Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

I did say I wouldn’t be able to blog as often, and indeed it’s been a busy, busy time. However, we’ve been carrying on as we do at the Good News Group and I thought it was worth sharing about our recent Bible studies.

We have always tried to explore the Old Testament as much as the New Testament and to enable our group to understand that all the scriptures point us to Jesus. This term we decided to revisit the book of Daniel as it had been a few years since we last did it. We had six weeks and six chapters, neatly packaged into six stories. We began with the Israelites exile to Babylon and Daniel and his friend’s refusal to eat King Nebuchadnezzar’s food. Then it was the fiery furnace, followed by King Neb’s strange dream about a tree that only Daniel could interpret through God’s gifting. We had one of our Vicar’s (Duncan) coming to tell the story of The writing on the wall, and the story of Daniel in the Lion’s den. We covered three King’s reigns and saw how God brought each proud king to their knees before him. It was great to learn that God really is in charge of all who think they are in charge of this world. We were able to think about today’s rulers and pray for them, asking ourselves if we really believe that God is in control of all the world leaders today.

It was also good to think about how God rescues his people. For Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo, it was through dangerous events. He sent his angels to save them from fire and lions. God made them wise and favoured by the kings so they could keep his memory alive in a foreign country, far from their home of Israel. And eventually the kings were faced with humbling themselves before The one true God, or being humbled by him.

As always we had puppets, drama and practical engagement to help us tell these stories. We are still reading the Bible together using the widget symbols and using images from http://www.freebibleimages.com to illustrate the stories. The whole group have been engaged, excited and interested in the book of Daniel. They’ve remembered the stories and asked about what happens next.

As usual, we never ask rhetorical questions…We always get an answer! I wish Sunday church was that interactive!

Here are some photos for you to enjoy…

The writing on the wall.

King Neb having his strange dream.

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The Rev Cathy Porter is an online friend of mine.  I’ve appreciated her wisdom and advice for a long time.  She is also a talented writer and illustrator.  Her latest book is one that I love because people with additional needs can be transformed through learning that they can pray to our Lord Jesus and God will hear them.  There’s lots of questions they have (as we all do) and this book explains things in a gentle and simple way – but not simplistic.  I’d use this with some of our adults at the Good News Group and have my own copy already. 🙂

Here it is in Cathy’s own words….

Hi, I’m Cathy. Mum of three children, 2 of whom are autistic and all of whom tend to be anxious, questioning and inquisitive. They need detail. They look for answers. I’m also ordained, and within that feel especially called to reach out to those who are unable for whatever reason to access church life, or who the church are struggling to fully include. In a way, on paper, it seems the most natural and inevitable thing that I should find myself writing – hoping to make the things of faith, the things we believe clearer. To give the church, and parents like me, some resources that aren’t yet there to feel equipped to share our faith and talk faith, and explore issues of faith together in ways that I hope will make things clear at the same time as facing those big questions and the need for accurate, detailed answers head on. In a way I hope they will be a tool a bit like social stories, but about the things of living faith.

So why ‘So many answers’? We all want answers when we ask someone a question. It is always hard for my kids to process when it is not the answer they want from me. We get the ‘you never listen to me’ comments, or the ‘you hate me, I hate you!’- I guess we can all relate to the emotional knee jerk response when we get the wrong answer, and it may as well be that we had no answer at all. In my ministry with children (and adults to be fair) I see the same knee jerk reaction about whether or not God has answered our prayers. Not helped at all by the way we say to each other in church; ‘what an answer to prayer!’ when we see an answer from God we want. I’m also aware that the emotional discomfort we feel about this part of living faith can easily hold us back from encouraging our children, or those we come alongside in ministry from praying boldly, asking God anything and being sure he will answer us. It is hard to explore and explain how we experience and feel God’s answers, and we can find ourselves holding back from the bold so we don’t have to face the difficult task of managing the emotional fall out when the answer we hope for is nowhere to be seen.

In ‘So many answers’ I open the faith-story with the voice of a child expressing their doubts that God always answers prayer, and gradually explore in a very visual way how we experience everyday answers to questions in so many and varied ways. Coming back at the en

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d of the story to see in God a perfect parent whose answers will always mean ‘I love you!’ whether they are yes, no, maybe or not yet.

As with my other books, at the end are some helpful Bible verses and discussion starters. And some activity pages to encourage the exploring to carry on beyond the faith-story to touch our own personal experiences, in a way drawing our experiences back into the faith-story helping us to know this is true for me too. I really hope and pray that ‘So many answers’ will be a helpful resource for many of us whether as parents of children who need to grapple with these tough questions and doubts, or in our ministry alongside others who need that clarity and honesty about the things of living faith.

You can follow my blog about faith and family life at www.clearlynurturing.wordpress.org

Hello friends, it’s been a while!  I’ve been busy working and planning with little time to do much else.  Thankfully I have a guest blog for you today – all about dyslexia.

Bible

Aurora Betony is dyslexic and creates her own Bible reading sheets using images and text in her preferred version of the Bible.  She says…

I use images from it to create my own illustrated text versions of whichever Bible passage will be read out in my church each Sunday. I copy and paste the text from Bible Gateway. This lets me use my preferred translation (Contemporary English Version). I put the image on the left and the text on the right (in keeping with Easy Read practice). This lets me read the text along with complementary images. I read it through before the service, and then again when the passage is being read aloud in church.

I also find that the process of reconstructing the story (working out which bit of text goes with which picture) helps me start to learn the passage. Knowing in advance what the passage will be really helps me because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do this preparation. This is a reasonable adjustment many congregations could make, by posting a note on their website or social media.

I’m dyslexic.  Some dyslexic people find reading difficult.  However, my dyslexia doesn’t affect me much in this way – I can mostly read (decode words) accurately.  It’s taking in what I read that is the challenge for me.  So to help myself take in Bible content, I use various resources and techniques.  These are available for anyone who wishes to use them.  So I’d like to tell you about some of them here, and where you can find more.

3 resources that help me engage with the Bible

This lets me access my preferred translation (Contemporary English Version) in electronic print.

This provides images which I use along with text from Bible Gateway to create illustrated versions of Bible passages.  This lets me engage with the text and complementary pictures simultaneously.  The process of reconstructing the story (working out which bit of text goes with which picture) helps me start to learn the passage.

  • Visual recordings

Our Daily Bread Ministries: these are of passages from 1 Kings and 1 Timothy.

Bernie Quah’s: these are of passages from John’s Gospel.

Like the illustrated text versions I produce, visual recordings also present Bible passages in words and complementary pictures.  However, visual recording is quite different: the images are hand-drawn, colourful and simple and the text and images intermingle with each other.

3 techniques that help me engage with the Bible

  • Engaging with the Bible with others

– For example by contributing to the collaborative retelling of a Bible story, or by discussing Bible passages.

  • Gaining the gist of a passage before reading it in print

Visual recordings are especially useful for this as they give a visual summary of the whole passage on one page.

  • Dramatization: acting out a story, seeing it acted out by others, or reading or listening to a dramatized version

– I listen to an audio dramatization of the Contemporary English Version of the New Testament called ‘You’ve got the Time’.

– ‘The Dramatised Bible’[i] presents some passages from the Good News Bible and New International Version as a play script.  This helps me, even if I only read it myself interiorly and imagine it being read by different people.

More resources and techniques for engaging with the Bible

You can find these in a guide I’ve written, which is free to download at https://newroots.online/2017/07/31/top-tips-for-engaging-with-the-bible

Here are some endorsements of my guide

– “What a fantastic resource! It gathers lots of good, practical advice all in one place.”  Riding Lights Theatre Company

– “I LOVE this!”  Mike Breen, founder of 3 Dimensional Ministries, author

– “For people with dyslexia who find engaging with the Bible difficult, Aurora Betony offers some useful tips.”  Crown Court Church, London

Further information on dyslexia

Aurora Betony

[i] Edited by Michael Perry ISBN 978-0551017795

Fear of Disabilities

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Photo from http://www.lancslearningdisabilityinstitutions.org.uk 

In 1985 I went on a college visit to a ‘mental institution’ called Brockhalls Hospital in the beautiful Ribble Valley, near Whalley.  It was part of my Preliminary Certificate in Social Care course and we were doing a topic on learning disability.

It was the first time I had ever met any adults with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD) or adults with physical conditions like Cerebral Palsy.  There were about a dozen or more adults, propped up in chairs or wheelchairs, arranged in a semi circle around a large day room.  It was sparse and clinical, like a you’d expect a hospital to be.  What they thought as a dozen young students piled in to look at them I don’t know.    I know most of us were caring types and so we plucked up the courage to sit beside one of the residents and try to communicate with them.  I sat by a lady, who to me looked elderly and who was rocking gently, staring into the distance.  I said hello, my name and stroked her hand for a few minutes.  Then we got up and left.

I cried when I got home.  Part of it was the shock.  The shock of seeing people so disabled was one aspect, if I am to be honest.  These people were not part of my everyday experience.  It was also the shock of realising that people had been shut away in this institution, away from the rest of the world.  It was then I began to ask what I could do about that.

This was the mid 80s and things were about to change.   By 1992 the hospital had been closed and most of its residents moved to community homes.  Some of them moved not far from where I was eventually going to live.  And my town is still well serviced by group homes for adults with learning disabilities.  “These people” are part of our community and a meeting people with learning disabilities during a trip to the supermarket, or in the town centre is daily life.   It’s one reason why our Good News Group is so well attended.  It is part of our community, for those who live in our community.

I’ve been reading about the old hospitals. There is a community exhibition that I’m going to see next week and a website to go with it.    I remember my fear on the way to visit Brockholes in that college year.  The 17 year old me was more worried about how I would be able to communicate with the residents, what I might do to offend them and whether I would look stupid in front of my classmates.  Fears my classmates probably shared.   But this visit had a profound effect on me.  Not yet a Christian at that age,  God was already preparing and teaching me for my future.

I learned that fear was born out of my ignorance.  I didn’t know these people I was meeting, I didn’t know about their conditions.  But I also learned that making that first step, of going to sit with that lady and to say hello, took away a lot of that fear.  I’ve always, ever since, made a particular effort to speak and say hello to anyone with disabilities that I meet.  A fulfilling life, an invitation, an offer of help, an opportunity  to join in, a chance to share their talents and serve others – these are all things that people with learning disabilities are prevented from by our fear.  The Church of England are currently debating the value and place of people with Down’s Syndrome in our society and Churches.  What’s the biggest problem they face? – not things they can’t do – but other people’s fears.  These fears are always wrapped up in political language…the scarcity of resources,  quality of life and ‘their own good’.  When what we really fear is the challenge to us in making a more inclusive society, sharing our resources more evenly and putting the systems in place to help those who need better accessibility.

I know people fear what they don’t know or understand.  I know we fear embarrassment, or offending someone or not knowing what to say or do.  We fear having to be challenged out of our comfortable ways that only make comfort for certain people, and make barriers for others.

Imagine being the one who no-one talks to, or no-one bothers to try to communicate with, the one other people think is worth less than others?  We have to take God’s words to our hearts and “Do not fear”.   Because our fear is causing too many people to be excluded, bullied, exploited, abused and ignored – and that IS in our churches as well as in society.

God took the initiative in communicating his love for us.  If he’d not bothered, we would truly be lost.  His son Jesus communicates the same message to everyone.  So my plea is please ‘do not fear’ and make the effort to find out, welcome and include people with learning disabilities and other additional needs into your lives.

Nurse Holding Elderly Patient's Hand

picture from http://www.google.co.uk stock

(Note: This post came out of a conversation I had some time ago with a friend who had spent his early life in one of these institutions and had moved out in the 80s when he was about the same age as me at the time.  He had a lot to say about being ignored by society and I said I would try my best to communicate the things we had talked about.) 

 

Matthew 4:4 (NIrV)

Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘Man must not live only on bread. He must also live on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

In our Good News Group we try to make the Bible as accessible to everyone as possible.  We have people who are blind or visually impaired, who read, who don’t read, who have hearing impairments, physical disabilities, health conditions, and people who have intellectual disabilities.

We use a variety of communication methods and one of these is pictures.  We like to use pictures to sequence and illustrate the story we are telling. I remember at the beginning spending hours trawling through google to find images that we could use and then we found www.freebibleimages.org  and our planning was transformed.

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Image from:  http://www.freebibleimages.org/illustrations/jesus-water/

You can download powerpoint or other presentation formats of Bible stories.  We like them because the images are not childish.  We don’t want to patronise our adults in the group.  When I’m preparing a talk I find them easy to edit so that they fit the text I am speaking.  They follow the Bible accounts accurately.  Usually we use the Accessible NIrV Bible or we might use a shorter version of the story so it is good to be able to make adjustments.  Then I can add the slide numbers to a copy of my talk and the person operating the computer display can put up the right picture as I speak.  Or sometimes I’ll take charge and use the ‘clicker’ so I can move the images on myself.

Easy peasy…

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John is a whizz on the computer.

2 Timothy 3:16New International Reader’s Version (NIRV)

“16 God has breathed life into all Scripture. It is useful for teaching us what is true. It is useful for correcting our mistakes. It is useful for making our lives whole again. It is useful for training us to do what is right.”

I can see how these images would work on an I-Pad, laptop or if you printed them off and either used them as a wordless book or put some simple text with them.  Then you could use them with a child or adult at home on in a Sunday School class, church service or house group so that they could follow the story that everyone else might be reading from the Bible.

Alternatively –  you could use the pictures as a stimulus for a sensory story at home or in a small group.  I would usually cut down the amount of pictures for this so that we didn’t have too many sensory experiences and overload the person.  But it would make a lovely support for a sensory story.  Again you can add key words or simple sentences as the powerpoint’s are editable.

We might use these pictures with the puppets, so the puppets might be talking about an experience they had (for example, The women talking about their visit to the empty tomb) and the picture can illustrate what they are talking about.

Luke 24:45 (NIRV)

“45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”

The Good News Group exists to share the Gospel and the Scriptures with the people who come to the group.  It is our joy to communicate in ways that opens up God’s Word to them.  In fact, it helps us all understand Scripture better too.

I’m sure people can think of other ways to use these pictures.  Do share your ideas in the comments.  Thanks to @FreeBibleimages, our preparation for our teaching sessions has been greatly improved and we have some consistency of style when different people are teaching.

This is what we want to do!

All Belong

I’m excited to share this new website with you.  (click picture or sentence to go to it)

The Additional Needs Team at St Saviour’s Church Guilford have put together Bible teaching materials for children with additional needs in a website that is easy accessible.

It is just like the one I am trying to create with materials for adults with learning disabilities based on the Bible teaching plans I have collected from the Good News Group over the past 10 years.  And even more exciting is that someone else I know is making a similar website for teenagers with additional needs.  Won’t it be wonderful when we have all these resources online?  Please pray for the work still in development.

In other news – The Good News Group did their annual Carol Service and the church was full with visitors.  We hope to have one or two new members joining us from this outreach service.  We also got a Christmas card from the ArchBishop  of Canterbury which made us quite excited.  (Thanks to our Lord’s Prayer video, I think!)

This term we are trying to enable some of our group to do the talks each week.  We are teeming up together and the member who speaks is choosing their favourite Bible story for us to base the teaching on.  They will get the chance to share their faith story and tell the group what we can learn from the Bible story they have chosen.  It’s going to be a learning experience as we figure out how to enable our members to get up front and preach – but I’m really excited and hope to write about how it goes.

In March we are doing a workshop at the Blackburn Diocese Children’s work conference.  I’m taking a team of our members and we are going to show people how they can make and use a Sensory Bible Story to make the Bible accessible to children with additional needs.  We should have a great time and will need to do it twice so I’m just wondering whether to do the same story twice or two different stories?!

I hope you’ll keep in touch and that God blesses the ministry you are involved in.

Lynn x

HITACHI Digital Camera

Actors and Readers

I’m going to be blogging less.  I’ve been struggling to maintain writing this and my autism teaching blog because of other commitments.  I have eventually realised that I don’t need to feel so stressed or guilty – that the Lord is taking me on a different path for now.  I also have a job which is ministry in itself, the Roofbreakers Network to organise and my educational writing projects.  I need to be kinder to myself and take a break now and again, as well as realising God isn’t asking me to do any of this alone.  Only in his strength but also with the teams of people he is connecting me with.  Thank you Lord!

What’s happening?

  1. Since I wrote this blog about putting together an “Included by Grace” book   that work has been steadily going on in the background.  I’ve enlisted my daughter and my dad to help me and we are putting the content together so I can edit it.  images
  2. But also there’s another couple of projects starting to take form.  One of them is a long held vision I’ve had to share our Bible teaching materials online so people with learning disabilities themselves can access the teaching and people who want to plan for groups like ours can also access that teaching and planning.  Well, despite being terrified  (of all the things I don’t know) God has brought alongside me people who get it,  people who are doing similar things and people who want to help.  So our plans to have an accessible Bible teaching website are in the early planning stages but at last seem to be a possibility.   One real encouragement recently was to be put in contact with two other women doing something similar.  One is doing this for children, one for teenagers.  That fits in perfectly with my plans to do this for adults.   Thanks to Mark Arnold from Urban Saint’s Additional Needs Ministry for connecting us!     4 pieces
  3. Finally, it is also a dream to enable the members of our Good News Group to share the gospel with others and we are going to try putting a team together to do assemblies in some of our local special schools.  It would be great for our members to be role models for the children in those schools.  Again, God is good,  I have people who get it, who want to help and even some links with people who have done this before and will share ideas (If you know of anyone else who has done this please ask them to get in touch with me).

All that and it’s the Christmas season so our group is gearing up for it’s annual outreach Christmas service on Wednesday.  They are all so excited.  And then on the following Wednesday, 5 of the group have been learning a puppet dance to “Celebrate the Child” by Michael Card.  I led a workshop about teaching puppets to adults with learning disabilities at the One Way UK European Puppet Festival in October.  This is us putting our words into practice… I might write a post about how we did it and what the challenges were another time.  I know its going to be fabulous and everyone will enjoy it.

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So for blogging…

I hope if you follow my blog you won’t forget about us.  I will repost some of my old blogs, especially the practical advice ones and share them on FB and twitter.  Includedbygrace now has a FB page if you’d like to follow it.  You can comment on there and keep in touch.  And I’m on twitter as @includedbygrace   And pray.  We’d appreciate that a lot.

If you will share includedbygrace blog, FB and Twitter pages on your own network it will help me build and audience for the book, website and whatever else comes from this.  I’m still available for training in churches across the North West and the Additional Needs Alliance Network can find you trainers elsewhere.

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