Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties


Group prayer at one of meetings.

Does she take sugar?”

Where shall we sit him?”

I know what will be best for them.”

Too often our society and maybe our churches think we know what people with learning disabilities and other additional needs want. We assume so much and then make our plans and programmes based on what we think. Sometimes we might just get it right. Sometimes we might end up alienating and patronising the very people that we are trying to include.

This difficulty can be compounded when we work with people who cannot speak for themselves. It demands a different kind of communication and is a challenge we ‘typical’ people face if we are to build a truly inclusive church and society.

I have been reading a lot of blogs and books about inclusion recently. Some have been from parents with children with additional needs like Jeanette and her story of trying to get the right inclusion for her children @autismmumma I have been reading information and blogs from additional needs ministries in America (Snappin Ministries, . And in Britain – Liveability blog  A lovely young woman from Manchester University came to ‘study’ the Good News Group for her dissertation about inclusion in churches for people with learning disabilities. I have read her report this week too. I hope Donna doesn’t mind me mentioning her here as her dissertation was brilliant.

All this has challenged me greatly. It is too easy to think that because we have a big group that meets each week and who seem to have a great time – that means we are inclusive. But what if we slip into doing something ‘FOR’ the people instead of ‘WITH’ the people. What if we become self-righteous in thinking we are serving God well and here is the measure of our success *holding up the register full of names and ticks*.

Don’t get me wrong – I would still have our group – it works well and people are learning about God in a meaningful way…what is important is that it is open to everyone and welcomes all – we are to be as inclusive as possible too.

Nothing about me without me

That is the challenge for our group this year. We have always tried to listen, ask and learn with our group, but there is so much more we could do.

It is a challenge for our whole church to be more inclusive. Is a separate meeting once a week with only a fraction of our group getting involved in other church activities really inclusive?

In Donna’s interviews with our group they expressed their desires to be more included, have better opportunities to lead and serve in the wider church. One lady is currently very upset because she can’t get to church on a Sunday. Her carers think she is too disruptive and it makes her tired and cross if she goes to the regular service. We really need to work this out.

I am excited – I love a challenge and think God expands us by challenging us. He loves us and I am sure he has blessed our Good News Group beyond all that we could have asked for or imagined. Now it is time to discover the views, ideas and gifts of our group even more and find ways they can serve in the wider church as well as at our weekly meetings. I know the ‘team’ and leaders will embrace this with all the love they have for Jesus…as they always do.

We are beginning…in a couple of weeks, two of our adults with learning disabilities are helping out at the church holiday Bible club for children. They are very excited and so am I…


Comments on: "“Nothing about me without me!”" (5)

  1. homewardboundragamuffin said:

    This post deals with some difficult questions, but they are the right ones to be asking! I’m excited to see that there is already fruit (your two members helping at the children’s camp). A huge part of inclusion is feeling that we have a place and a purpose in the body. I believe your church will be incredibly blessed the more that they experience the personality, gifts and faith of your group members in wider church life. Thanks for posing the challenge for others as well!


  2. homewardboundragamuffin said:

    Reblogged this on Inclusive Journey and commented:
    This blog is refreshingly honest and this post raises some important questions for anyone who wants to see everyone find their place and purpose in the body of Christ!


  3. A huge area that is also not spoken about is when a family within a church have a child who is severely or profoundly disabled. As part of my role, (teacher for children with PMLD), I often ask parents what support they have in their local communities. Too many have said they used to attend church but no longer do so. Some because they felt guilty or blamed for producing a “defective” child, blamed on sin, some because they were unable to grieve for the child that could have been in a church that wanted them to celebrate the child they had. Mostly, they say physically it is too hard, too challenging and too public. Although, it seems the Christian church is still better at trying than some of the other faiths I have been told about.

    Regarding the end note of your article… It is really important to ask those who do have a voice their opinion and to facilitate equal opportunities for them… but then, true inclusion would also mean that mentioning people just because they happen to have learning disabilities is still excluding them from normality. Maybe they would be just names on a list of helpers in the future, rather than a special mention because of their learning disabilities. That would be inclusive.

    Onwards and upwards for inclusion!


    • I agree with what you say Becca. It is a huge area when we consider families with children with PMLD etc. I also am a specialist teacher of children with autism and due to certain restrictions cannot write too much about it online. That is why I chose to write my blog about adults. The truth is, however, that most of the children grow up to be adults with the same needs and neither group is fully represented in our churches.
      The ladies who will be helping at holiday club will not be identified as having any particular need in any way. I assure you they will be fully included team members and have a lot to offer in terms of their abilities and gifts. The major barrier for them was transport…one I am willingly supporting them with.
      I wish I had a full time job helping churches become more inclusive as I am so passionate about it. It is not a one-person ministry though, and in fact – if each of us did one little bit to make our churches more inclusive (of all) then we would have full churches I am sure!

      As you say…onwards and upwards for inclusion!


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