worldviews and how they shape them as individuals and participants in the field of psychology.

World views are defined by psychologist Mark Koltko-Rivera as “a set of beliefs that includes statements and assumptions regarding what exists and what does not…, what objectives or experiences are good or bad, and what objectives, behaviors, and relationships are desirable or undesirable…. World views include assumptions that may be unproven, and even be unprovable, but these assumptions are subordinate in that they provide the epistemic and ontological foundations for other beliefs within a belief system” (2). World views create the “foundation” for everything we accept and believe.

It is monumentally important, say Slife et al, that people not simply know what a worldview is but that they sensitize themselves to all majority and minority world views so as to enrich their psychological state and the field of psychology as a whole. In most psychological settings today, psychologists are asked to separate their personal biases, or worldviews, from the study being done or the client being assessed, but this simply cannot be done. “It is not possible for [psychologists] to empty their brains of theories and worldview influences,” writes Slife’s colleague Kari A. O’Grady. “Their choice[s] of topic and methodology are inevitably informed by theory and reflect biases: their grandmother’s philosophies, internet blogs, professors’ positions, and childhood experiences, to name just a few” (45). Worldviews are unarguably attached to all aspects of psychology in the following areas:

The General Discipline of Psychology

“Psychology is the product of a particular culture, which has been referred to as primarily WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic)” (58). The secularized history of psychology has likewise favored naturalistic over theistic approaches. “Many aspects of naturalism are so endemic to psychology’s methods that they are not understood or even recognized to exist as a [world influence]” (48). This influence has set a concrete need for generalization, separation of subjective and objective, and to detect causality in psychology, but these “needs” are not needed in every world view, just the one grandfathered in by psychology. This limits the field of psychology to a singular set of perspectives and demands rather than specific needs that are unique to different peoples and facets of the field.

Methodology and Psychotherapy

A large majority of psychotherapy methodology is based off of the Liberal Individualism and Strong Relationism worldviews. Therapists not imposing their own beliefs on their clients, the use of self-empowerment in therapy, prioritizing the individual, and seeing a client outside of their personal environment, in a therapy room for example, are all based on Individualism beliefs. Family and group therapy aimed at improving relationships is based on Relationism. These methods and ideologies are often taught and exercised, but never questioned, closing the door on minority worldviews and perspectives and possible approaches to therapy that are not included in these two majority worldviews.

Research

Psychologists assume that objectivity in all cases is the best option, but as we’ve stated before, implying that a scientist, psychologist, or client has no worldviews is illogical. When an author of a cross-cultural study, for instance, “said that worldviews of other cultures ‘count,’ they neglected to count in their own worldviews” (59). When we study a different people or culture “we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are” (63).

Education and Training

“The norms of [undergraduate and graduate training] are tacitly perceived and internalized, and by such means, contemporary graduate education forms its students into a certain kind of ethical participant, one who has taken on the normative beliefs, values, attitudes, and practices of one’s discipline…so that they too can become a reliable informant and a trusted member of the intellectual majority” (18-19).

The fact that the field of psychology itself is defined by worldviews should be enough to show that it is impossible for people—including psychologists—to live their lives in a worldview-neutral way. The fish cannot stay in its own little world and the field of psychology cannot continue in its blind state ignoring all forms of opposing worldviews. It may be human to guard ourselves against new or different views, but it is inhumane to stop others’ stories and opinions from being shared.

In an attempt to keep psychology “pure,”  a “reflexivity problem” has formed, says Slife. Psychologists might diagnose patients having minority worldviews with blindness and biases, but fails to see their own blindnesses. Minority worldviews exist, however, and are here and waiting to be heard. When psychologists hear and listen to diverse worldviews, psychology will have more sophisticated research, increased sensitivity in treatment, increased empathy towards clients, a decrease in the transfer of bias, increased policy transparency, more diverse ideas and perspectives on research and analysis, and increased efficacy in social programs (6-7).

Worldview awareness and coexistence is where psychology needs to be heading. “It’s where psychologists are allowed to be themselves, to come out of their respective worldview closets, and to openly explore the connections between their psychologies and their deepest convictions” (76). “It’s only when different worldview communities are treated in accord with the ethical and democratic values expressed [in this book] that these conditions will be possible. And all boats will rise. The recognizing and nurturing of all worldviews will create a space where all people of all worldviews can contribute to the field to make psychology more inclusive, integrated, and helpful.

 

How can you better recognize and accept other’s worldviews?

 

 

 

 

 

Econ Major Takes First Place in Wheatley Essay Contest, on the Religious Roots of Rights

“Religious freedom is the first freedom, not merely in order of mention in the Bill of Rights, but as the source of human rights and their best line of defense,” argued Jacob Fisher in an essay that won first-place winner in the Wheatley Institution‘s 10-Year Anniversary Essay Contest. “If we believe that our beloved democracy will simply persist without commitment to religious liberty, we are admiring the flower while killing the root.”

He continues:

Some voices question the validity of promoting religious liberty in modern America. Though it is prominently mentioned in the Bill of Rights, there are those who insist that religious freedom is a “redundant right” because its content, like religious speech and religious assembly, is already included in other enumerated rights. Far from being redundant, religious freedom is the root of all freedoms, because rights are a spiritual concept. Where does society obtain its knowledge of human rights? Do we find inalienable rights under the frontal lobe? Are they secreted by the liver? No. Rights are not a physical attribute of our bodies; any sense in which we believe human rights to be real must be a reflection of our spiritual understanding of human nature.

For limited government to work, personal behavior must be primarily governed by internal directives, rather than fear of legal enforcement. Religious institutions promote this voluntary right living. Those who support the project of limited government should be alarmed at America’s declining religiosity, because as religion recedes from public space, it leaves a gap that expansive State power is all too ready to fill.

Fisher, an undergraduate in the Department of Economics, wrote his essay, entitled “The Roots of Rights” in response to one of 10 prompts provided by the Wheatley Institution. His focus on rights forms part of a larger conversation within the college on a variety of rights, including civil, and the responsibilities and benefits that come with them.

The Wheatley Institution works to “enhance the academic climate and scholarly reputation of BYU, and to enrich faculty and student experiences, by contributing recognized scholarship that lifts society by preserving and strengthening its core institutions.”

New Faculty Adam Rogers: Studying Adolescents, Teaching College Students, and Fathering a Nine Month-Old

Professor Adam Rogers,  one of our newest Family Life faculty members, sees adolescence as a critical period in life, the experiences of which can affect individuals long-term, in positive and negative ways.  “[We] all remember experiences during our adolescence,” he says, “that had a significant impact on who we are now.  Some of those experiences were thrilling, others were so embarrassing that they are burned into our memories.  Some experiences were educational while others were very painful. Through his research, Professor Rogers hopes to help teenagers and their their parents as they move through this transitional time.  “I hope that in some way, my research can help parents understand a little more about what their teenage children are experiencing in today’s world, with all its unique challenges, so that they can feel more efficacious in guiding their teens to make positive and healthy decisions for themselves.”

Adobe Spark (19)While adolescents are the focus of his research, Professor Rogers’ teaching is all about his students. During his own undergraduate degree at BYU, Dr. Rogers had teachers that “noticed [him] and cared about [his] development.” This support from his professors has inspired him to do the same for others.  As a teacher, Professor Rogers seeks to help students make positive connections that can change their lives. He knows that hard work is essential in making these life changes. “My [own] life reached a turning point when I finally learned that natural talent pales in comparison to hard work and attention to detail,” he said. He also strives to help his students recognize that “science and faith can coexist in a powerful way,” a unique perspective that we can experience and develop here at BYU.

Professor Rogers is currently teaching Critical Inquiry and Research Methods and will be teaching Adolescent Development next fall. When he is not in the classroom, Professor Rogers likes going on walks with his wife and nine month-old son, cycling, and traveling to the beach. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happily Ever After: Alumni Advice on Finding Personal Post-Mission Happiness

Courtesy of More Good Foundation

Serving a mission is a life-changing experience, but when missionaries come home, their lives tend to lose structure. Schedules change quickly, languages and lifestyles are different, and no post-missionary handbook exists to tell these young adults what their new identity and purpose should be. BYU Psychology Alumni Andrew Proctor became distinctly aware of these trials when he posted a satirical article titled Unmarried Returned Missionaries: New Option to Apply for Second Full-time Mission” on ldsmissionaries.com as an April Fools joke in 2015. The article quickly went viral among the LDS online community, generating over 600,000 organic impressions on the website’s Facebook page and eliciting numerous personal responses. While some individuals were live your mission coverupset that the issue was a joke, Proctor also received a number of emails from hopeful RMs who wished that this joke was a reality.

For him, the response was an indication that “there [were] tens of thousands of returned missionaries who [hadn’t] yet figured out their purpose after their mission.” He reasoned that it was because they  hadn’t learned how to separate their role from their identity. Proctor has since written a book to help return missionaries find purpose, identity, and their “unique life mission after [their] full-time mission,” and provides this advice:

Embrace who you are without the name tag

“The most important thing that a returned missionary can do when they get home is solidify their identity,” shared Proctor. Return missionaries are bombarded with questions about their future education, job, and marriage, but are these questions about the future justified when the RM has not solidified who they are in the present? “Marriage is important, but even the most hard working, intelligent, righteous, and effective missionaries can have very strained marriages if they don’t figure out who they are after the tag comes off.” This is a key point made in the first chapter of Proctor’s book  Live Your Mission: 21 Powerful Principles to Discover your Life Mission After Your Mission.

He said that after his own mission in Chile, he struggled with transitioning and accepting who he had become, but that when he did, “it made all the difference. One of the keys to determining your life mission is being comfortable with the new you. If you came home confused about who you were, you aren’t the only one…going through an identity transition requires real effort. No effort spent on solidifying your identity is wasted. Figure out who you are. Everything else will follow naturally.”

Combat loneliness by making yourself known

pexels-photo-247195“One of the greatest killers of happiness is loneliness” said Proctor. The challenge with combating loneliness, however, is that it can find you both when you’re alone and when you’re walking around campus with thousands of other students. Proctor believes this occurs because “it is more about being known than is it about proximity to other humans. I believe that to be known we must be willing to reveal ourselves to others.”

In order to share your identity with others, you must first acknowledge and accept it yourself. Turn the compassion you showed to others on your mission towards yourself, embrace who you are, share yourself with others, and then, let God take care of the rest.

 

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Proctor at the World Congress of Positive Psychology

Since leaving BYU after he got his psychology degree, Andrew Proctor has delved into the social science of human flourishing. Taking his further education into his own hands, Proctor continues to learn about positive psychology by teaching others. He has done multiple podcasts and was recently featured in the Mindfulness and Motivation section of the podcast app Anchor.fm. He was also part of a paper that was published in the journal Mindfulness and was able to present this research in Montreal at the 5th World Congress of Positive Psychology in July 2017. Proctor continues to learn, teach, and reach out to those around him by sharing positive quotes and science-backed happiness facts on his Instagram page. He also just launched the beta version of his course on “finding more happiness by increasing positive emotion.” The course is based on the PERMA (Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Achievement) theory of well-being and is the first of five courses that will become available over the next several years.

William K. Wyckoff to Give 2017 Chauncy Harris Lecture

William K. Wyckoff,  a geographer from Montana State University, will give this year’s Chauncy Harris Lecture. The lecture will take place on Thursday, November 16, at 11 a.m. in 250 SWKT. He will speak on “Producing Public Geographics: Creating a Field Guide to the American West.”

william wyckoffDr. Wyckoff studies the cultural and historical geography of the American West. The College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences and its Department of Geography hold this lecture annually, named after Chauncy Harris. Harris graduated from BYU in 1933 with degrees in geography and geology; he was 19 years old at the time. He went on to earn his postgraduate degrees from Oxford and the University of Chicago, later becoming a professor who specialized in urban geography and Soviet geography.

Harris also developed the multiple nuclei model, which theorizes that a central business district is a city’s first core, but that new nuclei develop as various activities spread throughout the urban area over time.

We’ll see you at the lecture!

Newly-Remodeled Comprehensive Clinic Means Better Therapy

“We’ve arrived; we’ve made it to the Promised Land!” said Director Dean Barley in reference to BYU’s newly remodeled Comprehensive Clinic. Opened in the 70’s, the clinic was recently updated to allow for increased patient comfort and more space for students to work. Furthermore, a new assistant director was hired, David Fawcett, who will help move the clinic technologically forward in the hopes that it will be cutting edge and better able to serve the community.

The Remodel

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An updated therapy room

 The much-needed remodel had been a goal for decades; limited space made it hard for students to work and sparse therapy rooms sometimes made the work difficult. Specific changes that were made include:

  • Accent walls, whiteboards, and TVs  in rooms
  • Soundproof therapy rooms
  • A mothers’ lounge
  • Increased storage and moving shelves
  • A play therapy room with a plethora of toys, a castle, and a sand table

“It’s great, [I] love it,” a student working at the clinic said. “It’s good to be back, now I have a space.”

What is the Clinic?

The BYU Comprehensive Clinic offers counseling services to members of the public in the Utah County community. It is a research and training facility where counseling is provided by graduate student interns under the close supervision of experienced faculty who are licensed therapists. In addition to therapy, the clinic offers various psychological assessment. In 2016, 1,191 people were helped at the clinic; this was higher than average, as the clinic sees 900-1,100 people a year. More than 100 therapists are employed there and oversee a multitude of graduate students. They supervise their therapy and teach them the skills they need to be successful at their work.

LDS Family Services and the Communication Disorders Department are housed in the clinic. In addition, BYU recently acquired the old seminary building adjacent to the clinic; they will host psychology students there.

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Panorama of the new play therapy room

Future of the Clinic

“It’s a brave new frontier,” said Dr. Barley in reference to the future of the clinic. He and Dr. Fawcett will use technology to supplement their therapeutic process so as to improve it and the flow of the treatment. To him, the remodeled clinic is truly “a dream come true.”

 

Feature image: By GreenwoodKL (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Breaking the Silence: Better Parent/Child Conversations About Sex and Sexuality

For most of us, parent-child conversations about sexuality are pretty uncomfortable, whether you’re the parent or the child. But School of Family Life professor Laura Padilla-Walker says there are ways families can avoid that tension. In this year’s recent Cutler Lecture, hosted annually by our college, Dr. Padilla-Walker discussed her research on the ways parents teach teens about sexuality, and what it revealed about more effective ways of having those conversations.

How Not to Have Those Conversations

Outside research suggests that highly religious parents often wait the longest and feel the least comfortable when they speak with their children about sexuality (which is especially true for Catholic, Jewish, and LDS families). In Dr. Padilla-Walker’s research, her students, who were predominantly LDS, reported that their parents didn’t discuss sex often and didn’t always handle the conversation well. LDS parents tended to focus on abstinence and the sacredness of sex, but 46% of her survey participants reported that their parents seemed embarrassed during conversations about sexuality. Roughly 24% mentioned that their parents used fear tactics as part of those discussions.

LDS sexuality conversations
These percentages come from a survey distributed by Dr. Laura Padilla-Walker, a professor in BYU’s School of Family Life.

What’s more, many people in Dr. Padilla-Walker’s sample (48% of female respondents, 33% of male respondents) reported that they had experienced anxiety concerning their sexuality. That anxiety wasn’t correlated with what their parents said but with how they led conversations about sex. When parents seemed embarrassed or when kids had to initiate conversations about sex, those children had less healthy views of sexuality. When parents said sex was good or normal (without employing any fear tactics), their kids had healthier views of sexuality.

But where exactly should parents begin?

How to Have Those Conversations

Improve the Parent-Child Relationship

Dr. Padilla-Walker said that it’s important to establish a “culture of openness” and that improving the parent-child relationship is the first step. As parents grow closer to their children by praising them, spending time with them, and keeping an open dialogue, conversations about sex will become more comfortable and natural.

Improve the Frequency and Timing of Conversations About Sexuality

She also suggested ways that parents can improve the frequency and timing of conversations about sexuality. It’s not enough for parents to initiate one big sex talk with their children, Dr. Padilla-Walker said, and parents shouldn’t postpone those conversations until their children are sexually active or curious. Rather, parents and children should discuss sexuality often and early, while parents “pre-arm” their kids.

Focus on the Positives

Finally, Dr. Padilla-Walker recommended that parents focus on the positives of waiting to become sexually active, as well as the positive aspects of sexuality in marriage.

Our friends at the Comprehensive Clinic provide these additional instructions, in a separate blog post:

  • avoid using slang, euphemisms, or metaphors when talking about sex
  • Give your children age-appropriate sexual education
  • avoid “reactive sex ed”

“Parents are the scaffolding that will help their children learn about healthy sexuality,” Dr. Padilla-Walker concluded. Adolescents will be better off when their parents help them build a healthy framework.

Dr. Padilla-Walker’s full lecture is available here.

 

Our Negative View of Aging

Many of us fear the inevitable process of aging. We overlook the positive aspects of growing older, focusing on the negatives we observe as our parents and grandparents become less mobile and more gray-haired. Keynote speaker Dr. Marc Agronin mentioned those negative perceptions at FHSS‘s 2017 Gerontology Conference. He reminded us that most people avoid making jokes about race, religion, and gender, but old age is usually free game.

In this three-minute highlight video, he argues, though, that decreased independence does not devalue age, and there is a lot to be said for continuing to shape a positive life in old age.

Dr. Agronin’s full lecture is available here.

This post is thirty-third in a series of videos available in our new BYU Social Sciences YouTube channel! The channel contains tidbits of many of our most popular lectures and useful, succinct, research-backed advice on relationship, political, religious, media, and financial issues. Follow us there to stay up-to-date on wisdom that will help you and your family live better lives.

How the Wheatley Institution Can Help Students Strengthen Their Values

BYU students understand what it’s like to stand up for their beliefs. Living the Honor Code and church standards makes the lifestyle of BYU students different from other young adults their age. But they are not left to stand and defend their values on their own. The BYU Wheatley Institution works to help students have a gospel-centered education that helps them have the knowledge, insights, and skills necessary to successfully implement world-changing improvements. In a society that measures success and value by money and fame, Jack Robert Wheatley, co-founder of the Institution with his wife Mary Lois, counsels that we “weigh success not in gain, but in improvements to the world.”

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Courtesy of the BYU Wheatley Institution

Celebrating a decade of enhancing “the academic climate and scholarly reputation of BYU” and “enrich[ing] faculty and student experiences,” the Institution celebrated its tenth birthday this fall with lectures by Princeton University professor Robert P. George and Sir Paul Coleridge, a former judge for the British High Court of Justice, on topics such “The Constitution, Political Culture, and Civic Virtue” and marriage in the UK. In addition to those lectures, BYU students were able to participate in an essay contest where they defended and expounded upon their’s and BYU’s values and beliefs.

How does the Wheatley Institution connect with the Family, Home and Social Sciences?

Focusing on the patterns of human behavior and the family as the basic unity of society, the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences shares many of the key scholarship interests that the Wheatley Institution emphasizes, as seen in the topics focused on in the Wheatley’s anniversary celebration lectures and the fact that many of our current and past faculty members serve as fellows of the Institution and deliver lectures on current societal and cultural issues (such as past School of Family Life professor Jenet Erickson’s presentation on what it means to be a children in today’s culture). Both organizations conduct unique collaborative research experiences to expound on ideas that can create practical solutions and insights for real societal issues. More important than that, however, is the quest to provide students with the tools they need to develop, strengthen, and defend their own beliefs.

Unaware of that quest, many students find themselves worrying more about their grade point average than the opportunities available to them that can help them develop the skills and testimony that are needed when GPA’s become irrelevant. “Enter to learn, go forth to serve” is a daunting phrase when you do not have the understanding of personal values and testimony you need to succeed and make a difference in the world.

A Call to Action – How the Wheatley Institution Can Help Students

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Coutesy of lds.org

Well, Cougars, the time to act is now.

Attend Wheatley Institution lectures, such as the Reason for Hope conference November 16th, and enrich your BYU experience with more than your course load of required classes.

In a 1976 New Era magazine, Sylvia Willich share the following poem:

Until now
I merely
Existed
On the
Outside,
With my nose
Pressed
Against the
Window of life,
Looking in.
I had often
Dreamed
Of how it
Would be,
How it
Could be,
If I were to
Enter,
Enjoy,
Become a part
Of it.
Then—
You
Opened the door
And invited
Me
To join.

 

In the past several years, church leaders have called upon the rising generation, including BYU students, to strengthen their beliefs and protect religious freedom. By becoming more involved in extracurricular organizations and groups at BYU, you can further develop the knowledge and skills you already have to make positive change in he world while strengthening your core values and testimony.

How will you enhance your education and strengthen your testimony this week?