Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties



Time travel – I’ve always fancied it (and David Tennant and Matt Smith – but I digress!) This week has been our churches Holiday Bible Club.  The message was the gospel, of course, but told through the theme of time-travelling with Doctor Hugh.  (Yes, of course it was full of Doctor Who puns and plargarisms – but great fun.)

I always have my eyes and ears tuned in to look out for inclusion wherever I am. I suppose I am hard-wired to do so after all thee years of being involved in supporting inclusion in schools and church.

Here is what I noticed :

  • 130 children attended and loads of people helped out either out front with the children or in the background with the parents cafe, serving snacks or manning the doors.
  • In my group alone, 3 out of the 8 children had special needs. Learning, physical and autism needs. Many more children with other needs were in other groups.
  • The children with special needs were included in the same groups as everyone else, but where necessary had an adult ‘buddy’ with them.
  • Every group had a visual symbol timetable to follow a well organised structure. (In fact the structure is the same every year so that we have used the same visual timetables for 3 years now).
  • The teaching structure was supported visually at every point. And the puzzles and activities had different levels so that they could be matched to children’s ability.
  • All the children really enjoyed it and their parents were asking about other things that go on in church.

However, sometimes it was VERY noisy and the first day our boy who has autism cried and wore his headphones. Obviously we were upset that he was upset and changed one or two things so he had a ‘time-out’ between two really noisy activities and that worked really well.  We also managed to bag the quiet room next to the hall for our group session times.  After that first day he was calm and happily joining in for the rest of the week. We are never sure how much he is taking in but I loved his comment when I ripped up a picture with God written on one side and us on the other. It was to show how we are separated from God because we ignored him.  The boy called out “That needs fixing!” Which of course was our next days teaching. He loved the fact that we used his phrase in the session.


On top of that the two ladies from our Good News Group came as helpers and had a fantastic week.  I loved having them as group leaders and got to know them much better through talking as we prepared for the children coming each day. Another Good News Group member helped out at the parents cafe. All of them were included as part of the team and made new friends with people from other groups and services across church – indeed the two ladies expressed a desire to work with the children again. We will have to see what we can do to facilitate that.

As far as inclusion is concerned this holiday club has been quite successful. What we need to examine now is what did make it work and how can we build that into making our weekly programmes of Sunday Club, regular church and kids or youth clubs work just as well. I’ve already mentioned that the Good News Group will be looking for opportunities to get involved in other activities and be a more included part of the whole church.

Part of the success is the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. The months of planning and preparation for the holiday Bible club have been crucial in supporting good inclusion. Resources needed making, copying and cutting out ready for the week. The assigning of experienced and well trained ‘buddies’ has made a huge impact too…for example the boy with autism in my group had TWO specialist autism teachers at his disposal! The ladies from Good News Group would not have been able to help without a lift each day, and finally to the parents willing to trust us enough to do a great job of caring for their children whilst supporting them to be included and make friends with the other children in their groups.

Inclusion can take work and time…but God HAS given us the resources we need or will give them to us if we just ask…If our churches are not welcoming and accessible to ALL, then the Body of Christ is incomplete.

It’s been a thoughtful summer for me. I am looking forward to the Good News Group leaders meeting tomorrow so we can discuss some of the issues and start to address some of the challenges. It might be exciting and it might be messy – but it is time to disciple our group better, involve them more in running the group and serving in God’s church…Watch this space to see how we get on.

Comments on: "What does inclusion look like?" (7)

  1. :-))


  2. Tha’t lovely lynn…did it help that you knew about the children/helpers in advance or would it have been the same anyway? thinking about Messy Chruch and how we make that accessible…but we never know who might turn up!!


    • Yes it did but I think you can be prepared by using SEN strategies in all you do – as RH said – what is good for SEN children is good for all. e.g. the visual timetables.


  3. This is very inspiring and I’ve garnered a few more ideas to use on Sundays. Thank you! You’re doing a really good and important job and I’m grateful you’re sharing your experience with us. You show us what can be done. I pray lots of people will read and be inspired!


    • Thanks so much Dorothy. It really is a team effort though. Most of the work on this holiday club was done by others. I am just the one writing about it and hoping to share good ideas to encourage and equip anyone who wants to be! (We learn a lot from other people too – love the internet for that!).


  4. gemma foster said:

    Really great…like you say, strategies that work for children with SEN often work for all children…its just getting the leaders to think about these things in advance! Certainly sounds like you had a great week! 🙂


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