Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Fear of Disabilities


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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 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  and our planning was transformed.


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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…


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.


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.


How do we know we are making disciples in the Good News Group? For some of our members we can talk to them and they can tell us about their walk with God. For those who don’t use speech we offer them visuals to communicate with us. We can observe their actions and reactions. They only way we can do this is by getting to know them and their carers well. Carers tell us about things that happen at home, when someone put ear hands together and prayed or opened up their Picture Bible. But really, our role is not to test our members on their discipleship. Our role is to share, teach and encourage. The Holy Spirit will do God’s work in their lives. We are in this together.

But I do want to share a story with you when the Lord has encouraged all of us through one person’s testimony.

One member has been struggling with fear and despair for months and months and months. He has his own additional needs but also is a carer for other members of their very lovely family. This puts a huge burden on him and sometimes, coming to the Good News Group is the only time he has away from this. We spend time praying with and encouraging him each week and encourage him to pray at home whenever he can. So this week he came to me looking so much happier. He told me that he had been reading his Bible every day. This is amazing because only recently had he received an NIrV Accessible Bible and been able to read it himself. Then he said he had prayed and heard a voice saying “I’m going to sort this out”. He shone with joy as he explained that since then he had felt all the weight of worry had been lifted and how much happier he felt.

To have this miracle being worked out in this man’s life and seeing God speak to him in this way has to show us that it is the Holy Spirit who disciples, who does the deeper work inside the spirits of the people who come together in that group. He now wants to share his testimony and that’s our next plan. We know our group have something to say, that God Works in their lives.

Our next terms teaching is going to be led by them. We will see who volunteers and provide the means for them to communicate their faith. I wish we had more technology available as I think some of those who don’t use verbal communication could tell us much more. (There’s very little funding available in adult social care for technology to aid communication – so sad when people are usually adults for longer than when they were children). So as is our way in the Good News Group we will do all we can to push enabling and participation. The plan is to use their favourite Bible story as a springboard to enable them to talk about and share their faith.

We will start with the man who shared this week. He’s already chosen a miracle story from the Bible as his favourite. And I hope to share more of their stories on here too. You don’t need to know them or their names to know that God Works in all of us in the most wonderful ways!


Our annual outreach Carol Service is next week. The whole group is ready and excited. Do come and join us if you’re nearby. 😁

Important to think about this in church. How do we welcome people who are socially different to us and do we cause some of their social difficulties. I’m glad to say I have seen and have wonderful friendships with autistic people because it IS a two way relationship of supporting each other to understand and relate together.

Intersectional Neurodiversity

colorful-brains-560 Picture by Joan M. Mas

Autism is seen, in popular representations, largely as a social and communication disorder. Formerly framed as stemming from an autistic lack of a “social instinct”, the current dominant idea is that something is deficient or missing in autistic social cognition. Often referred to as a cognitive deficit in “empathy” or “theory of mind”, much research on autistic social issues has focused on trying to clarify and detect this inside autistic brains and minds. The search for an elusive broken “theory of mind module” or “empathy mechanism” in the brain, and its ensuing cognitive manifestations, however, has led to conflicting results – with some scientists even concluding that autistic people feel too much empathy rather than too little.

Another view is that this is not simply an individual neuro-cognitive issue, but rather a wider social problem. Against the idea that autistic people have too much or…

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This song has been going through my head recently….

There is power in the name of Jesus
We believe in His name.
We have called on the name of Jesus;
We are saved! We are saved!
At His name the demons flee.
At His name captives are freed.
For there is no other name that is higher
Than Jesus!

There is power in the name of Jesus,
Like a sword in our hands.
We declare in the name of Jesus,
We shall stand! We shall stand!
At His name God’s enemies
Shall be crushed beneath our feet.
For there is no other name that is higher
Than Jesus!

Noel Richards

© 1989 Thankyou Music | CCLI: 649800

Over the years I’ve been a Christian, Jesus has done some very powerful things in my life. One of the biggest things has been the power that has given me the ability to overcome anxiety and depression.  Nothing amazing to you maybe, but life changing for me.  Jesus is the source of that power and unless I’m ‘plugged in’ through prayer, praise and reminding myself of God’s Word, I can easily drift back into my former ways.  Jesus’s power is holding me tight, but I do occasionally forget that he’s got hold of me and isn’t EVER going to let me go!

Romans 4:20-22New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’

Romans 15:12-14New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

12 And again, Isaiah says,

‘The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.’[a]

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

There has been some good news and developments but I got scared.  I was worried that with no funds and not much time all the dreams I feel the Lord has put on my heart will fail.

How can I forget His power and provision?  If this is God’s work – he can fund it, surely!  The answer to my prayers is that there are other people out there, who have the same heart and abilities that I don’t have who want to come on board.  God is building a team.

Since my post about writing an “Included By Grace” book things have moved on a bit.  We’re putting the blog posts into word documents so they can be edited and developed into book form.  I’ve had an exciting meeting with two Christian web developers who are full of amazing ideas to bring my dream of making our Good News Group Bible teaching materials available to others a reality.

I’m being asked to do some bits of work with my Diocese Youth section to present workshops, give advice and support churches wanting to make their Youth events accessible.  We are going to make a guide for Youth Groups so that they can use this when starting to plan events.  Thanks to BG for his enthusiasm and encouragement in developing this.


This was my puppet being Samson for our sensory story – dig the hair?

In half term, I went down to Rugby to present 4 workshops at the One Way UK, European Puppet and Creative Arts Festival.  We covered autism, Sensory Bible Stories, Using Makaton and picture symbols for communication and How we teach puppet skills to adults with learning disabilities.  I had a hoot of a weekend!  I loved feeling relaxed and being able to play with sensory stories and puppets! The best part of the weekend was when three different people came to me to tell me how after listening to me last year, they had gone back to their churches and done something new that had made a huge difference to people with disabilities in their churches.  It was worth the year wait to hear such wonderful testimonies!

And I’m back to the GNG this week.  My hopes are to continue building up the abilities and opportunities for the members to share their stories, their gifts and their ideas in the group.  But more than this, I want them to have opportunities to go out into the community and share the gospel with others who have learning disabilities and those who don’t.  I want to see them preaching and teaching others about the Bible.

It will only happen if we are ‘plugged into’ the Power of Jesus’ Name.  The Holy Spirit will give us what we need.  Please join us in praying for this work.  We are inadequate, but Jesus is fully adequate and able to do more than we could ask or imagine!

Ephesians 3:20-21New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

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