After all the excitement of being one of the finalists of the ‘Most Insipring Leadership Blog’ – http://www.newmediacentreofexcellence.org.uk/cnmac/awards/shortlist – I read all the other blogs in the category and there are some great and varied fellow finalists. Blessings to everyone whether we win or not!!!
But now I have calmed down and it is business as usual…
Reaching out to other churches has been in my heart and prayers for some time, hence this blog was started and I have worked hard to make links with others who are like minded. One opportunity I had recently was to work with a church in Preston to help them overcome some of the difficulties the were having. A child with autism who I used to teach goes there with her mum and for 4 years has been settled and well supported. Recently she has been getting more inquistive, less settled and occasionally hitting out at those who are helping her.
This may be something that others have experienced too. As a child grows older we can often find that they want to spread their wings and the things that helped them when they were younger are no longer effective. Frustrated at being told ‘no’ or unable to communicate what they do want can cause some children with autism to hit out and become upset or have meltdowns. Their sensory sensitivities might change and so some environments may become intolerable where previously they were not (and visa versa).
Fortunatley I used to teach this child and knew them and their mum reasonably well. But it was clear that although the congregation were very supportive, the strain of not knowing what to do and the risk of being hurt was causing stress to build up for the child, between the people who were supporting the child and the for the mum. Knowing me and that I had offered to help if they needed it, has enabled us to deal with this situation and make it better. Just by doing something early on, before it got to a point where the church situation broke down for the family – and all the reprocusions that brings, we can see a positive way foraward for the child and everyone who loves and cares for them. People do leave churches, people do feel hurt and let down, people feel unable to cope – just for the want of someone to come alongside them and help; someone who has knowledge and experience and can see the problem from all points of view.
Mark Arnold from Urban Saints has just launched a great idea to do just this…They are offering churches the chance to have someone with some knowledge and experience to visit them, observe the difficulties they might be having and suggest ideas and resources to make things work better for the child and family. You can get more information at firstname.lastname@example.org – and here are their posters.
What did I actually do with the church in Preston? Well, they called together all the people who wanted to help and support the child, on a Sunday and in their children’s evening club. I offered to do an hours session about autism so that we could be sure that everyone knew what it was and how it affected this particular child. This went very well and people responded by saying how much more they understood the child and why they did things the way they did.
We then spent another hour discussing the main issues that they were having difficulty with. I asked them to focus on 3 things that if we changed what we did, would have the most impact. We chose
- Access to doors and offices.
- Sunday morning in the main church.
- The children’s club – coming in and getting alongside the other children.
As with all the work I do, we are looking at it from the child’s point of view and seeing what will change how they interact and engage with the situations to make it more positive for them and the people they are interacting with. So we came up with a red / green spot visual aid, to communicate to the child which doors could be opened and which could not (we didn’t want to be locking doors). I put a positive social story together to help explain this to the child. Then we worked on making the Sunday service more structured and used the child’s special interests to build in activities that would engage her and encourage her to stay in one place. Finally we made a plan to come alongside the child and their peers at the children’s club and teach them how to play some of the games the child had shown interest in. This would be done slowly and enable the other children to interact positively and successfully with a limited verbal child.
I did provide the visual resources and typed up all the ideas onto a plan, which included what to do if the child did become distressed or hit out. This was so that everyone who supports the child can be consistent. This was with the full involvement and agreement of the child’s mum. Parents are essential to this process and where possible the child themselves should be involved. This child is too young BUT we sought their views by researching what they liked and enjoyed in activities and sensory experiences so that the plan was positive and inclusive of their views.
So far, the feedback has been positive and the people who are involved are trying everything out. We agreed to meet up again after about a month of trying these things, to review and adapt things as nescessary. I would then expect the church to be able to work with the child without my continued help (unless something different needs to be taken into account). This is important. The help I offered is to equip the church to support the child, not to organise or do the work myself. This is the way this support can be sustained – I am only one person, with limited time and resources and I would rather use my expertise and experience to enable others to do the job themselves.
This is why I love the Urban Saints idea and have signed up to be one of their volunteers. It is about passing on and supporting with experiences and resources – but mainly about helping churches to build up their own expertise and be equipped to support children and young people with additional needs themsleves…
I think it would work well if we included adults with additional needs in this service too…