Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Archive for the ‘communication’ Category

5 ways we can trust God is changing despair into hope in additional needs ministry

Hope has been a theme God has been weaving into my life and prayers recently.  We are faced with the enormity of the task of making the church more accessible, of changing attitudes and wills, and supporting those who are struggling and hurt because these things haven’t happened yet.

I have been quite overwhelmed.  But God has reminded me that there is always something we can do…

1.  We can pray

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Give thanks no matter what happens. God wants you to thank him because you believe in Christ Jesus.                                             1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

This sounds obvious and I’m always reminding people to pray – but when despair and exhaustion comes, I do forget to heed my own advice.  I lose words to say because I am just looking at all the problems and all the people who need prayer.   I do believe Satan encourages us to despair – whispering lies and hopelessness into our minds.  But I have a Bible verse that crushes his attempts to keep me in this state for long…

In the same way, the Holy Spirit helps us when we are weak. We don’t know what we should pray for. But the Spirit himself prays for us. He prays through groans too deep for words. Romans 8:26

People now come to God through him. And he is able to save them completely and for all time. Jesus lives forever. He prays for them.  Hebrews 7:25

So when I don’t have words I give every groan, sigh and the tears I cry to him.  These verses remind me that these are legitimate prayers and that God hears them for both Jesus and the Spirit are interceding on our behalf.

But I also thank God for those he has brought alongside me as my partners in prayer and faith.  I’m part of a network of people who pray for each other’s ministry and lives each week.  These people are amazing in their faith and encouragement and work tirelessly to make the church accessible around the country.  They have held me up, prayed with me and encouraged me.  Thank you Lord for these people!

2.  We can remember

Lord, I will remember what you did. Yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.  Psalm 77:11

When the Psalmist was feeling down and under pressure, he declared that he was going to remember all God had done before.  I thought this sounded good advice.  So, I started to tell myself my testimony, how God brought me to him all those years ago. I remined myself of the times he saved my children’s lives, when he sent my hubby to Albania and so many more amazing interventions in ours and others lives.  So even though he seemed a bit quiet at the moment, I could see that he really had never let us go and wasn’t about to now.  I started to list all the ways God was working through the Additional Needs Alliance and through all the people across the world who are bringing the gospel to people with disabilities.  Remember how God has brought miracles into this world through his love of all people, bringing them to Jesus.

3. We can wrestle with it until we have what we want, and we can fight spiritually.

Genesis 32:28 Then the man said, “Your name will not be Jacob anymore. Instead, it will be Israel. You have wrestled with God and with people. And you have won.

Finally, let the Lord make you strong. Depend on his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armour. Then you can remain strong against the devil’s evil plans. Our fight is not against human beings. It is against the rulers, the authorities and the powers of this dark world. It is against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly world. Ephesians 6:10-18

It was only last week that we looked at Jacob wrestling with God in our new house group. We are starting to settle into our new church, and I feel like I am being slowly refreshed in my faith.  I had to be reminded that wrestling and struggling isn’t because I’m getting things wrong – but it is a real part of faith growing and us receiving the blessings God has promised us.  I know I need to regain the confidence I have in God’s promises and stand up for my right to have them.  It is a spiritual battle which I feel I’m going to have to relearn.  But it is so hopeful to know I can.

4. We can connect with others doing this work

God has given us a great blessing in being able to share in his work.  The most amazing thing is connecting with people who have been alone in doing these great pockets of good practice in their churches and now we are all able to connect with each other and see what is actually happening all over the country.  And the things that are happening are amazing.  I thank God for Mark Arnold (Urban Saints), Kay Morgan-Gurr, Christine and Pete Winmill  (Count Everyone In), the Through the Roof Team,  Beth (Take 5 and Chat), Disability and Jesus, John Williams (The Message Trust – Enable), all those working to make festivals, churches and the huge organisations such as Synod (especially behind the scenes) become aware and make their events accessible to all.  Anne Memmott, Bernice, Collette, and so many more that I haven’t spoken to yet. It is like God is joining all the dots!  Just this week I have had three conversations by email and Skype with people all over the country doing amazing things in their churches and with the wider church. God has lifted us up and blessed us with a simple message “I am at work”.

5. We can trust

Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not depend on your own understanding. In all your ways obey him. Then he will make your paths smooth and straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6

So that leads me to the last point.  I haven’t been able to see what God is doing for a while and couldn’t work out why he has taken me on this latest path.  But when I look at what I have been able to write here and what others are doing,  I am reminded that I can trust God and do need to be obedient to him.  He is at work.  Be encouraged friends xxx

Thank you to all those who have been in touch to remind me that they are following my blog and praying for the ministry of IncludedByGrace.

I have to thank God for you because when I have struggled and wrestled with what may or may not come next, with the frustration of doing nothing (although I rarely do ‘nothing’!!!)  and coping with the change of church I have been supported and prayed for.  May God have the Glory!

In the next few months I am working with my diocese children’s workers to start conversations about accessible church and how I could support them with training and whatever else they might need. Please pray these meetings will be well attended and that we don’t just talk about it – that real action comes from this that changes the way people do things in their churches. 

Advertisements

How to make a visual timetable powerpoint for a church

Church service timetable pics

I’ve visited a few churches over the past couple of months and it’s been interesting to see examples of good accessibility practice but I’ve also seen that there is a lot more each church could do  (I haven’t been telling them this…. not yet, I’m grateful for people’s welcome and love!) We are waiting for God to show us where we need to be ad in the meantime

The Good News Group and I went to talk at a Harvest Service in Middleton, Manchester and was impressed to see how they had made a visual timetable powerpoint.  The same symbols appeared on the service sheet.  These small additions can make a huge difference for someone visiting, especially if they have additional needs, anxiety or just wants to know what is happening and when.

So I’ve made an example timetable on a power point that hopefully (if it works) you can download and use as a template (see below).  The symbols may not be in the order you need, but with a bit of cut and pasting, you (or a young person…LOL) should be able to rearrange them to suit you.

I’ve also added a few tips on presentation.  The background and text colours are based on dyslexia and learning disability advice and please don’t have a scene (or worse a moving scene) behind printed words.  I’ve seen this done for songs and it can make it unreadable for many people with additional needs, including dyslexia and sight impairment.

This sort of timetable can be used for any group, any event and once you have got the basic template, can be used quickly and easily each week.

Do have a go and let me know how you get on.  🙂

Church Service timetable  – download by clicking on this link.

Using visuals in church and Children’s groups.

Visuals come in many formats and we use visual images in many ways in church. Stained glass windows told the stories from the Bible to people who couldn’t read in times gone by.  When I was a girl, the minister used a ‘flannel graph’ board to illustrate the Bible story, and as a child, it certainly kept my interest.

There are many good reasons for using visuals to help people with additional needs access what is going on in church and connect with the Bible teaching we are presenting. The best thing to do is ask them what works for them, but by also adopting some good practice, you are accessible to those who potentially may yet come to your church.

Here are four main reasons:

1. Visuals are inclusive. If you can’t read so well, have hearing difficulties, speak a different language, have working memory difficulties, or find it hard to sit and listen then a visual image is there for longer than the words you speak. Well chosen visuals can also help those with visual impairments. A visual image allows the brain to process the message or information without having to remember the information at the same time.

2. Visuals (such as a visual timetable) help everyone know what is happening, in what order and when it all will finish. This can help people who feel anxious, who have autism or ADHD, for example. They can check for themselves what is happening and if needed, can add their own choices of activities to help with their managing to be in the service or group.

3. Visual pictures link parts of a story or series events together by putting them in a sequence you can see. It helps someone to recall what happened and see the whole story linking together.

4. Preparing visuals for a talk that you are writing helps you check how much it makes sense to others! It is easier to explain complex spiritual language using a visual illustration…but take care…people may take it literally. Here’s an example…

Set my heart on fire..

 

What does this really mean?  Maybe something like “give me power and passion to be enthusiastic for Jesus every day.”   It is good to explain our spiritual terms, not just for those with additional needs, but think about those new to Christianity and those who don’t understand our language very well.

Here are some ways you can start to use visuals in your church and children’s groups.

1. Have a visual timetable of your service. If you use a projection onto a screen have a plain background (and avoid moving pictures with text on top) with large font writing. Dark blue backgrounds with yellow writing can work well. But then at the bottom of the screen you can put a timetable of the service. It isn’t too difficult to take one picture off as each part of the service continues. You can use specialist software such as widgitonline (try the free trial) or just a set of free clip art images that are available online. Alternatively, have a visual timetable in a prominent place at the front of church or even on the service sheet. If possible have someone take off the picture symbol as each section finishes, maybe there is a child or adult who would love this job in your church!

IMG_2982

This was one way we tried – giving out a timetable of the service with the service sheet. 

2. When writing a sermon or children’s talk, prepare a key point you can illustrate with pictures. Try to think literally. One key sentence for people to take away.  When you are speaking, a visual picture as you move from point to point, helps people keep up and focus on each part. It also helps you slow down and keep on point! Here’s a link to how to write an accessible sermon.

3. In children’s groups a visual timetable should have the place they are going to and the place they are going to after the session is finished.  You are breaking down the session into manageable chunks.  If necessary a child with additional needs could have their own. They may need included; a safe space and a sensory or favourite activity that helps them engage.

4. Picture sequences of Bible Stories can help children who struggle to listen, read, write or speak. They can follow the story as it is told, put the events in order and answer questions by pointing to the pictures. Here are some good resources …

www.widgitonline.com – try the free trial but plan what images you would like to have and keep in that trial time.  Then you can make lots and reuse them.  Consider if it is worth buying a subscription for one or more people who would be making these every week for you.

jpeg Jesus calls disciples

Here’s one I made earlier. 

freebibleimages – my old favourite – but free – so what’s not to like?

Additional Needs Alliance website – lots of free resources people have added.

This is just a beginning and I’ve tried to show as many examples as I can. Please add examples that have worked in your church in the comments below.  Let’s share our good practice.

Here’s the catch up for the recent Methodist Church Belonging Conference. all about including additional needs in church. 

 

Building an accessible church 4 – Starting with some training.

This post comes after I have done two training sessions at churches in Liverpool and Manchester.  What I have been inspired by is the heart of the church leaders and others to start a new season of accessibility and inclusion at their churches.

We all know that oak trees grow from tiny acorns and that Jesus said if we had faith as small as a mustard seed then anything is possible.

Matthew 17:20-21  (NIRV)

 He replied, “Because your faith is much too small. What I’m about to tell you is true. If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, it is enough. You can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there.’ And it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

In Liverpool, I spoke about autism along with Cristina who is, by her own definition, ‘An Aspie Christian’.  It was organised by Liverpool Deaf church and we had two BSL interpreters signing our talks and allowing us to communicate with the deaf members of the audience.  We made a point of recognising that there were deaf autistic people and that communication with them needed to take both differences into account.  I learned from the deaf people who attended, some of the differences in deaf communication that I hadn’t know, such as interrupting isn’t really a ‘thing’ for them as the way they communicate in sign language is more fluid than waiting for your turn to say something.  As always, the sensory needs of autistic people were of great interest to the audience and they responded really positively with ideas about what support they could give in their churches.

In Manchester, I spoke about the ‘hidden disabilities’ including dyslexia, ADHD, autism, and how we may have a high number of adults with different disabilities that we know nothing about.  The implications for our preaching and teaching is huge.  What if 50% or more of our congregations can’t understand our Bible teaching fully?  (There are no statistics for the people who actually understand a regular sermon because much is ‘hidden’ and people don’t want to admit they didn’t ‘get it’. – So I made an educated guess to make a point).  We are disabling people if we make sweeping assumptions about the ability to understand and things like literal understanding of spiritual words and concepts (set my heart on fire). There is the need for concrete examples that people can relate to alongside acknowledging the awe, wonder and mystery of our God.  We looked at autism in particular, and what autistic people might need from the church to help them be included and discipled.  We looked at the enormous amount of gifting in people with hidden disabilities that we may need to think of different ways to grow and develop.

What was wonderful in both these settings was seeing church leaders and members wanting to do something positive to make their church more accessible.  Some were just starting out, right at the beginning of looking at what they do and thinking about what was helpful and what wasn’t.  Another church had done a lot of work on becoming dementia friendly and could see how some of those approaches (such as using visuals and having a quiet space) could be developed further to support some autistic people.  One church had started to put symbols on their service sheet as a visual clue to what that part of the service was about.

These may seem tiny but they are significant steps.  We all have to start somewhere and often it is small things like making a quiet/sensory area available, changing the language in sermons to make it more understandable to more people, using a visual schedule to show what will happen in the service and having ways to help people who can’t sit still or who find coffee time terrible because of the noise and demand of socialising.

The best thing is to do an audit of what you do, involving any autistic or other disabled people in your congregation, asking them.  If you are not sure who you have, then speak to an autistic person you might know and ask them to do an audit with you.  An autistic perspective can be such a valuable thing, as long as you remember that each person is different and so other changes may need to be made for others.  Then you can develop a plan – with goals and regular updates about how things are going.

I have written about writing a more accessible sermon here.  Changing our teaching style may be more challenging than you think but more rewarding than you can imagine. Looking at words and explaining things clearly can help all our congregations.  Explaining the Bible, spiritual terms and language in ways that almost all the congregation can grasp means that more will go away from a Sunday service equipped to live the Christian life each day.  Using visuals or drama can help people see what it means and what the concept might look like in real life examples.  It is the simple things in the Bible that we need most to live out in our lives when we are not at church.

My starting point is this question…If a group of adults with learning disabilities arrived at your church in a minibus one Sunday to join your service – would you be ready or could you adapt what you were going to do so that they felt welcome, included and understood something about Jesus’s love and desire for them to be part of his kingdom?

thumb_P1050768_1024

Keswick 2017

I have been to help with the Keswick Convention Prospects team twice now and although I love it so much the thing that stands out to me is the Wednesday evening in the big tent when the Prospects group go on the main stage to share what they have been doing and sing a song with everyone.  This is well received but feels like a missed opportunity.   The measure for me is this, that when all the group sit down after being on mainstage, the meeting carries on as usual.  The songs contain complex words (and one year we did really have the ‘ineffably sublime’ song…what on earth does ‘ineffably’ mean?)  and the talk is long, full of complex language and concepts and mostly inaccessible to the Prospects group.

A missed opportunity or a token gesture?  I would rather see real inclusion.

Hebrews 11:1 (NIRV)

Faith That Produces Action

Faith is being sure of what we hope for. It is being sure of what we do not see. 

Fear of Disabilities

Brockhall-Main-Building-copy-948x677

Photo from http://www.lancslearningdisabilityinstitutions.org.uk 

In 1985 I went on a college visit to a ‘mental institution’ called Brockhalls Hospital in the beautiful Ribble Valley, near Whalley.  It was part of my Preliminary Certificate in Social Care course and we were doing a topic on learning disability.

It was the first time I had ever met any adults with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD) or adults with physical conditions like Cerebral Palsy.  There were about a dozen or more adults, propped up in chairs or wheelchairs, arranged in a semi circle around a large day room.  It was sparse and clinical, like a you’d expect a hospital to be.  What they thought as a dozen young students piled in to look at them I don’t know.    I know most of us were caring types and so we plucked up the courage to sit beside one of the residents and try to communicate with them.  I sat by a lady, who to me looked elderly and who was rocking gently, staring into the distance.  I said hello, my name and stroked her hand for a few minutes.  Then we got up and left.

I cried when I got home.  Part of it was the shock.  The shock of seeing people so disabled was one aspect, if I am to be honest.  These people were not part of my everyday experience.  It was also the shock of realising that people had been shut away in this institution, away from the rest of the world.  It was then I began to ask what I could do about that.

This was the mid 80s and things were about to change.   By 1992 the hospital had been closed and most of its residents moved to community homes.  Some of them moved not far from where I was eventually going to live.  And my town is still well serviced by group homes for adults with learning disabilities.  “These people” are part of our community and a meeting people with learning disabilities during a trip to the supermarket, or in the town centre is daily life.   It’s one reason why our Good News Group is so well attended.  It is part of our community, for those who live in our community.

I’ve been reading about the old hospitals. There is a community exhibition that I’m going to see next week and a website to go with it.    I remember my fear on the way to visit Brockholes in that college year.  The 17 year old me was more worried about how I would be able to communicate with the residents, what I might do to offend them and whether I would look stupid in front of my classmates.  Fears my classmates probably shared.   But this visit had a profound effect on me.  Not yet a Christian at that age,  God was already preparing and teaching me for my future.

I learned that fear was born out of my ignorance.  I didn’t know these people I was meeting, I didn’t know about their conditions.  But I also learned that making that first step, of going to sit with that lady and to say hello, took away a lot of that fear.  I’ve always, ever since, made a particular effort to speak and say hello to anyone with disabilities that I meet.  A fulfilling life, an invitation, an offer of help, an opportunity  to join in, a chance to share their talents and serve others – these are all things that people with learning disabilities are prevented from by our fear.  The Church of England are currently debating the value and place of people with Down’s Syndrome in our society and Churches.  What’s the biggest problem they face? – not things they can’t do – but other people’s fears.  These fears are always wrapped up in political language…the scarcity of resources,  quality of life and ‘their own good’.  When what we really fear is the challenge to us in making a more inclusive society, sharing our resources more evenly and putting the systems in place to help those who need better accessibility.

I know people fear what they don’t know or understand.  I know we fear embarrassment, or offending someone or not knowing what to say or do.  We fear having to be challenged out of our comfortable ways that only make comfort for certain people, and make barriers for others.

Imagine being the one who no-one talks to, or no-one bothers to try to communicate with, the one other people think is worth less than others?  We have to take God’s words to our hearts and “Do not fear”.   Because our fear is causing too many people to be excluded, bullied, exploited, abused and ignored – and that IS in our churches as well as in society.

God took the initiative in communicating his love for us.  If he’d not bothered, we would truly be lost.  His son Jesus communicates the same message to everyone.  So my plea is please ‘do not fear’ and make the effort to find out, welcome and include people with learning disabilities and other additional needs into your lives.

Nurse Holding Elderly Patient's Hand

picture from http://www.google.co.uk stock

(Note: This post came out of a conversation I had some time ago with a friend who had spent his early life in one of these institutions and had moved out in the 80s when he was about the same age as me at the time.  He had a lot to say about being ignored by society and I said I would try my best to communicate the things we had talked about.) 

 

A great visual resource for teaching the Bible…

Matthew 4:4 (NIrV)

Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘Man must not live only on bread. He must also live on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

In our Good News Group we try to make the Bible as accessible to everyone as possible.  We have people who are blind or visually impaired, who read, who don’t read, who have hearing impairments, physical disabilities, health conditions, and people who have intellectual disabilities.

We use a variety of communication methods and one of these is pictures.  We like to use pictures to sequence and illustrate the story we are telling. I remember at the beginning spending hours trawling through google to find images that we could use and then we found www.freebibleimages.org  and our planning was transformed.

004-jesus-water

Image from:  http://www.freebibleimages.org/illustrations/jesus-water/

You can download powerpoint or other presentation formats of Bible stories.  We like them because the images are not childish.  We don’t want to patronise our adults in the group.  When I’m preparing a talk I find them easy to edit so that they fit the text I am speaking.  They follow the Bible accounts accurately.  Usually we use the Accessible NIrV Bible or we might use a shorter version of the story so it is good to be able to make adjustments.  Then I can add the slide numbers to a copy of my talk and the person operating the computer display can put up the right picture as I speak.  Or sometimes I’ll take charge and use the ‘clicker’ so I can move the images on myself.

Easy peasy…

thumb_IMG_1574_1024

John is a whizz on the computer.

2 Timothy 3:16New International Reader’s Version (NIRV)

“16 God has breathed life into all Scripture. It is useful for teaching us what is true. It is useful for correcting our mistakes. It is useful for making our lives whole again. It is useful for training us to do what is right.”

I can see how these images would work on an I-Pad, laptop or if you printed them off and either used them as a wordless book or put some simple text with them.  Then you could use them with a child or adult at home on in a Sunday School class, church service or house group so that they could follow the story that everyone else might be reading from the Bible.

Alternatively –  you could use the pictures as a stimulus for a sensory story at home or in a small group.  I would usually cut down the amount of pictures for this so that we didn’t have too many sensory experiences and overload the person.  But it would make a lovely support for a sensory story.  Again you can add key words or simple sentences as the powerpoint’s are editable.

We might use these pictures with the puppets, so the puppets might be talking about an experience they had (for example, The women talking about their visit to the empty tomb) and the picture can illustrate what they are talking about.

Luke 24:45 (NIRV)

“45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”

The Good News Group exists to share the Gospel and the Scriptures with the people who come to the group.  It is our joy to communicate in ways that opens up God’s Word to them.  In fact, it helps us all understand Scripture better too.

I’m sure people can think of other ways to use these pictures.  Do share your ideas in the comments.  Thanks to @FreeBibleimages, our preparation for our teaching sessions has been greatly improved and we have some consistency of style when different people are teaching.

When you can’t do it all and God brings others alongside…

I’m going to be blogging less.  I’ve been struggling to maintain writing this and my autism teaching blog because of other commitments.  I have eventually realised that I don’t need to feel so stressed or guilty – that the Lord is taking me on a different path for now.  I also have a job which is ministry in itself, the Roofbreakers Network to organise and my educational writing projects.  I need to be kinder to myself and take a break now and again, as well as realising God isn’t asking me to do any of this alone.  Only in his strength but also with the teams of people he is connecting me with.  Thank you Lord!

What’s happening?

  1. Since I wrote this blog about putting together an “Included by Grace” book   that work has been steadily going on in the background.  I’ve enlisted my daughter and my dad to help me and we are putting the content together so I can edit it.  images
  2. But also there’s another couple of projects starting to take form.  One of them is a long held vision I’ve had to share our Bible teaching materials online so people with learning disabilities themselves can access the teaching and people who want to plan for groups like ours can also access that teaching and planning.  Well, despite being terrified  (of all the things I don’t know) God has brought alongside me people who get it,  people who are doing similar things and people who want to help.  So our plans to have an accessible Bible teaching website are in the early planning stages but at last seem to be a possibility.   One real encouragement recently was to be put in contact with two other women doing something similar.  One is doing this for children, one for teenagers.  That fits in perfectly with my plans to do this for adults.   Thanks to Mark Arnold from Urban Saint’s Additional Needs Ministry for connecting us!     4 pieces
  3. Finally, it is also a dream to enable the members of our Good News Group to share the gospel with others and we are going to try putting a team together to do assemblies in some of our local special schools.  It would be great for our members to be role models for the children in those schools.  Again, God is good,  I have people who get it, who want to help and even some links with people who have done this before and will share ideas (If you know of anyone else who has done this please ask them to get in touch with me).

All that and it’s the Christmas season so our group is gearing up for it’s annual outreach Christmas service on Wednesday.  They are all so excited.  And then on the following Wednesday, 5 of the group have been learning a puppet dance to “Celebrate the Child” by Michael Card.  I led a workshop about teaching puppets to adults with learning disabilities at the One Way UK European Puppet Festival in October.  This is us putting our words into practice… I might write a post about how we did it and what the challenges were another time.  I know its going to be fabulous and everyone will enjoy it.

IMG_3699

So for blogging…

I hope if you follow my blog you won’t forget about us.  I will repost some of my old blogs, especially the practical advice ones and share them on FB and twitter.  Includedbygrace now has a FB page if you’d like to follow it.  You can comment on there and keep in touch.  And I’m on twitter as @includedbygrace   And pray.  We’d appreciate that a lot.

If you will share includedbygrace blog, FB and Twitter pages on your own network it will help me build and audience for the book, website and whatever else comes from this.  I’m still available for training in churches across the North West and the Additional Needs Alliance Network can find you trainers elsewhere.

gods-clipart-name-jesus-7

%d bloggers like this: