Here is a challenge for the church, nationwide – around the world! Many families stop going to church, either because church does not cater effectively for their child with special needs or because they are like Alice and are exhausted and need more support themselves.
How can we as church ensure that we continue to look after and cater for both those with additional needs AND their families? The diocese of London is running a Makaton training course, here is a start. Something that churches can learn, relatively easily to create more communication. There are vast resources that can point to how we become more accessible to those with disabilities. Training courses, advisors, getting started in this area can be intimidating, but once you start looking there is so much out there it gets easier and easier.
We, at Livability, do training on this area, we are available to talk to churches and guide them in becoming more accessible. Individuals with disabilities are one of the most excluded groups within society. Just today I read an article on illegal expulsions of disabled children from school. The church should be the place that is acting in an inclusive way – doing everything possible to make sure we are.
Sufficient training can be enough to support the parents – to a point. This is an area that many churches fall down on, many individuals have a heart for inclusion, and this is a great start. It is not enough though. Loving someone with a disability, without understanding the complexities of their behaviour can make it much harder to include them.
For example, many autistic people struggle with eye contact. Without effective training, you can desire to communicate with that person, seek eye contact out of love, and cause them to feel threatened. Heart and understanding are required.
Equally important though, is how do we support the parents? If we see that parents are not getting to sit through a sermon, that often have to leave church early, how can we ensure that they are still given opportunity to be a part of the church family? To be catered for and loved? Alice’s story is unfortunately a common one. Often siblings are pulled out of Sunday school to look after the child with a disability, putting extra pressure on the parents.
This is an unfortunate necessity often, the question is how do we cater for the parents and families during the week? How do we create opportunities for them to receive and rest with the church?
What does your church do to support these parents? Do you know who they are?