Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Archive for the ‘#autism’ Category

Writing Sensory Stories for Teens with Additional Needs (Part 2)

photo from https://eastersealshouston.wordpress.com/category/uncategorized/page/2/
photo from https://eastersealshouston.wordpress.com/category/uncategorized/page/2/

After writing about how to write sensory stories for young children, I now turn my attention to teenagers. This is a tricky post, because by the time they reach their teens, young people with additional needs, learning disabilities and/or autism are growing, developing and making the transition from childhood to adulthood… The same as any teenager.  By this age, their personalities and abilities are becoming more established.  They are unique, amazing and will not fit into a neat box.  So we can’t say, “this is what you should do for teenagers with additional needs”, because each one will need a more personalised approach.

However, I’m going to share an example and some ideas.  Starting with an autistic boy of 14 who I used to support in the Sunday children’s programme.  He was autistic, verbal and wanted to be part of the group.  He loved joining in the social activities and games (once they were explained in a way he could understand) and loved dramatising Bible stories.  However, he was unable to access the Bible study part of the session for a number of reasons:

  • They read from the Bible. He couldn’t read too well.
  • They then spoke at length about the passage, it’s history and some quite in depth analysis of the passage.
  • It was all done far too quickly for him. He just couldn’t keep up with the pace of one idea moving onto another.

For this boy, sensory stories enabled him to access the session alongside his peers, drawing from the same passage and learning one important thing about God each time.  For any teenager that needs a simplified amount of language, we can provide that without talking down to them or babying them. We must respect their age. Some parents feel unable to even try teenage groups because the

The same principles of story telling are used.

  1. One sentence which is the main teaching point of the passage. It usually is a central truth about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit or the gospel. It is ok to repeat these points as we want our teens to really understand their faith in the Lord.
  2. Five to ten (ish) simple sentences that tell the story and move it through the main events. This is difficult as the writer needs to be able to ignore waffle and minor details to get to the point. If there are details that are essential to the meaning they need to be included.  It is at this age we should be including a greater depth of Bible knowledge and not exclude parts of the Bible because we think they are too hard to understand.  Here’s an example from 2 Kings when Elijah hands over to Elisha.

 

1.     Elijah knew it was time for him to leave the earth.  Elisha was his disciple.  He followed Elijah everywhere.

2.     Elijah said… “Stay here”. But Elisha said “No, I will go with you.”

3.     Elijah said again… “Stay here”. But Elisha said “No, I will go with you.”

4.     Elijah said a third… “Stay here”. But Elisha said “No, I will go with you.”

5.     Now they were by the river Jordan.  Elijah put his staff (stick) into the river and the water separated.  Now Elijah and Elisha could walk across.

6.     God took Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind. But first Elisha asked for one thing.

7.     “Give me twice as much of God’s Spirit as you have.” He asked.

8.     Elisha saw Elijah go to heaven. He picked up Elijah’s staff (stick) and put it into the Jordan river.

9.     The water separated. Elisha knew God’s Spirit was with him.

10.  The Bible says God’s Spirit is with us. We can pray and the Spirit will help us in many ways.

Pray for God’s Spirit to help you, teach you and show you all God’s love for you.

ELIJAH HIT THE WATER WITH HIS CLOAK9

  1. The sensory experiences depend on the young persons needs at this point. With this boy, one for the whole story was enough to give him a sensory link to the story. So for this Elijah story we would maybe have a cloak or shawl to use a ac cloak as this is a central prop of the story.  I might have added some water when each of them parted the Jordan too.

cloak

The main issue for young people with additional needs is often social inclusion.  They go through puberty, identity formation, hopes and dreams for the future the same as other teenagers. Being put with younger children doesn’t help this at all.

It is we that have to be more creative and adaptable.  There’s forever to study the Bible for our other teens. Learning how to come alongside and make the Bible accessible to someone with additional needs is a lesson of greater worth than gold.  Then you have a peer group that don’t exclude but are able to communicate the Bible to someone else.  It makes them think and consider the important points and what it really means.  So, teach the other teens to write a story in this way now and again.

And with their permission – here are some comments from the Additional Needs Alliance Group.  People who have children and groups with teens with additional needs…

Claire Webb‪ For our daughter it’s been opportunity to be part of things! She very sociable and children and young people in a wide age group are very friendly towards her and don’t exclude her (especially young people who’ve grown up with her!) but adults find it harder to include in practice!

Rosie Thornton‪ Thank you for asking this Lynn. My teenage daughter cannot really access discussion groups or events where activities are not tightly structured so we haven’t tried Christian youth groups.

Mark Arnold‪ I suggest that the primary difficulty is that there is not a “one size fits all” answer to this. Every young person is different, their needs and abilities will be different, so an answer that works well for one young person will not necessarily work for another, even with two young people with the same additional needs. Forming an individual strategy for each young person, which they and their families help to create, and which draws on what is working well in other settings (e.g. school, home etc) and which all the leaders of the group understand, is a vital step towards successful inclusion. That plan needs to cover a range of areas including learning style and ability, understanding key triggers that cause difficulties e.g. loud noise, how to communicate most effectively (i.e. not just by speech) etc. Having said that, one common barrier to accessing church is simple acceptance by the other members of the congregation or group. It’s a hurdle that many young people and their families fall at due to negative reactions from others (including adults that should know better!)

 

Fiona Tyler‪ My daughter will be 13 on Saturday! She is cognitively very able, but because she is non-verbal it is very difficult for her to join in discussions and keep up with her peers. Also socially, because she is in a wheelchair and looks different, her peers are very wary of her and don’t naturally relate to her – this has got harder as she has got older (little kids are much more accepting!). We are trying to raise awareness by openly talking about my daughter’s disabilities and also her similarities, but it is a slow process. I agree very much with what Mark says, it is probably a battle that is unique for each young person, and the teenage years can be very difficult as they try to come to terms with, and accept, their own disabilities and differences, when all they want to do is fit in with their peers and the rest of society.

Nancy Gedge‪ Yes – the language base of much work with young people means that Sam can’t access it in several ways. 1. The concepts are difficult for him to grasp.       2. His communication difficulties mean that he finds it difficult to feel part of things (anything) with typically developing children.    3. Times – he is often tired in the evening.    I often wonder if the way to witness to young people like him is through the ‘doing’ – how can he, who is so often helped – serve others? What creative opportunities are there for him? Could he be involved in an art/music project with other young people at church? How could technology be incorporated? How can he be made to feel less isolated? Less different?   And, how can adults be encouraged not to baby him, or see the solution to his inclusion as a box of cars in the corner?

Highstreetmethodist Underfivesworker‪ I know the child is not yet a teen but as a church whose Junior church starts off altogether and then simply meets in different parts of the same room we let the child decide which activity he wanted to do – regardless of whether it was his age group or not.

Ros Bayes – Ellen was always well supported in children’s ministry, but when she outgrew it there were really no appropriate youth activities she could participate in. The good thing about that was that it gave her sister somewhere to go without her at a time when she needed those breaks. The sad thing, for me, was that there were some real moves of the Holy Spirit among the young people, and they bypassed her.

How to create multi-sensory Bible Stories for children with Additional Needs (Part 1)

I love story telling. We do much of our work with children and young people through telling the rich and varied stories of the Bible, helping them see God at work in all history and in all his world.  We use story to teach the Gospel and help children understand their need of a Saviour and ultimately, who that Saviour is.  We use story to explain what Jesus has done for us and what a wonderful gift of grace he offers us.

I’m going to write three posts covering sensory and interactive story telling for children (Part 1) , young people (Part 2)  and then adults (Part 3) with learning disabilities.  There are many different ways of telling Bible stories, this is only one and is specifically about using simple, clear language and sensory experiences that aim to bring understanding of that language.

What is a sensory story?

Sensory Stories are a way of telling stories simply, with added sensory experiences to help the listeners engage and experience the story. They are particularly used with children with profound and multiple disabilities, but are easily used with children with moderate learning difficulties, those with poor attention skills and children with autism.  They are used more and more with people who have dementia – but more of that in part 3.  You can find some great information and leaflets about Sensory Stories from Joanna Grace’s website Jo.element42.org   (Scroll down to the bottom of her page to find the free leaflets)

How to begin…

A Sensory story starts with choosing the words you are going to use to tell the story.  With young children and those who find it difficult to process lots of words, this stage is crucial.  You are looking for one sentence that is your main teaching point and then between 5 and 10 sentences that tell the story from beginning to end.  Lets have a go…

Jesus calms the storm

1. Jesus was tired.

2. He and his friends went out on a boat where it was nice and quiet.

3. A storm came. It was VERY windy, and VERY rainy. the Waves were enormous.

4. Jesus’s friends were frightened.  Jesus stayed sleeping.

5. The friends woke Jesus up. “We are going to drown” they shouted.

6. Jesus stood up, put out his hand and said “STOP” to the storm.

7. The friends were amazed. Only God has power to control the weather.

8. The friends knew that Jesus MUST be God. (Main teaching point) 

 

The next stage…chose your Sensory Experiences

Use colouring, scents and tactile activities.

Use colouring, scents and tactile activities.

For each of these sentences you can now choose a sensory experience that enhances the understanding of the story, rather than distracting the child from it.  The sensory experiences should come out one at a time and each one put aside when you are ready to say the next sentence of the story. You can put them in order behind you or somewhere just out of reach to help with sequencing, but the focus should be on each sensory experience alone.

It is at this stage you need to be mindful of any sensory sensitivities the children may have.  Be careful that you don’t distress them by using something that they cannot cope with.  Fortunately there are so many sensory experiences you could use that you can usually find something.  I often will put them in a box or bag with a symbol or picture of the story on the front so that the children can anticipate each thing that will come out of the same place. This also helps with your own organisation!

Here is the story with a few sensory ideas, chose only one or make up your own. Don’t forget to think about all your senses, generally we would use one or two at a time but throughout the story use a good variety.  Be creative but try to make the sensory experience enhance the meaning of the words.

Jesus calms the storm

Use a variety of things you have to hand or make your own.

Use a variety of things you have to hand or make your own.

1. Jesus was tired.  (Something soft to stroke or lay their heads on, or cover them like a blanket, I sometimes use a lavender mini pillow because of the lovely sensory smell.) 

2. He and his friends went out on a boat where it was nice and quiet.  (Boats rock, so you might want to do gentle rocking movements, or have a toy boat on a bowl of water to look at and move around, or maybe bubbles gently blowing around them.) 

3. A storm came. It was VERY windy, and VERY rainy. the Waves were enormous. (Wind can be from a hand held fan, hairdryer on cool setting, and can be accompanied by wind instrument noise if they can cope with that. Rain from a spray bottle of water, or water gun, accompanied by rain,asked sounds. Some may want to hide under an umbrella!)

Thunder tube or make your own

Thunder tube or make your own            

Pringle tubes make good thunder or rain sound makers

Pringle tubes make good thunder or rain sound makers.

4. Jesus’s friends were frightened. Jesus stayed sleeping.  (You could use a Makaton or BSL sign for ‘scared’ and show scared on your faces, looking at each other’s scared expressions, or have a ‘scared’ expression mask in your bag for the children to hold against their face.  They could mould a scared face from play dough.) 

5. The friends woke Jesus up. “We are going to drown” they shouted.  (You can have a yawn and stretch to show Jesus waking up. If children don’t like shouts, have a big card speech bubble with the words on that they can hold up.  The boat in the bowl can be swished about or the children can rock more strongly to link with sentence 2.) 

plastic bottles filled with fish, tiny boats or small beads for the sea can be swished around for the storm too.

plastic bottles filled with fish, tiny boats or small beads for the sea can be swished around for the storm too.

6. Jesus stood up, put out his hand and said “STOP” to the storm.  (The children can hold up their hands and say ‘stop’ or you could have a large foam hand (if you’ve got one handy! Sorry for the pun!) and again use a cardboard speech bubble if needed – they can be good for when you’ve to the children to sequence or go over the story again). 

7. The friends were amazed. Only God has power to control the weather.  (Again an ‘amazed’ Makaton or BSL sign with a mask, play dough or children’s own expressions can be used.) 

8. The friends knew that Jesus MUST be God.  (This is the teaching point of the story, put all the sensory things aside and have a simple visual/ pictures to show ‘Jesus = God’ ) 

Water beads are great fun. Find out about them

Water beads are great fun. Find out about them www.teachpreschool.org

Give it a go!

Obviously planning a Sensory Bible Story relies on someone telling you what story is going to be told in your Children’s session beforehand.  One of the greatest obstacles to supporting children with additional needs in churches, is communication between leaders and helpers.  Once you know and get used to telling stories in this way you will find it easier and easier to do.  My advice, identify your main teaching point in a sentence first and then don’t get bogged down in detail.  Children can listen to these stories in other ways and probably will throughout their childhood and so the layers of detail will build gradually.

Try it! And then post your story in the comments on here, or send it to me by email includedbygace@talktalk.net and we can share our ideas with each other.  Don’t forget to take pictures of your sensory experiences and have fun!

Creation story sensory stuff!

Creation story sensory stuff!

Autism and your church

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My day job is supporting autistic pupils in schools and I love it. Listening to and working with these children teaches me so much.  For ten years and with hundreds of pupils, I have developed a bank of strategies and ways of working that really work, and the understanding that at the centre of it all is a child who can communicate their likes, strengths, dislikes and needs … if you know how to listen.

Helping people with autism feel fully part of our church family and ministries (as receivers and givers using their gifts) can be approached in the same way.  I wrote about “being an advocate in your church” and “15 ways to include people with additional needs”. At the heart of it all are PEOPLE we can listen to, share the gospel with and disciple.  My blog this week is about sharing two excellent blog posts from others.   First; Ann Memmott is an autistic woman who has a great gift of communication…she can explain what being autistic is like and how she finds the responses she gets from church people.  What I like about Ann is that she doesn’t just explain, but she also suggests ways to overcome the barriers or issues, and I have learned a lot from her, just from listening.

Here is her post titled “Othering” from 11th July 2015

http://annsautism.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/othering.html

It’s sometimes tough stuff, trying to encourage churches to welcome all.
Some churches are fabulous.  Their leaders are enthusiastic about learning.  They enable their teams to get good training.  They fundraise and allocate budgets to ensure that everyone can get to a service and feel valued.  We know that such churches see their congregations…and finances…increase year after year.  I am fortunate to have found several like this.  But some others…well…I want to talk about feeling valued. What it is.  What it is not.  And about the ‘othering’ of people like me.  Born autistic.  Autism is a sensory processing and social communication disability, nothing to do with ‘bad behaviour’.

So often, disabled people or those who live with differences are tolerated.
‘Tolerate’ is what you do when you let someone sit next to you… whilst you feel uncomfortable and hope they sit somewhere else….but you smile at them in a false way.  The thinking behind this is, “I am such a good Christian for allowing you near me.  After all, someone like you being in my church spoils my experience of God.  You should be thankful to be allowed here”.  Had that happen a few times.
Now, the strange thing is that if it was done to them, other folk would immediately see that as intolerance.  As prejudice.  As falseness.  As fear or hate.  But it’s something that folk like me are often expected to be grateful for.  I think not.

Sometimes disabled folk and others who live with differences are the subject of ‘awareness raising’.  This means that we get to stand up in front of everyone and explain all the things we cannot do.  All the things that make us feel really small and really bad about ourselves.   And then, people are ‘inspired’ by us.  “You brave person, coming to church!”  “Wow, people like you can talk!”  “So do you live in a residential home?  Is that your carer with you?”  I’ve had it all over the years.  We are not friends.  We are not colleagues.  We are not equal.  We are exhibits.

Now, the strange thing is that if this was done to them,  other folk would feel really uncomfortable.  But it’s something that folk like me are expected to be grateful for.  After all, we’re talking about autism now, aren’t we.   Yes, yes we are.  In a way that demeans and uses me, and has no regard for the after-effects. Often I’m expected to do this for free.  As if it is a special treat for me to be allowed to talk to church people about embarrassing things and then go home feeling bad. That’s not brilliant.

Yes, people like me offer training to the outside world.  Training where we knowingly do stand up in front of many others and explain our ‘deficits’.  Our difficulties.  Training where we are an example to be assessed, a thing to be stared at.  And after each session, we go home to our families and friends and partners and children…and try to restore our sense of self-worth.  Important stuff, awareness-raising. But it’s nothing to do with valuing us.

What does valuing us look like?  What does it feel like?  What does it sound like?
It feels like we are seen as people, as colleagues, as friends.  It feels like people want us to sit next to them.  It feels like we’re offered the same chances as others to show our strengths.  It feels like we are enabled to feel safe and supported, of course – but in consensual ways that ask us.  In quiet, invisible, respectful ways.  Training like that happens in many places, and it’s always a joy to work with such groups.

It doesn’t look at us as a cost burden.  As a time-waste.  As a ‘danger’  (frankly we are no more likely to be dangerous than you are).   It doesn’t think that Church happens ‘elsewhere’ for us.  There are no churches for autistic people.  None.  It’s like a thing where Jesus got his team to hand round food to the 5000 and left all the autistic ones hungry and thirsty.   Do you think that’s what happened?  Me neither.

We are God’s loved children too. Valuing us doesn’t allocate the budget and team and support to everyone but us… and then claim no money, no spare time.  It doesn’t involve ignoring bullying of us, or blaming us for the bullying.  It doesn’t involve laughing at us or using us as some sort of freak show.  Or encouraging others not to help us.  Or encouraging others not to talk to us, by pretending we are a nuisance.  We’re not exhibits or dangers.  Truly we are not.

We are your friends.  We love Jesus and are Christians who want to share our love and care with others, just like you do.  We have families, just like you do.  We have passionate interests, just like you do.  The church should not get to pretend that we are ‘other’.  Not in front of God we’re not.

It’s our church too.  It belongs to God, and God says yes.    That’s a reality that every church already has to come to terms with.  Plenty of us are willing to help.  But know the cost, please.  And value the time and exhaustion and despair that it causes, especially when so often the response is ‘go away’, a budget-withholding, silence-enduring, “We don’t want your sort here”.

You are loved.  We are not your enemy.  Learn about our gifts to the church and to God.  Value us for who we are, God’s children, made in God’s image.

cd page - forgiveness through christ

Second, I came across this blog in my travels around the net and loved it’s positive suggestions for things to say to autism parents:

Read more: http://themighty.com/2015/04/12-great-things-to-say-to-parents-of-kids-with-autism/#ixzz3fsFhlINO

But now I realize that it wasn’t fair to tell everyone what NOT to say to a parent of a child with autism, if I don’t give some advice on what TO say.

Just like every child is affected differently by an autism diagnosis, each parent is also affected differently. A comment that I believe is kind and encouraging, another parent may see as rude and condescending. Needless to say, I can’t give you an exhaustive list since every situation is different, however, I have come up with a few things people have said to me over the years that clearly left a mark and not a scar. So, this is a list of things TO say to a parent loving a child with autism that made me smile and want to hug them rather than hit them or scratch their eyes out.

The one thing to remember, regardless of the child or the parent, is to always be accepting, be aware and be kind.

1. “Wow! I can’t believe how far he has come!”

Even if the distance from where he was to where he is seems miniscule to you, chances are it is a huge, expansive distance to my son and me. Commenting on progress is a beautiful thing to say, but only if you really see progress or change. We mothers are like dogs; we can smell your fear in an off-handed, don’t-know-what-else-to-say remark. So if you do believe it, then say it. And be prepared to be hugged.

2. “He is so good at… [insert anything here].”

Whether it’s a perfect Jim Carrey imitation, how long he can sit watching the same episode of “Thomas the Tank Engine” and recite every word perfectly, or his ability to memorize all the details of every earthquake in California’s history, point it out. Point out the positives. See the positives. We see it. We know it. We love when you do, too.

3. “My friend’s, sister’s, cousin’s, great aunt twice removed’s son has autism and he is in college now.”

Yeah, we know that your friend’s, sister’s, cousin’s, great aunt twice removed’s son is not our child, and we know that autism is a spectrum of strengths and struggles, but, hearing success, hearing good news and having you share that in a kind, accepting and compassionate way, makes us love you, even if we don’t know you. I hope you like hugging strangers, because this may get you an even bigger hug than #1.

4. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Asking this question in the middle of aisle six in the busy, loud grocery store where our child is currently having a huge sensory meltdown as we try to calm him down and discreetly scooch the glass shards from the spaghetti jar that just missed your head under our cart, rather than staring at what you believe may be an “undisciplined child” having a temper tantrum, may possibly make you the hero in a blog story that goes viral on social media three hours after you get home from the grocery store.

We know people are staring. We know people are judging. We know people don’t get it. That’s why those eight simple words from just one person are beautiful. Oh, and sorry about the spaghetti sauce on your new shoes.

5. “He feels so much, doesn’t he?”

This is a kind, compassionate and understanding way to say that when you see our child crying easily, melting down regularly, and being terribly inflexible, you are letting us know that you recognize that there may be more than meets the eye and that our child is not bad, and neither are we.

6. “He is fascinating.”

Not weird, not odd, not quirky. The way his mind works is fascinating and often has me in awe and wonder. I love knowing that you see his mind as extraordinary and not as something that is broken and needs to be “fixed.”

7. “He really loves you.”

Yes he does. There is such a misconception that children with autism don’t feel love, that their emotions are too bogged down by autism to “feel,” but, believe me, they feel love, they know love, they give love. And on days when it’s hard, on days where we have lost our patience, raised our voice and dried countless tears, we don’t feel very loveable, so it’s great when others see and feel that love, too. We know that our child loves us like no other and although that love may look “different,” it is never to be trivialized or minimized.
O.M.G. If you only know how many times a day I have wondered the VERY same thing. “If only I could get inside his head,” “If I only knew what he was feeling,” “If only he would let me in” has crossed every parent’s mind countless times. Knowing that you take the time to wonder, too, well, you have just gone up higher in rank on the Favorites list on my iPhone.8. “I wonder what he is thinking?”

9. “What is autism and why do they call it a spectrum?”

Yes, maybe we are tired of talking about The A Word, maybe we want people to see past autism and just see our child, but, we will never turn down an opportunity to educate someone about our child and debunk the “He doesn’t act like ‘Rain Man’” myth. So please, ask away.

10. “He has taught me so much!”

These kids see the world differently and if you take the time to get to know them, really get to know them, you will open your mind and your heart to their world and you will be better for it.

11. “I brought wine.”

Even though you might not fully understand what loving a child with autism is like, the fact that you are here, on our doorstep, holding a bottle of wine and trying to understand, well, there are no words to express our gratitude. We love that you feel like we are in this together, so grab two glasses while I get the bottle opener.

12. “I have Velveeta Shells and Cheese (or whatever the one and only type of food is that child will eat).”

You win. Game over.

When trying to decide what you should say, keep in mind that these children and adults with autism may have severe language deficits and they may not be able to say a word, but that does not mean they aren’t communicating with you. Take their lead. Maybe no words are necessary. Maybe you don’t have to SAY anything. Maybe it’s just a kind smile, a door held, making eye contact with us or a kind “hello” to our child.

However, if we initiate the conversation, if we say the words, “My son has autism,” just give us a knowing look, a kind smile and ask, “How is he doing?” We may say “fine” or we may break into a 10-minute long discussion about how far he has come and how far we know he will go. Whichever it is, trust me when I say, we will always remember that you asked.

I hope you have found these two blogs helpful.  I have!

Letting God build the ministry.

In January 2014 I wrote this post “ASC What’s That?”  about starting up my own business in supporting children with Autism in schools.   Part of my motivation was to get out of a stifling education system that crushed my ideas and creativity and give myself space to get involved in disability ministry more and more.  I was crushed, but not defeated; demoralised, but not without hope. I stepped out from all the pressure and condemnation into a world where all I had was a lot of ideas, buckets of enthusiasm and a need to start earning a wage very quickly.

My company – Reachout ASC

I hit the ground running and have hardly stopped for breath since.  I have learned how to actually think like a business, had a website made and am supporting nearly 20 schools regularly with over 500 people having attended training that I have delivered.  Not only to schools but family support charities, churches and a children’s work conference in sunny Eastbourne.   I was so keen to bring my ministry and work life together so that I could feel fully ‘me’ in all that I do.

I have been really encouraged by a Lou Fellingham song Build this House (listen here).  It says  “Unless you build this house, I am building it in vain.  Unless the work is yours there is nothing to be gained.”  (C) Lou Fellingham.   In any kind of job and ministry that is starting something, or moving something on, we can only build what God has planned.

Although God seems to be pressing on with things!  As well as my business growing so that I am taking on two more autism specialist teachers so that we can support more schools, I am whizzing around the county talking to Head Teachers, SENCOs, Speech and Language Therapists and teachers about our service and hopefully helping a few more children with Autism and Asperger’s have a successful time in school.   I now have a Facebook page here, full of articles and ideas about autism;  am active in the Twitter education and SEN community; (Follow me here @ReachoutASC ) and I am writing a book about supporting pupils with ASC in secondary schools.   I LOVE MY JOB!

My website! Please have a look.

My website! Please have a look.

I have always had a love of learning.  And I am learning so much that I am able to convert into action in church too.  I have set up a churches tab on my website and will continue to add new resources.

The Good News Group

We continue to run our weekly meeting for the adults with learning disabilities in our community.  We are seeing spiritual growth in so many as we let God lead us in discipling them.  We’ve had a brilliant Puppet workshop from One Way UK and a revamp of our activities during our social time (I think we were all getting a bit bored of the same things) and have just sorted a load of boxes with activities suggested by our members.  We weren’t bothered about age appropriateness when they asked for sensory toys, playdough and duplo!  It’s going to be fun for all of us to play together as adults.  We’ve also got some picture Bible’s to read, Bible colouring and some more crafts, jigsaws and games.   The group is just like I would love church to be for everyone.  Full of joy, love and freindship whatever your abiliity.   However, we have all the issues and trauma’s as any other ministry group might have and have recently had a bereavement.    We are feeling really sad about it, but we have hope in knowing that a lovely, quiet man who loved the Good News Group and liked to pray, is now with our Saviour Jesus.

One Way UK Puppet workshop

One Way UK Puppet workshop

This lady is our jigsaw whizz!

This lady is our jigsaw whizz!

Lancashire Disability Network

The Lancashire Churches Disability Network went really well.  With the support of Tim Wood from Through the Roof, we had over 40 people at our first meeting.  The buzz and enthusiasm was fantastic and we are praying once again….God build this house, or we are building it in vain.  The next meeting is in a couple of weeks and already, one church is making plans to set up their own group for adults with learning disabilities.  People want to find things out, share experiences and learn together.  I AM REALLY EXCITED AND GRATEFUL.  This group has been two years in the praying, planning and waiting.  I have learned some patience…………
I am grateful too for you who have read, shared and supported this blog.  Keep on sharing, commenting and looking where God wants you to build his house.  

A great resource bank

website   Me and a friend explaining the Bible to adults with learning disabilities

Welcome to my website – please take a look.  The information and resources I share on my talks about adults and children with learning disabilities in church are there and lots of other resources for autism.  each week there will be something new… bookmark it and keep taking a look.     www.reachoutasc.com/churches

If you think of something that could be added – get in touch!     What do you think?

We should be more flexible to include those with Additional Needs.

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I sometimes wonder who is more rigid…the child with autism that I am supporting, or the school system (and people in that system) that I am trying to support them in?

In my work with autistic children in mainstream schools, I have found that those staff and schools who are most flexible, are better and more successful for those who have autism.

For  example, writing… Our whole education system is based on children being able and willing to write.  One aspect of autism is the need to see the point in what they are doing.  (A logical strength) However, the amount of writing demanded in every subject is enormous, and only increases with each school year as the demands of the curriculum get harder.  This is all well and good but what if writing and composing what you want to say is really hard?  What if you have trouble organising your thoughts and imagining what something might be like? What if you don’t understand the point of copying something out of a book, or writing things in whole sentences instead of giving the actual answer?

I have had some success with persuading teachers to be more flexible and allow pupils with ASC to write about things that are interesting and relevant to them.  Along with being allowed to type rather than hand write, for some.  Often this provides the motivation and relevance to write that the child needs and they usually develop more confidence, skills and academic progress.  To be honest, teachers are often relieved that I have given them permission to be more flexible and thrilled when it starts to engage the child in writing.  I once had a child writing about BeastQuest for the whole of year 5. By the end of the year he had progressed two levels and was more willing to have a go at other forms of writing. From writing almost nothing, by the end of the year he was writing full BeastQuest stories that he sent to the publishers!

I get cross that our education system has so stifled teachers creativity and flexibility that I have to give them permission, written out in a way that justifies what we are doing, just to allow a child to work within their interests for a while! Teachers feel under pressure to be seen to be doing the right thing, can be criticised for being creative while at the same time criticised for not being! It is the sad truth of our education and inspection system.

 However much I could go on about this (and it is based on experience not just opinion!) it is to churches I want to apply it. 

The Gymnast/Yoga: Back Arch/The Wheel/Chakrasana

Why do you do what you do? Is it because you’ve always done it that way? Will someone criticise you if you be a bit flexible or change things?

When including people with autism or any kind of disability we need to stretch ourselves and really think about being flexible.  I’m not criticising any one church but just drawing together my understanding of the experiences that people with disabilities have had in churches.  As with schools, the most successful are those who look at their members and adapt to their needs.  We don’t need to change the gospel message or the Bible to do this, but the way we communicate, illustrate and welcome people into God’s family can be very flexible.

It is quite realistic to suggest that there might be people who are on the autistic spectrum in your church. Many of them could be undiagnosed adults. There will be people who have hearing difficulties, sight or mobility problems. People who are dyslexic, colour blind or have mental illness.  All of these could impact on the way they access the rituals and teaching in your church. I’m not just talking about a ‘traditional’ church either.  I visited a lively church recently that insisted everyone stood up, danced and waved their arms about. The noise from the band was VERY loud and they played background music over EVERYTHING. Even the sermon.  I was completely overloaded, but many others were having a great time. Conversely, a quiet, traditional service can be really hard to follow with the antique language and unspoken ‘rules’ of when to sit, stand, kneel, respond.

So how do we be flexible in our churches?  One thing I love is that there are many different styles to choose from in most towns and cities.  In rural areas there may only be one small church for miles.  So for a person with additional needs, or a family with children with additional needs, it can take them some time and stress finding one that is suitable and comfortable for them. I know many who have given up after visiting one or two churches where they did not feel welcome.  The place and people expected them to fit in with their rituals and systems. They were rigid.  The families and individuals with additional needs were expected to be the flexible ones.

But the emphasis should be on us, in our churches, being flexible enough to change things.  Take communion for example. Do we have to go up to the front? Even taking it to someone in a wheelchair makes them different.  What if we took it to everyone where they are sat, so the wheelchair user feels part of it too?

We are challenged by this ourselves, in the Good News Group.  Our members needs are varied and wide and making them part of the church is something we work on together.  We are open to challenge and to change in our practices and we grow together in faith and as a church family as a result.  The only thing we don’t change is the Gospel Message and the Bible.  We have a routine, which is important, but even that is flexible too.

I hope schools and churches will be more flexible.  Don’t hold on to things “just because”.  Question and challenge yourself…WHY do we do this, in that way? Could it be more inclusive, and more meaningful?

I sincerely hope this helps you think about this.  Please do comment and tell me your experiences.  It’s an ongoing issues that we all are continually challenged by.  In schools, churches and society.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds.”  Hebrews 10:23-24

And don’t forget to follow my new Facebook page, with lots of great autism and related articles  Reachout ASC – autism Support

And my website which is REALLY filling up with great stuff  www.reachoutasc.com  – like and share as much as you like!

Inclusion or separate provision?

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I’m writing this from the Hand in Hand Conference in Eastbourne where I’ve come to deliver two sessions about making the Bible accessible for children with learning disabilties and autism in churches.

Someone asked the question, “Do we keep all the children together even if they don’t seem to be accessing what we are doing, or should we set up a special class?”  Someone else asked, “What do we do if a child needs a lower level of teaching and would access what they do in the younger class? Do we keep them with their peers or let them stay down?”

My initial response is to say that inclusion means having the same opportunities as everyone else.  It is better for social inclusion for a child with learning disabilities to be with their peers.  It is also good for the peers of the child with learning disabilties to learn how to build friendship and include those who may see and experience the world differently to them. Relationship is two-way. Relationship is sometimes not easy. Relationship may take some effort.  But relationships that are two-way, where both learn ways of building that friendship can be wonderful.  Children with learning disabilties and with autism need peers that can include them, and adults need to facilitate that.  Especially in the church.

However, sometimes the needs of the child are causing them to be overwhelmed and going into the group can just not be working.  It is them that sometimes taking them out of the group, working with them 1:1 or in a much smaller group can be helpful.  There should always be a plan of how to work towards getting that child back into the group.  Sometimes that means changing how the group is organised and what they do.  In the work I have done with autistic children in churches there are some simple things that have been really effective…

1.  Talk to the parents, ask them what their child likes and what works for them. Find out all the things the child likes.

2. An hours training about what autism/ learning disabilty is for adults involved.  (A similar session aimed at the children can be done as well)  Parents or the child’s teacher might do this for you.

3.  Simple visual structure so that they child knows what is happening and in what order. (A visual timetable)   Include some of their favourite activities and if you can find Bible related versions of these, great.  E.g. Bible jigsaws, the brick Bible Lego pictures.

4.  Look at simplified versions of the main teaching session. Think of one sentence you could focus on.  Use visual pictures to sequence a story.  Let them take home one sentence or Bible verse to focus on.

There are lots more things you can do.  I have put my Eastbourne slides and resource list on my website (www.reachoutasc.com) so do take a look under the “churches” tab.

The aim should be to establish what does work and them move it into the main group – and the peers of the child themselves should be involved in the inclusion.

I have pondered the same question with our adult group too.  Why have we set up a separate group in our church?  One of the reasons is that Sunday Church has been inaccessible for a lot of our group.  For many of the reasons I have discussed on this blog, there are language, sensory, physical and cognitive barriers in the main church service.

Our aim IS to have fully inclusive church, but just as there are midweek groups for ladies, men, the more mature, children’s groups and so on, the Good News Group is a focussed group where people with learning disabilties can come and meet other people like them, they can have teaching and nurturing that is built around their needs and where the pace and communication is tailored totally to being as accessible as it can be.  I can say that the Good News Group is fully church to me too. We work as a congregation, serving one another, finding our gifts and developing them and knowing one another so well that we carry each other’s burdens, pray and praise together.

We run our ‘service’ part of the evening like a regular church service.  We do this because ultimately we want to draw our members into the main church and allow them to feel familiar, comfortable and that they understand some of it.  Our church will need to play its part and be supportive and welcoming.  It is.  Our ministers preach with pictures to illustrate their sermons a lot of the time. This makes Sunday church more accessible for our members.  We have a long way to go but we are not saying “we can’t”.  We might say “We don’t know how?” but I think God can work with that.

The same is with your children with learning disabilties.  Work with them and their families to make them feel safe at church.  Then work to include them.  Then work to disciple them and show them that with God there are no limits. Remember all the other children need to be part of the inclusion process.

If you think you don’t know how, then that’s okay.  Just don’t say “we can’t”.

Remember what I said in my talk… “If children can’t learn the way we teach, then let us teach the way they learn.”

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