Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Whose choice is it?


As a church group for Adults with Learning disabilities, the Good News Group includes a wide variety of members like any other church congregation. Some of our members come to us independently, some have lifts and others are totally reliant on the carers who are employed to look after them to bring them along.

I have been looking around at the various Disability legislation, Human Rights Acts, reports, studies and recommendations about the right to have a spiritual life. There is very little explicitly said and it is an on-going search so I won’t be quoting legislation here, but it IS a right and a choice that all people with disabilities should have and those who look after them should give them choices to exercise that right.

I am writing about this now because in the past we have had members of our group stop coming. As we investigated we have got the impression that a change of carers seem to be a frequent factor in the decision not to come to church.  Now, I cannot get solid evidence but maybe you who read this might have something to add.  I just find it curious that a change of staff can suddenly see the person with disabilities changing their mind about wanting to come to church and have a spiritual life that is connected to learning about the Bible and faith in Jesus.

inclusive church

I have found that there seems to be a distinct lack of training for care staff about the spiritual needs and choices for people with disabilities…and those who are non-verbal, physically dependent on those who do care for them, then having that choice and acting on it is reliant on the carer being willing to go along with them.  Here’s one report I am looking at…

Claire Wilson, (2011) “Is there a case for community learning disability teams considering the spiritual needs of people with learning disabilities?”, Tizard Learning Disability Review, Vol. 16 Iss: 3, pp.31 – 40

Purpose – National guidance in Scotland says that spirituality is part of healthcare. This paper aims to review some of the evidence that this is a relevant but neglected topic across the lifespan for people with a learning disability (PLD) and their families, rarely addressed by healthcare professionals.

Findings – There was qualified support for the first and third questions and little awareness of any training for health staff on spiritual matters.


I love the carers who do come to our meetings. They are focussed on the needs of the people they are caring for, and do recognise the right for them to have a spiritual life.  They help them respond to our activities and some have been quite honest in the fact that they don’t share our beliefs, whilst others have responded to the gospel while they have been part of our group!

As followers of Jesus we are charged to spread the gospel.  I have been challenged for some time to look beyond the walls of the church and explore where Jesus might want us to go…reaching out to those who are not aware of the choice they have to have a spiritual life, to know Jesus and choose to follow him.  It depends on people like us getting out there, communicating, going to the places where Jesus would send us.  I am glad there are others with the same desire…and excited that many of them have disabilities themselves and want to share their faith with others, with anyone who will listen.

I’m just not sure where to begin and how I’m going to get there…but I know God does!


Having choice was felt to be important because it helped improve health, maintain independence and retain chosen identities. However, exercising choice was meaningful only if available options met individual preferences and people had access to relevant information; accepting the ‘least bad’ option did not feel like a ‘real’ choice. In practice, most participants thought their desired options were either limited or not available. 

Click to access 2011-04June.pdf



Comments on: "Whose choice is it?" (2)

  1. clareweiner said:

    It’s very important for both disabled people and people in care homes/hospital etc to have a spiritual life … as you of course know! My friend Marsha (lectures in nursing in California) has studied and written on this , and also found opposition to it in official places. So much so that she chose to write a paper using Native American religious as her example rather than the ‘red rag’ of Christian or other main faiths! Our daughter (Nicky) doing her literature search for dissertation on similar topic (mental health patients having a say in their care/treatment) found that although this may be written into guidelines etc it isn’t practiced, and where it is, both the terms used to describe it and the carrying-out can vary enormously. I hope you can find your way through positively: you know much more than I do, but is it possible that some carers are reluctant to support faith activities least they are criticised/dismissed by either the agency or the relatives, for ‘forcing religion upon’ their charges?


    • There is a lot to learn Clare and your comments are useful, thanks. I came across your friend Marsha’s research in my googling! It is good to know about it and hopefully will have the chance to read it in more detail.


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