Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

The 1995 Disability Discrimination Act  and The Human Rights Act state that people with disabilities have a right to a spiritual life.   There are studies that show hoe beneficial a spiritual dimension is to many people’s lives such as this:

“Common transcendent narratives that may be particularly relevant to people with disabilities include the belief that God endows each person with dignity and worth that is intrinsically based, cares about the pain and suffering people encounter in life, and has a redemptive plan for each person’s life experiences. Such narratives—when internalized, bestowed with sacred meaning, and reinforced by others—can foster positive health out- comes (Liu et al., 2014). In addition, theorists have noted the social support that flows from interacting with like-minded others in religious communities may positively affect wellness (Koenig et al., 2012).”

Health & Social Work Volume 44, Number 2 May 2019 Downloaded from by guest on 06 September 2020

But also, it is often found that adults in care homes and supported living are denied a spiritual life because staff lack training on how to support this.  I’m beginning to look at the writings and research on this issue and will be sharing more as I learn, but one thing I have noticed in my own experience of leading the Good News Group, that support from carers is vital to people with learning disabilities being able to access spiritual activities.  I have known a GNG member be discouraged from going to the group, being told “You don’t want to go to the GNG tonight, do you?”.  It was another carer who found this had been going on some time, when I had got in touch to see why the person hadn’t been attending. 

I think it is clear we need to pray for carers, who are often poorly paid, given little training, and would be terrified of answering spiritual questions from their residents in case they were accused of misleading or directing them to a particular religion.  Many carers have no religious belief themselves and would not feel confident in talking about the bigger questions in life.   Carers are part of our ministry too.

What is your experience?  Are you a person who feels left out or included on your church. Does your church make itself accessible for your needs? You may be in a church that provides a service for people with learning disabilities (such as the old Prospects Groups or our Good News Group) or you may be providing accessibility for children with different abilities and additional needs in your children’s work.  Children are often brought to church by their families, who have brought them because of their own spiritual belief.  If we work to make our children’s work more accessible to all, we can build a child’s faith and confidence that they belong in God’s family no matter what the world says their value in society is.   But there’s a huge gap in the guiding of children with additional needs into an adult life and an adult faith.  They are too often treated like children forever.  I really want to do something about this.   I haven’t been involved in the Good News Group for 2 years now and in that time I have reflected on where God would want me to get involved.  I have read and prayed and come to the conclusion that it is adults with learning disabilities that are neglected in churches and in resources online.  Lockdown has given me chance to talk with some of my differently abled friends and ask them about their faith, hope and ambitions in church.  They often don’t see a place for themselves apart from what others do for them.  I’d like to see more opportunities for them to grow in faith, lead others and share the gospel with people who haven’t heard it yet.  There is a Baptist study that showed that adults with learning disabilities are one of the most unreached people’s in the UK.  

We have all been challenged by not being able to meet.  It’s been so encouraging to see groups for adults doing services online and sharing ideas.  But the fact is that we are not going to be able to meet physically for a long time yet, as often the people in our groups are medically very vulnerable.  So it really is time to rethink how we reach out to people with learning disabilities.  It’s going to be a challenge and one I am praying and chatting to people about.  Making communication accessible, making online access accessible and thinking about those who cannot access the internet or our physical buildings all need to be included. 

Please do share your thoughts and links to useful information or research.  I’m interested in turning this blog into a more accessible website but have no technical skills to do this – so if that is on your heart and you do have those skills (or know someone who does) please do get in touch. 

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