Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Does this make you think ‘Ahhh” and visualise a cute picture of Jesus patting some innocent and attractive looking children on the head?   Some pictures have blond cherub like children…

some have happy, smiling and physically able children… (The LTLCCTM – website above is very good BTW)

You might even get a picture showing children from different races and cultures.But where are the pictures of Jesus with children with disabilities, with Down’s syndrome, those who are sad and angry, those who find it hard to pay attention and those who have physical differences like facial deformities?

Now that’s a bit more like it. 

There are truths about how society has treated the children (and into adulthood) who do not fit societies idea of ‘normal’  (fit, healthy, compliant, beautiful, economically useful and subservient perhaps?)  and this is going to hurt.

But not as much as it has hurt them.

For centuries our society has tried to forget the children who are different.  It has forced them to act normal, often through cruelty, strict discipline and punishment.  It has told them that if you want to be part of society you need to be what we decide is normal.  People who are different have been forced to be normal just to be safe.  

I hate using ‘them’ because they are ‘us’ – part of the body of Christ.  But they have been made ‘other’, not the same as ‘the normal ones’.  

They have been locked away in institutions, ignored and considered a ‘bad secret’ we don’t talk about.  Some still are. They are abused and beaten, deprived, medicated and ‘treated’ – anything to work towards making them ‘normal’. 

They have been told they are worthless and that they won’t amount to anything in a world that judges your worth by ‘normal’  (fit, healthy, compliant, beautiful, economically useful and subservient perhaps?) Exceptional people are only allowed to be exceptional in these areas of ‘normal’, unless they are one of the few that feel entitled to rule over others…because they are ‘more than normal’ than them and know what is best for the ‘less than normal’ people. 

Children with disabilities and differences have been persecuted and bullied by other children who are taught by society early on that ‘normal’ is the thing to be and ‘not normal’ is to be feared and ridiculed.  ‘Mong’, “Autistic’, “Gay” are now regular playground taunts even in the primary school.  Children who are different are taken advantage of, gaslighted, blamed and dismissed.  Everything they do is judged through the ‘normal’ lens. (fit, healthy, compliant, beautiful, economically useful and subservient perhaps?) They are told they have no potential and are a burden on society.  There are feeble attempts to support a few of them in schools, and then they are dropped and abandoned as they turn into adults. 

They are unheard, are not allowed to make decisions for themselves, talked over, rushed, ignored.  Scientists work hard to irradicate them.  It doesn’t even shock us when we hear that around the world, over 90% of children with Down’s syndrome are aborted.  Eugenics are celebrated.  Choosing the genetic make up of your child is on its way.  Would you make yours ‘normal’?  

Parents are told they have failed.  That they have failed to give society a ‘normal’ child and that they must now pay the price.  Families are judged, ostracised, excluded and dismissed.  They are given pity, not celebration when their precious child is born.  They are told they must fight but are always on the losing side of a system that fights back against them.  “Only normal people (fit, healthy, compliant, beautiful, economically useful and subservient perhaps?) accepted here”, it says.   They are gaslighted and bullied by normal people we call professionals because they have read about ‘their kind’ in books and theories.  They are blamed, ridiculed, fearful and overwhelmed.  They are exhausted.  

I have heard these stories but more importantly, so has God.  From the beginning he has heard the stones cry out to him.  The cruelty and the abandonment of part of the body of Christ is scandalous.  And that it is part of his church’s history and present state, is too.  

When Jesus walked this earth he showed us the way.  He didn’t just mean the ‘normal’ (fit, healthy, compliant, beautiful, economically useful and subservient perhaps?) children should be brought to him.   

Are you turning away those who Jesus loves?  Where are the ‘different ones’ in your church family?  Are you expecting them to be ‘normal’ to be accepted into God’s kingdom?  Are you putting your own rules around who Jesus will accept?  How many adults have grown up feeling God doesn’t love them or accept people like them – because they don’t fit into your ‘normal’ in the church? (fit, healthy, compliant, beautiful, economically useful and subservient perhaps?)

And then we enforce all that as they grow into adults. We treat them like children, pity them and ignore their talents, never giving them the chance to serve and use their gifts in leadership and church life. We limit their potential. We might be talking about children with additional needs in children’s ministry – but where are the talks about adults with additional needs in ministry training?

Comments on: "Let the Little Children Come to Me." (1)

  1. Thank you so much for this article! We indeed must continue to raise these issues. truly Jesus wants His house to be full and this will not happen until we bring in all…with or without disabilities Luke 14:21-23 is the mandate. The church is simply being obedient by bringing in everyone and not doing a favour by being inclusive.


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