Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

ADHD and faith

It’s a challenge for me to write so personally. I’m worried that people will judge me and change their perception of me. But if I am to be authentic as a child of God, then I want to share my story to help others. So, here goes…

There is so much misinformation and prejudice about ADHD, from dismissal (there’s no such thing) to assuming it is a ‘naughty boy syndrome that people grow out of’.

So what if I tell you I am a 53 year old woman, recently diagnosed with ADHD?  

First, I would have to cope with your look of disbelief.  Then watch the cogs of your brain whirr around to find a suitable response.  I’d much rather hear “that’s interesting, what does that mean?” than “but you seem so normal” or “but isn’t that just a child thing.” 

In churches I have been part of over the years, I’ve often been pretending to be what I thought was normal and respectable.  I’d volunteer, share kindnesses with anyone and sit quietly through the sermons. Some churches have been places where I was able to open up and be more of myself and I am so grateful to them because that is how I started to heal and learn about myself.  It’s been a long journey to get to where I am now. Other churches have made me feel I don’t fit in.  I honestly don’t think they do this on purpose but teaching that implies ‘this is how to be a good Christian’ (and then Bible Study, quiet times, serving in the church, how to be a good parent, wife, woman… etc, are all ‘expected’) just crushed me.  I am not able to fit in that mould, I fight with the feelings of never being good enough.  I thank God that it has given me a deeper understanding of his grace.  I have learned that is the most important and only measure I need – am I enough for his grace. Always. 

SO, I have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) but I don’t argue with you all the time, I don’t visible fidget or climb the walls (oh, but if you really looked you’d see how much effort I need to employ to try and keep still) and I seem to be able to pay attention.  I don’t make impulsive decisions (do I not?) and people may think I am quite sociable.  I am. I am terrible at organisation, time keeping and am on the verge of chaos all the time.  However, when you first look, I seem organised, reliable and tidy.  (I am exhausted and have so many strategies to keep my life from collapsing into chaos, you could not imagine).  I am a people pleaser because I have such acute rejection sensitivity that any hint of criticism or rebuff, sends me into a spiral of depression and dread for weeks.   

In church I feel that I talk too much, take over with too much enthusiasm, struggle once the interest wains and can’t sit still for a whole sermon.  I often ‘need the loo’ in the middle or I manage to sit still and am squirming so much inside I can’t remember a word of what they said.  The best place for me was the Good News Group where we did things in small chunks, actively and practically.  I learned so much about my faith and belonging when I was part of that church. 

The thing is, we have got it wrong.   Attention Deficit is actually too much attention.  Everything catches my eye and when I go into a room, I scan and read every picture on the wall, every pattern in the wallpaper, the stains on the carpet and the drape of the curtains.  I have clocked all your family photos and the dust on your TV (sorry).  But I don’t judge. My brain just finds it interesting.  Then I scan the people.  I work out who is who, who they know and read their body language.  I notice what they are wearing, if they ironed their T-shirt and what their shoes are like.  I watch the interaction between the guests and work out quickly who is with who, who likes who and who feels awkward.   I can tell you who is feeling tired and who is excited to be there.  I love people and will soon start talking to anyone of them.  In the first two minutes I could know more about them than my husband would find out in 2 years. I might find it hard to stop talking but I’ve trained myself to ask questions and listen to the answers so I can make that person feel important and that I am interested in them.  Because did I tell you I love people?  I am curious and interested in their lives, what they do and why they are there.  I want to hear about their lives and their stories.  But yes, I also might be the one who gets stuck with your uncle Frank and his many tales.  I am not good at listening to something I’ve already heard.  As a Christian I fare better in quiet, unbusy places and environments.  I have grown in my faith and relationship with God through seeking these out.  I love places like Scargill House in Yorkshire and Whalley Abbey in Lancashire.  I pray best when I am in the countryside and walking on a quiet beach in the winter.  

Attention needs interest, so it’s a good job I am so fascinated by people and their stories.  But attention can be distracted and inanely bored if the interest fades.  And I have the boredom threshold of a gnat.  This is not attention DEFICIT.  This is attention overload.  That’s why people think people with ADHD don’t pay attention.  They only see it from the outside.  Not from the inside when there is so much going on in my brain all at once.  But faith stories and testimonies light up my life.  I love hearing how God works in people’s lives and love supporting and sharing those stories with others. 

Hyperactivity Disorder is not a disorder.  This is the need to move, the inability to sit still for long periods of time (are you sure humans were made to do that for 6-8 hours a day every day???) and to stimulate the brain through the sensory systems.  People think I can sit still, but it’s something I’ve been trained to do so all my life.  I also have what’s called rejection sensitivity.  This is related to my interoception sensory system (internal body signals and emotions).  I feel emotions hugely.  So criticism triggers a physical dread sensation in my body that used to last for more than two weeks, and if I felt really rejected, for years. That physical feeling I’d have to try and squash into my subconscious so I could function and manage day to day.  But this affected my behaviour.  I would override my need to move and mask my fidgeting to ‘be good’.    I find solace in my imagination.  Sometimes a Bible reading or something the preacher says sparks that imagination and I soar on wings like eagles! I can go off on a wonderful journey in my imagination where I am following the person who encountered Jesus back to their village, or imagining how I could put that in practice in my work and life.  I do go off on my own thought-journey during sermons (and it may look as if I’ve zoned out) so often, but for me that has been a gift from the preacher to help me go deeper in my faith. 

Impulsivity is another thing associated with ADHD.  It’s a curious one when you have rejection sensitivity.  You can’t upset anyone, so your impulsivity turns inwards.  You might do secret shopping on an impulse or turn to eating, special interests or hobbies – it doesn’t always have to be negative! Some people might get into drugs or addictions for this reason. I am creative and have probably tried nearly every craft going.  But you don’t just go for a starter kit – impulsivity leads you to buy the professional kit straight away.  But then, I am multi-talented and can produce a bit of craft for any occasion… but only if I am interested in that at the time!  But in church I might say yes to too many things and end up over stretched and over committed.  Please look after me and tell me to think rather than expect a quick answer.  I am so often exhausted by over-commitment, I’d like to rest a while sometimes.  It can lead to mental burnout and depression and in the past I have suffered with those. When Jesus is described as the Wonderful Counsellor – I have certainly found this to be a core aspect of my relationship with him, over many, many years of healing and restoration.

Self-esteem is a huge issue.  Imagine spending the whole of your life thinking you are broken. Wondering what is wrong with you and why things are so difficult that others seem to be able to manage naturally.   

Knowing Jesus has helped me walk through this life with a different perspective on everything.  I came to faith with a huge load on my back.  Over the years the Holy Spirit has gently and kindly led me through a journey of discovery and healing.  I have unlearned many self-destructive strategies I thought were helpful to me but actually hurt me and the ones I loved. I was trying to protect my fragile heart whilst pretending to be competent and I thought I knew best.   The best for me was to learn to surrender to the gentle, humble, powerful and kind love of God my Father.  In His grace I stand.  And having ADHD is who he made me to be. His power is made perfect in my weaknesses, his power works through my strengths. I am who he is making me to be because we are never finished.  I love Jesus with all my heart and am totally accepted, saved and made new in his death and resurrection.  I am not made wrong, but made differently (as Kat Mills sang) and that is God’s sovereignty over my life.  Hallelujah! 

Does this make you think ‘Ahhh” and visualise a cute picture of Jesus patting some innocent and attractive looking children on the head?   Some pictures have blond cherub like children…

https://www.letthelittlechildrencome.com/child-evangelism-resources/let-the-little-children-come-to-me

some have happy, smiling and physically able children… (The LTLCCTM – website above is very good BTW)

You might even get a picture showing children from different races and cultures.But where are the pictures of Jesus with children with disabilities, with Down’s syndrome, those who are sad and angry, those who find it hard to pay attention and those who have physical differences like facial deformities? 

https://theadditionalneedsblogfather.com/2020/01/15/jesus-welcomed/

Now that’s a bit more like it. 

There are truths about how society has treated the children (and into adulthood) who do not fit societies idea of ‘normal’  (fit, healthy, compliant, beautiful, economically useful and subservient perhaps?)  and this is going to hurt.

But not as much as it has hurt them.

For centuries our society has tried to forget the children who are different.  It has forced them to act normal, often through cruelty, strict discipline and punishment.  It has told them that if you want to be part of society you need to be what we decide is normal.  People who are different have been forced to be normal just to be safe.  

I hate using ‘them’ because they are ‘us’ – part of the body of Christ.  But they have been made ‘other’, not the same as ‘the normal ones’.  

They have been locked away in institutions, ignored and considered a ‘bad secret’ we don’t talk about.  Some still are. They are abused and beaten, deprived, medicated and ‘treated’ – anything to work towards making them ‘normal’. 

They have been told they are worthless and that they won’t amount to anything in a world that judges your worth by ‘normal’  (fit, healthy, compliant, beautiful, economically useful and subservient perhaps?) Exceptional people are only allowed to be exceptional in these areas of ‘normal’, unless they are one of the few that feel entitled to rule over others…because they are ‘more than normal’ than them and know what is best for the ‘less than normal’ people. 

Children with disabilities and differences have been persecuted and bullied by other children who are taught by society early on that ‘normal’ is the thing to be and ‘not normal’ is to be feared and ridiculed.  ‘Mong’, “Autistic’, “Gay” are now regular playground taunts even in the primary school.  Children who are different are taken advantage of, gaslighted, blamed and dismissed.  Everything they do is judged through the ‘normal’ lens. (fit, healthy, compliant, beautiful, economically useful and subservient perhaps?) They are told they have no potential and are a burden on society.  There are feeble attempts to support a few of them in schools, and then they are dropped and abandoned as they turn into adults. 

They are unheard, are not allowed to make decisions for themselves, talked over, rushed, ignored.  Scientists work hard to irradicate them.  It doesn’t even shock us when we hear that around the world, over 90% of children with Down’s syndrome are aborted.  Eugenics are celebrated.  Choosing the genetic make up of your child is on its way.  Would you make yours ‘normal’?  

Parents are told they have failed.  That they have failed to give society a ‘normal’ child and that they must now pay the price.  Families are judged, ostracised, excluded and dismissed.  They are given pity, not celebration when their precious child is born.  They are told they must fight but are always on the losing side of a system that fights back against them.  “Only normal people (fit, healthy, compliant, beautiful, economically useful and subservient perhaps?) accepted here”, it says.   They are gaslighted and bullied by normal people we call professionals because they have read about ‘their kind’ in books and theories.  They are blamed, ridiculed, fearful and overwhelmed.  They are exhausted.  

I have heard these stories but more importantly, so has God.  From the beginning he has heard the stones cry out to him.  The cruelty and the abandonment of part of the body of Christ is scandalous.  And that it is part of his church’s history and present state, is too.  

When Jesus walked this earth he showed us the way.  He didn’t just mean the ‘normal’ (fit, healthy, compliant, beautiful, economically useful and subservient perhaps?) children should be brought to him.   

Are you turning away those who Jesus loves?  Where are the ‘different ones’ in your church family?  Are you expecting them to be ‘normal’ to be accepted into God’s kingdom?  Are you putting your own rules around who Jesus will accept?  How many adults have grown up feeling God doesn’t love them or accept people like them – because they don’t fit into your ‘normal’ in the church? (fit, healthy, compliant, beautiful, economically useful and subservient perhaps?)

And then we enforce all that as they grow into adults. We treat them like children, pity them and ignore their talents, never giving them the chance to serve and use their gifts in leadership and church life. We limit their potential. We might be talking about children with additional needs in children’s ministry – but where are the talks about adults with additional needs in ministry training?

Dreams and Disappointments

Are you fearful and worried?  Are you disappointed with a dream you had that isn’t happening?   Are you trying to make things happen and barriers are in the way or there seems to be no response?  Do we feel that our lack of faith is making our dreams fail?

I have a dream of reaching out to people with learning disabilities with the gospel and equipping others to do the same (especially learning disabled believers themselves).   I’ve had this dream since I even before I became a Christian, even though I didn’t know what that desire really meant until I did know Jesus…. Then the context became clear. 

But when we face disappointment or failure, when we see the world but too many barriers in the way, then it is easy to question your dream.  Is it really from God?  Am I doing it wrong?  Do I not have enough faith? 

We can learn a lot from the dreamers in the Bible.  And the most famous of all is Joseph.  He dared to share his dreams, somewhat naively, to his brothers.  And we know how that turned out.  Don’t you think that when he was taken into slavery and later thrown into prison, that he questioned his dreams?  All those long years of it not turning out right.  I would have questioned God,  I would have asked him why had I got it so wrong?  I would have thought that maybe I needed to lower my expectations of what God was going to do, that maybe I’d got the dream wrong in the first place. 

I’m talking about this because I am dealing with my disappointments that my dreams, that I believe are God given, are not working out… but that is my pride.  I imagined the way my dreams would work out… and in pursuing my own plans I forgot that God works differently.  The other problem we often have is numbers.  How many times are we impressed by Christian and secular people who have thousands of responses to podcasts or you tube videos?  Of those with thousands of followers on any social media platform.  When you touch just one life do you think it is not enough?

Let me encourage you. 

When God touched your life – was it important?  

It was important to you… and it was important to God. 

So when we touch one person with kindness or encouragement or accessing the word of God, then we have made God’s dream come true.  There is so much frustration about what isn’t happening, so much comparison of numbers that we can forget that Gods measure of success is upside down from this world.  Just bringing up your own children with additional needs to know Jesus is a huge dream come true.  Just changing one attitude towards disability in your church is a huge dream come true. We don’t know the after effects.  But God’s plans will not fail. 

One day we might see huge numbers and huge changes, the things we dreamed about.  That will be in God’s time.  Joseph waited and waited faithfully.  He knew what disappointment was and so do we.  God is doing his work and he is giving us the privilege of sharing his dreams.  Our dreams are coming true in ways we can’t even imagine.  You are going to be amazed.  Worship and thank him now.  He is with you.  

I am disappointed but not discouraged and neither should you be. Come to Jesus and lay all your life before him. Surrender and humility isn’t popular in our society, but it is what will bring us into that place where Jesus is in the right place in our life – right at the centre. I am yearning for that holiness, and for holiness to be over all the self-reliance and over-effort I put into everything. Our time of not meeting, of being isolated from our Christian families, does not mean that Jesus has gone anywhere. He is there always. He is more than able to work in you to bring peace, hope and to fulfil HIS dreams in your life.

I have my dream.  I am wondering when it will happen as I imagine,  and I feel frustrated that I seem to be knocked back and getting nowhere.  But these thoughts about Joseph remind me that waiting is just part of the journey.  God’s will, will be done. 

The 1995 Disability Discrimination Act  and The Human Rights Act state that people with disabilities have a right to a spiritual life.   There are studies that show hoe beneficial a spiritual dimension is to many people’s lives such as this:

“Common transcendent narratives that may be particularly relevant to people with disabilities include the belief that God endows each person with dignity and worth that is intrinsically based, cares about the pain and suffering people encounter in life, and has a redemptive plan for each person’s life experiences. Such narratives—when internalized, bestowed with sacred meaning, and reinforced by others—can foster positive health out- comes (Liu et al., 2014). In addition, theorists have noted the social support that flows from interacting with like-minded others in religious communities may positively affect wellness (Koenig et al., 2012).”

Health & Social Work Volume 44, Number 2 May 2019 Downloaded from https://academic.oup.com/hsw/article/44/2/75/5248513 by guest on 06 September 2020

But also, it is often found that adults in care homes and supported living are denied a spiritual life because staff lack training on how to support this.  I’m beginning to look at the writings and research on this issue and will be sharing more as I learn, but one thing I have noticed in my own experience of leading the Good News Group, that support from carers is vital to people with learning disabilities being able to access spiritual activities.  I have known a GNG member be discouraged from going to the group, being told “You don’t want to go to the GNG tonight, do you?”.  It was another carer who found this had been going on some time, when I had got in touch to see why the person hadn’t been attending. 

I think it is clear we need to pray for carers, who are often poorly paid, given little training, and would be terrified of answering spiritual questions from their residents in case they were accused of misleading or directing them to a particular religion.  Many carers have no religious belief themselves and would not feel confident in talking about the bigger questions in life.   Carers are part of our ministry too.

What is your experience?  Are you a person who feels left out or included on your church. Does your church make itself accessible for your needs? You may be in a church that provides a service for people with learning disabilities (such as the old Prospects Groups or our Good News Group) or you may be providing accessibility for children with different abilities and additional needs in your children’s work.  Children are often brought to church by their families, who have brought them because of their own spiritual belief.  If we work to make our children’s work more accessible to all, we can build a child’s faith and confidence that they belong in God’s family no matter what the world says their value in society is.   But there’s a huge gap in the guiding of children with additional needs into an adult life and an adult faith.  They are too often treated like children forever.  I really want to do something about this.   I haven’t been involved in the Good News Group for 2 years now and in that time I have reflected on where God would want me to get involved.  I have read and prayed and come to the conclusion that it is adults with learning disabilities that are neglected in churches and in resources online.  Lockdown has given me chance to talk with some of my differently abled friends and ask them about their faith, hope and ambitions in church.  They often don’t see a place for themselves apart from what others do for them.  I’d like to see more opportunities for them to grow in faith, lead others and share the gospel with people who haven’t heard it yet.  There is a Baptist study that showed that adults with learning disabilities are one of the most unreached people’s in the UK.  

We have all been challenged by not being able to meet.  It’s been so encouraging to see groups for adults doing services online and sharing ideas.  But the fact is that we are not going to be able to meet physically for a long time yet, as often the people in our groups are medically very vulnerable.  So it really is time to rethink how we reach out to people with learning disabilities.  It’s going to be a challenge and one I am praying and chatting to people about.  Making communication accessible, making online access accessible and thinking about those who cannot access the internet or our physical buildings all need to be included. 

Please do share your thoughts and links to useful information or research.  I’m interested in turning this blog into a more accessible website but have no technical skills to do this – so if that is on your heart and you do have those skills (or know someone who does) please do get in touch. 

IMG_4144

I’ve been doing Lego Based Therapy with autistic children in my schools for a couple of years now and often deliver training to teachers and care staff in how to run these sessions. I’ve been thinking for some time about how this might be used in a church setting as the children usually love the structure and format of the sessions and their communication skills develop really well in this context.

So what is Lego Based Therapy?

Lego Based Therapy has not been developed by Lego (who don’t endorse it) but by an autism clinic in America. It’s actually a communication, social interaction and problem solving therapy. Here is more information if you’d like to learn about it.

Over 12 weeks the children work in a group of three and take on a ‘job’ with a specific and clear role. There is the…

Engineer – this role is in charge of the creation. They hold the plans (as in a Lego kit) and have the responsibility to communicate each step of the plan to the right person.

Supplier – this role is in charge of the Lego pieces and has to listen to the Engineer so they can find the right piece to pass on to the…

Builder – this role is in charge of building the model. They have to listen to the engineer to put the pieces given to them by the Supplier in the right place.

Each child in the group rotates through each role so they have the chance to experience and develop in each one. When problems occur, the children are encouraged to work it out together rather than relying on the adult to come up with the answer. They are encouraged to build a good and trusting relationship with each other as a team and to develop social chat through this and free building which they do as part of the session.

I love these sessions because many children with additional needs in schools become very reliant on adults to tell them what to do, and learning to solve problems without adult interference is a great skill for them growing up.

Lego and the Bible

Lego is very inspiring and interesting to many children. Some children with fine motor difficulties may struggle to put pieces together, and children who do not use verbal language may either need specific support such as visual or voice communication apps…but adaptations could be explored to make this activity accessible to all.

Rachel Harris, our church’s Children and Families worker, has been using  Lego Bible books below at her Lego club that she runs at a local school.

But first I am going to share with you how I thought we could start to look at creation and the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit through using a Lego Therapy approach.

The Trinity – A relationship 

God the Father can be like the Engineer.  He has the plans and communicates his plan to the Holy Spirit who is like the Supplier (of all things!).  Jesus the Son becomes the Builder.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth didn’t have any shape. And it was empty. There was darkness over the surface of the waves. At that time, the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.   God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light.  Genesis 1:1-3

In the beginning, the Word was already there. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  All things were made through him. Nothing that has been made was made without him.  John 1:1-3

Bible Truth

When we do a Lego activity where 3 people have to work together to make something, by each fulfilling their allotted role, we can discuss how the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a relationship.  This particularly difficult concept is much more than we can really understand,  but for children and adults this might be a good way to start.  When we use analogies such as the sun (3 parts – physical, light, heat) to explain the Trinity, then we miss out the interactions of communication between the three parts.  Doing an activity that develops a 3-way relationship can help us begin to explore the pure love, communication and working together of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 Now, grace and truth come to us through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God. But the One and Only is God and is at the Father’s side. The one at the Father’s side has shown us what God is like.  John 1:17-19

Jesus answered, “Don’t you know me, Philip? I have been among you such a long time! Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. So how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  John 14:9

But the Father will send the Friend in my name to help you. The Friend is the Holy Spirit.
He will teach you all things. He will remind you of everything I have said to you.  John 14:26

Once we have worked together to make a model we can examine how our relationships worked.  Were they perfect like the Holy Trinity? – of course they won’t be! But we can look at how being connected to God, following his Son and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can join in with that beautiful relationship and know how we are loved completely.

David and Goliath
There are many more ways we can explore the Bible using children’s interests in these little plastic coloured bricks.  I have bought a couple of books and will be starting to try some things out at the Lego Club in the next few weeks.  The most important thing to me is to make sure we communicate who God is and how he wants the children to follow his son Jesus.  We can make scenes and learn stories, but it is important to learn the truth of God’s absolute love for us in the process.

Here are some resources for you to try:

Bible Lego cards

Slide shows from presentation

Lego Bible videos by Josh Carrol https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHT2JbV1RjL3CI_rA3skmCQ

Jesus your my Superhero song in Lego

Great books

The Brick Bible.

One church at a time

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while will have seen me agonise over leaving the Good News Group and struggling find a place and purpose in what God wanted me to do next. It is that leap of faith we need to take sometimes – but it isn’t very comfortable.

It has been a time of visiting other churches and finding one we could settle in. Each time we visited another church it was refreshing to look at what impression of accessibility each one gave us in that first visit. We finally settled into Buckshaw Village church – back in the CofE (I was surprised about that having been more comfortable in ”free’ churches in the past). It meets in a community centre and isn’t too far from where we live. It’s lively and I began to feel free enough to raise my hands in worship without feeling ‘weird’ again.

The Friday before shutdown happened, I plucked up the courage to meet with the minister, his PA and the children’s worker to share with them my story, my vision and my passion. I am very blessed to be in a growth group with the PA and Children’s worker so they knew what was coming 🙂

I shared my heart like I have done on other occasions. When I did this in my last church I was given a favourable response, but then NOTHING changed. I was left deflated and patronised. Like they’d sent me away with a pat on the head. It always felt like the Good News Group ticked their accessibility box.

But this time it was different. James, our minister listened. He made a couple of notes and listened some more. At the end of my passionate speech he said one simple word… “YES”. And he’d already written a plan of action.

And then on that next Monday, the country shut down. Church buildings shut down and work shut down. Suddenly we all had to rethink what we were doing and how. A few of us had attended a Makaton training day before Christmas and started to sign the memory verse at the front of church each week. Once church went online I was asked would I please continue this. So each week, I have filmed the Bible verse in Makaton and it forms part of our online recorded service.

Then we started including some signed worship songs. And we set up a Saturday signing for worship group. And bit by bit, Makaton signing has become mainstream in our church. Learning to sign worship songs has been a challenge, but aided by the wonderful Becky Makaton Tutor , my own worship in lockdown has been wonderful. I was able to use some of this in making the two Good News Group services that I filmed for them and put on You Tube. I have learned so many tech skills which opens up so many new possibilities.

As we begin to think about reopening our buildings, it is vital we do not close this online door to those who can’t get to our buildings. The lockdown seems to have given many people in our church time to reflect and see that being more accessible can be a very natural process if you let it be part of what you do. Buckshaw Village is willing and I have asked if I can write my blog about our journey. It’s one church, but I feel it can be a beacon for what other churches can do. We’ve done one thing and its made a difference. My friend who has learning difficulties says it makes him feel like he is welcome and part of the church family. The Makaton helps him understand the words.

And we were part of this WONDERFUL song

There is a lot about this church I love. I love its heart for people and its cultural diversity. I love how James, Rachel (the children’s worker) and others have preached in smaller chunks and made their words clear and easy to understand whilst covering some deep truths of the gospel. I love the prayer montages each week and miss all the people so much.

I think the next step will to be speak to the church leadership and see if we can gather everyone together in this. I have ideas and want to help everyone feel they are part of this. So please do follow our journey. We will be honest and share what works and what barriers we come up against.

And do pray. That what this one church does, others might try too.

Lynn x

MM

Hello,  I hope you have been well and safe during these past few weeks.  I’ve been learning even more new tech skills (but still not mastering any of them!)

I am grateful to God for giving us these tools to keep in touch with our Good News Group and even to reach out to others who don’t normally come to the group.  We’ve now put together another service, this one looking at when Mary Magdalene met Jesus as he rose from the tomb.  When great sadness turned into great joy.

I hope you enjoy this and please, please do share it wherever you can.  Our Good News Group members are praying that this reaches out to new people who can’t normally get to a church or when they do, don’t find it easy  to understand the teaching and what is going on.

Here is the booklet of symbols and activities:

Mary Magdalene booklet

And here is the link to the Lego Psalm 129 that I referred to in the talk. 🙂

God Bless you all and do keep in touch.

Lynn x

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for men. Colossians 3:23

Hello lovely friends,

Since the lockdown I have been busy trying to fulfil a 3 year long ambition to put accessible worship and Bible teaching online.  There are too many older teens and adults with learning differences who cannot get to church and even when they are there, cannot access the teaching.   I’ve said time and time again, we cannot solely rely on talking…we can use so many other ways of communicating.

At the Good News Group we have learned that if we use a variety of communication techniques then everyone in the group can find most of the service accessible and learn something from it.  We use visuals for those who cannot read, and sensory activities for those who cannot see or who are sensory learners.  We use simple key-word based signing (Makaton) for those who understand that and it helps us all learn to slow down our verbal language and think about what the key words are.   We also use puppets (who command attention much better than we do!) and lots of practical interaction.  We sing with signing and shaking our instruments – it’s a joyful sound!

So I have spent a week learning how to edit and arrange videos on iMovie, I’ve learned some new signs and videoed them with music played by Elaine and Tim.  Gill has done a puppet sketch and some of our members, Stefan and Colin, have written prayers.

Here is the link to the service.  It is 40 minutes long but being on YouTube you can watch it in smaller chunks if you like.  My prayer is that it reaches adults with learning disabilities at home or in care homes who miss church, but also those who have never got to church.  Let me know (on You Tube or by commenting on here) what you think as I will be trying another one before this lockdown is done.  And if you have any suggestions for improvements or song requests – you can send those too.

There’ a booklet to download and colour in.  If you want to search some craft activities to go with this story you could do that easily online.

Jesus calms the Storm printables

I will be doing some simple signing songs to add to the includedbygrace youtube channel so watch out for those.   I have to say, the time to pray more and do this work that I’ve longed to do has come about because of the lockdown.  I am so aware of the pain and worry of many families who care for adults with disabilities.  Some of them are unable to see their loved ones as care homes are in lockdown.  I want to assure you I am praying and doing what I can locally to find help where people need it.  I can only hope that the peace and hope we have in Christ makes this time bearable…and maybe fruitful in all our lives.   God Bless

Lynn x

boy

I did a talk at St James Church, Lower Darwen in lovely Lancashire this week.  I will be adding the text of my talk and hopefully a video that was recorded so that people can listen to the training themselves, and share in your church if you would like to.  I was really nervous as this is the first time I had delivered this training for churches, but hopefully it will help you all reflect and respond to behaviour that challenges you in a way that supports a child and shows them just how much Jesus understands and loves them.

…but for those that were there – here is the powerpoint handout I promised you and the rest will be added later. Just click and it should open up the pdf of the handout.

Belonging- Behaviour

Finally here are some more events people might like to look up – I’m going to all of them!

12th February, St Thomas’s Lancaster – Belonging: Supporting Autistic People in your Church  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/belonging-supporting-autistic-children-and-adults-in-your-church-tickets-87953121153

14th March, Manchester – Through the Roof – Disability Inclusion Events (Be a Roofbreaker in your church – I’m going!)  https://www.throughtheroof.org/forchurches/events/

16th March, Blackpool  – Belonging: Understanding ADHD  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/belonging-understanding-adhd-tickets-88558379497

25th April Preston – New Wine National Additonal Needs Conference http://additionalneedsalliance.org.uk/event/new-wine-2020-national-accessibility-conference-preston/

The Story of Aslan

A little different post before we get going on more sensory posts.  I have loved following people who are engaged in accessible church ministries and like the Good News Group, making church work for children and adults with different needs.  Aslan is a church group for young people at Tonbridge Baptist Church and here is their story…

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‘I’ll help with the music, but I won’t have time to lead it’ –my initial reaction in 2013 when a few people in my church were wanting to set up a group to support an autistic boy of 14 who had been through Sunday School with a 1:1 helper, but now found it very difficult to join in with what was on offer for his age group.

I was enjoying being part of the music ministry and helping with Alpha courses.  I felt I had enough to do, having also recently been appointed an Elder.  In addition to those things I was the music teacher in a school for children with physical disabilities and complex medical needs. My life was full!

However, God had other ideas and as I started to get involved it was clear to me that He was putting all sorts of thoughts into my mind. For the first few weeks, it was fairly unstructured. James played with his vast collection of animals and we enjoyed seeing him make up stories about them. I played a few children’s worship songs that he seemed to engage with, but it didn’t seem enough. I knew, from my years of teaching in special education, that there was an expectation for any child of any ability to be able to learn. We had to do our best to find creative ways to tap into their potential.

With this in mind, I started to imagine how this ministry could develop. We could have focused, constructive sessions. Children with special needs could learn about God’s love and the Bible in a safe space, with dedicated people to help them.

As the ideas began to flow, I recognised God’s hand in gently guiding me to a place where I wanted to take a lead and develop this group. We still only had James, but it wasn’t long before others showed interest.

Two months later we heard about Joshua. He was 10 and the oldest of four boys. His parents wanted to attend church but one of them always had to stay behind as Josh was reluctant to come. He didn’t engage with church services and didn’t want to go into Sunday School. He came to our group and decided this was okay! Within a few months we had another two boys, bringing the number to four.

STRUCTURE

We then decided to settle on a routine for the morning. We started with free time – the boys could bring something that would interest them and for 10 minutes they could play on that activity. Then we came together for a prayer, Bible story and song. This was followed by a snack time – biscuit and drink, and then an activity linked to the Bible story. We finished the morning by allowing the boys free time until their parents came for them. This routine worked well and has continued to be the framework of the morning, as we found the predictability of the structure was very helpful. In addition to the structure of the session we wanted to underpin it all with prayer, so we made it a priority to gather to pray for 10 minutes before the start. It remains such a good way to focus on the reason for being there, to pray for every aspect of the morning, to pray for the families and to pray for each other.

NAME

As we became more established, we started to think of a name for the group. This was quite challenging and various suggestions were made but nothing seemed quite right! One day I sat down with a piece of paper and jotted down some of the words about us… special, loving, nurturing. I played around with the letters and soon had organised them into ‘Aslan’: All Special needs children LovedAnd Nurtured. I liked the idea of the individual letters meaning something but also loved the idea of using Aslan, the representation of Jesus from the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ as our symbol. We asked James, who inspired the vision, to draw a picture of a lion head which we still use in our logo.

LEADERS

We meet 3 times a month and have a rota of 3 teams. Over time it has become clear that partnering the children with the right leaders is an important part of the planning. Some of the best faith conversations go on during individual activity times and we are blessed with dedicated and gifted people.

RESOURCES

In the early days of Aslan, I scoured the internet for activities to support Bible stories but was surprised that it was so difficult to find suitable resources. There is a wide range of ability within the group and I wanted to find things that were engaging and meaningful for each one.  In the absence of anything ready-made, I prepared activities differentiated at 4 different levels of ability. This was a lot of work and I started to think that it might be helpful to others if I shared these resources online. I believe it was one of those God-planted thoughts! My son Dan was Youth Team Leader at my church at the time and was keen to help me set up a website. It was a long and sometimes arduous process, but it has now been running since April 2018 and has all the resources to enable anyone to run a 3-year Bible-based curriculum: http://aslan.tonbridgebaptist.church/

TODAY

We have now been running for 6 years and currently have 7 boys and 1 girl in the group, with all 4 levels of ability represented.

FACEBOOK

I love being part of this ministry and hope to encourage others to set up similar groups. Recently, I decided that it might be helpful to set up a facebook group,  Aslan | SENchurch,     to be able to interact more easily with anyone using the material. New members are always welcome!

With many thanks to Jackie Potter for writing and sharing this story with us.

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