Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Posts tagged ‘#ASD’

Writing Social Stories™ Part 2


So what did you think of that social story example in part 1

Don’t hurt others at playtimes.

Rosy, you have been hurting other children at playtimes.

This is wrong. If you hurt other children they will tell the

teacher on duty and you will have to go inside and sit

outside the head teachers room. You MUST not be too

rough in the playground. It is up to the big children to

stop and check themselves from time to time to make

sure they are playing nicely. If you do this your

teacher and your mum and dad will be pleased and you

can stay at our school.

I hope you said something like this…

  • It is negative.
  • It is written in the wrong perspective “you” rather than “I”.
  • What exactly does being too rough mean?
  • It is threatening.
  • If it was taken literally – what does ”stop and check yourself” mean?
  • It says MUST – makes it easy to fail.
  • Why would you want to please the teacher after being spoken to like this?

So here is an example of the same situation written in the proper Social Story™ format…

Rosy can play nicely at playtimes


My name is Rosy and I am in class 5 at Leafy Lane School.

We have a playtime in the morning and after we have eaten our lunch.

I like to play with the infant children at playtimes. It is good to have

friends to play with.  These are my friends in the infants.


The children in the infants are smaller than me. This is because they

are younger and have not grown as tall as me yet.

I am a kind friend.   I like to play nice games with my friends.

Sometimes children might bump into one of their friends or hold them

tightly when they are playing together.


People don’t like it if they are held tightly or when someone bumps

into them. They might fall or cry because they are hurt

I can try to hold someone gently when I am playing.  My friends will try to hold me gently too.


This can help me and my friends be happy and playtimes will be fun.

Well done Rosy and her friends!

So what would you say was the difference? Think about it and I’ll explain some more in the next post.

ASC? What’s that?

This is the most common question I have been asked since setting up my own freelance specialist support service. At first I thought “Oh no! Maybe I should have called myself something else so people won’t be confused?”

But actually, that question has led me to have some great conversations with people.  I have been able to tell them about Autism Spectrum CONDITION, (ASC) and why I have chosen to use this definition over the word ‘disorder’ or even ‘disability’.  I was even blessed enough to then outline my service and my vision for supporting, training, advising and making resources for all kinds of organisations and individuals so that they can include and support someone on the autism spectrum in what they do.

So…here I am. Newbie business woman as from Jan 1st 2014! And here’s my logo!


I had to think of a name to work under and choosing one is not as easy as you think.  However, I do go on the premise that simplicity is best (and the ‘Ronseal’ principle of it does what it says on the tin!) and chose REACHOUT ASC as my name.  That’s what I want to do…reach out and help people understand ASC.  And this will definitely include churches, so if you want training, help and support for your church do get in touch. There will be links, events and resources that I will post on my blog in the future so do look out for them.

Starting up on your own is a bit like stepping off a cliff and hoping someone might catch you…


As a person who has faith in Jesus Christ, I am expecting Him to catch me and take me where he leads.  Now that is scary but gives me a real positive outlook on everything (including my car dying in the first week of business!) and tons of hope for the future. I know he will be there when things go wrong, work is slow to come in, I get lots of work and need wisdom to make decisions, say the right advice and support children and adults at very vulnerable and difficult times.  I day this because all through my Christian life (and even before this – when I didn’t realise at the time) Jesus has been faithful.  I have grown so much as a person through the most difficult times and will always trust him because he has proved so many times that he is who he says he is.

And for those of you who read A Bigger Vision wall and Running away – God and Elijah posts thank you for your prayers, they have helped me take this leap and realise I wasn’t running away from but to something. I really appreciate strangers who care enough to pray. God Bless you.

Good News Group News

For those who want to know – Good News Group starts back up again this Wednesday (15th January).  See main page for times and structure.

This term we are learning about Saul’s conversion and his life as Paul, preacher to the gentiles. We are learning how it wasn’t always easy, sometimes dangerous, often turned out very differently to what he expected and sometimes amazing.

Through all this Paul is a person we can look up to. He was humble, fiercely passionate about the gospel, always prayed for others and never gave up, no matter what happened.

I’m looking forward to learning about him too!



Why do we do it?

What is our purpose?


Setting up and running a group for adults with learning disabilities is just one ministry in our churches. There are children’s groups, groups for elderly people, house groups, women’s and men’s groups, groups to support people with mental illness, groups for people in debt and many other groups as well as church plants, market stalls and many ways of contributing to community involvement.

But we are not a social group for people with learning disabilities. We are not meeting the government’s ‘Big Society’ targets.

We exist to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to anyone we can reach. We focus on communicating that message in the best possible way.

We are unashamed of this fact. Any society, charity or individual can do the social bit. Only the church (in that it is God’s people) can bring the message of grace and life that is the Gospel.

A couple of years ago we had two ladies come to our group with their carer. They said they had heard there was a drama group going on at the church.

We said, we are not a drama group. We are a group that teaches the Bible, using drama, craft, singing, puppets and clear language. They came along anyway. Two years later those women are full and active members of our group and keen to share Jesus with others.

I have had the extreme pleasure this week of meeting other people who long to make their churches more inclusive.


I cannot express how awed I am at the work God is doing in different places and how lovely it was to meet such passionate and willing people. Whatever church we are from (and so many denominations were represented….hurray!) the Gospel is still the cord that ties us all together in God’s grace, that we don’t deserve and makes our styles and traditions immaterial.

I can’t wait to see what God will do in the Liverpool network and hopefully we will be looking at setting up a North West Network sometime in the near future, so that all who are and are willing to serve together with people with additional needs can support one another, teach others and allow Jesus to welcome everyone into his inclusive church.



A new way of doing Christmas.


What does Christmas mean to you? Do you go through the motions, the story so familiar that it washes over you? Do you get annoyed with the commercialisation of Christmas and want to hide away until it is all over? Alternatively do you greet it with great enthusiasm, planning parties and gifts and family celebrations and fit in a few moments remembering the baby Jesus, if you can find the time?

I hate the fact that soon the shops will be full of Christmas gifts, decorations, cards and food. I will get mad that I don’t see anything about Jesus and stressed that there is so much to do, routines go out of the window and people get so obsessed with the commercialised festival (and that is just in schools!) that Christmas becomes an empty, hollow, lonely time of year.

Carol Service word cloud

At Good News Group (for adults with learning disabilities) we decided a couple of years ago to make Christmas an outreach opportunity. We wanted to give our members the practice of sharing their faith with others. We keep telling them that they could, so we took on the challenge to make it possible.

We started with looking at what the group liked to do. Those who could loved reading the Bible passages. They all liked the puppets and most loved being involved in drama. They liked holding things, speaking and singing and signing. They liked making comments, praying, being involved and contributing in whatever way they were able.

We formed a plan. One of the things we find is very important when trying to make sure that we include as many people as possible is to have a clear structure that takes into account the shorter attention spans of many of our group. I call it ‘chunking’. If we break down our material into small, manageable chunks, we can build up a clear message that can be understood. Repetition becomes part of this structure and a clear, one-sentence point that we can focus on.

We always keep in mind our group are adults and to use children’s materials is not appropriate. However, it is not wrong to borrow a structure that may have worked well with children because the chunking idea is often used there too.

We have used an idea that takes the letters of Christmas to tell the story of Jesus from the beginning of the Bible to the end of time. We included creation, the Prophets telling of Jesus’ birth and death long before his actual birth, his birth, his death and resurrection and promise to come again. Every part was illustrated on the big screen behind us to aid understanding for those who were more visual learners.

Another tip we have found useful is to split into much smaller groups and each group to have their own section to present. This way people were not over-whelmed with everything that was going on and just needed to know when their letter was in the word Christmas. We found this worked brilliantly. When we did present our service, everyone listened and enjoyed all the other presentations and only had their own bit to remember.

The most fun part was finding something that everyone could do. Our members were given a choice of reading, acting, signing, holding something or interacting with puppets. One lady asked to write and say the closing prayer and others gave their preferences or we made suggestions that we thought they might like. We also gave everyone the option NOT to join in and just watch. One person decided to help out on the sound desk as his contribution.


So, we had a service! Now we had to get inviting people! This was an outreach opportunity for our members to invite their friends, house mates, carers, families and neighbours to see them share their faith through the Christmas story. We prayed, made invitations and sent them out, not knowing who would turn up.

The first Christmas we did this many people came. Mainly carers, house-mates and family. Some of our wider church family came to support us too. And at least two new people were added to our group. They have been coming ever since.

Last year many more people came. One member inviting the other NINE people from his house and their four carers. They have been coming to Good News Group ever since too.

This year we are planning to do it all again….

Where does this support inclusion? Well I believe any church can and should include people with additional needs in their services. Doing our own service and inviting the wider church gave them inclusion ideas and gave us the confidence to get involved in other whole church services such as harvest and Easter. We are part of a big church that has four different services on a Sunday and many more in the week so to open up our service showed WE were being inclusive of the others too.

If you want to develop a service that is more inclusive I would recommend a good plan that involves people with additional needs using their gifts and skills to present the good news to others. It doesn’t cost a to learn some basic signing (we use Makaton) and songs are much more accessible and engaged in by everyone when they are signed. Some of our group loved teaching a song’s signs to the wider church at a whole church Easter service. As I have said before in previous posts, choose words readings that do not use complicated, jargon words (we use an easy English version for Bible readings – and chunk the teaching so that people can follow it and learn a simple one-sentence point for either each chunk or the whole sermon! (That’s how we plan our weekly teaching sessions – 1 point each time and we have covered a lot of the old and new testaments over the years). Finally – see something, hear something and do something. That is why we always put pictures that illustrate our talk / story on the big screen (and do not use pictures that are cartoony or childish) and get people involved in holding things (especially if sensory ie. They can be smelt, touched, heard, moved, tasted etc) and doing quite simple drama (don’t worry about being too scripted, be brave and improvise a little!). And if courage and finances allow (great puppets from One Way Uk are about £20-£40 but other sources are available) use puppets because everyone listens to them!

If anyone is interested – I would be happy to send you a script of our Christmas outreach service – just leave a comment and I’ll get in touch.

What does inclusion look like?



Time travel – I’ve always fancied it (and David Tennant and Matt Smith – but I digress!) This week has been our churches Holiday Bible Club.  The message was the gospel, of course, but told through the theme of time-travelling with Doctor Hugh.  (Yes, of course it was full of Doctor Who puns and plargarisms – but great fun.)

I always have my eyes and ears tuned in to look out for inclusion wherever I am. I suppose I am hard-wired to do so after all thee years of being involved in supporting inclusion in schools and church.

Here is what I noticed :

  • 130 children attended and loads of people helped out either out front with the children or in the background with the parents cafe, serving snacks or manning the doors.
  • In my group alone, 3 out of the 8 children had special needs. Learning, physical and autism needs. Many more children with other needs were in other groups.
  • The children with special needs were included in the same groups as everyone else, but where necessary had an adult ‘buddy’ with them.
  • Every group had a visual symbol timetable to follow a well organised structure. (In fact the structure is the same every year so that we have used the same visual timetables for 3 years now).
  • The teaching structure was supported visually at every point. And the puzzles and activities had different levels so that they could be matched to children’s ability.
  • All the children really enjoyed it and their parents were asking about other things that go on in church.

However, sometimes it was VERY noisy and the first day our boy who has autism cried and wore his headphones. Obviously we were upset that he was upset and changed one or two things so he had a ‘time-out’ between two really noisy activities and that worked really well.  We also managed to bag the quiet room next to the hall for our group session times.  After that first day he was calm and happily joining in for the rest of the week. We are never sure how much he is taking in but I loved his comment when I ripped up a picture with God written on one side and us on the other. It was to show how we are separated from God because we ignored him.  The boy called out “That needs fixing!” Which of course was our next days teaching. He loved the fact that we used his phrase in the session.


On top of that the two ladies from our Good News Group came as helpers and had a fantastic week.  I loved having them as group leaders and got to know them much better through talking as we prepared for the children coming each day. Another Good News Group member helped out at the parents cafe. All of them were included as part of the team and made new friends with people from other groups and services across church – indeed the two ladies expressed a desire to work with the children again. We will have to see what we can do to facilitate that.

As far as inclusion is concerned this holiday club has been quite successful. What we need to examine now is what did make it work and how can we build that into making our weekly programmes of Sunday Club, regular church and kids or youth clubs work just as well. I’ve already mentioned that the Good News Group will be looking for opportunities to get involved in other activities and be a more included part of the whole church.

Part of the success is the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. The months of planning and preparation for the holiday Bible club have been crucial in supporting good inclusion. Resources needed making, copying and cutting out ready for the week. The assigning of experienced and well trained ‘buddies’ has made a huge impact too…for example the boy with autism in my group had TWO specialist autism teachers at his disposal! The ladies from Good News Group would not have been able to help without a lift each day, and finally to the parents willing to trust us enough to do a great job of caring for their children whilst supporting them to be included and make friends with the other children in their groups.

Inclusion can take work and time…but God HAS given us the resources we need or will give them to us if we just ask…If our churches are not welcoming and accessible to ALL, then the Body of Christ is incomplete.

It’s been a thoughtful summer for me. I am looking forward to the Good News Group leaders meeting tomorrow so we can discuss some of the issues and start to address some of the challenges. It might be exciting and it might be messy – but it is time to disciple our group better, involve them more in running the group and serving in God’s church…Watch this space to see how we get on.

A trip to Keswick

photo from Keswick Convention website

photo from Keswick Convention website

It started out a few years ago when our group was much smaller.  Prospects ( run a week for people with learning disabilities at various conventions and Keswick  is our nearest one…although still a good hour and a half drive away.

So this year despite schools finishing too late for us to go on our usual day (Tuesday so we could join in the workshop too), we are taking nearly 40 people up to Keswick on the Friday to celebrate with our brothers and sisters from other parts of the country.

The Good News Group members are VERY excited.

I and the other leaders, on the other hand,  have needed to plan this carefully. You can’t just take 40 people, including 8 wheelchair users, a few more with limited mobility, autism and other needs on a trip without some careful thought towards their safeguarding and well-being.

So as, with a school trip we have written a risk assessment, had it ok’d by our PCC, sent out letters, collected money towards transport costs and will collect any medical and contact details for the day that we need. Some of our leaders are already in Keswick for the week and will have all the details too so they can support us if an accident happened on our travels (please, if you pray, pray for our safe travel!)

We have borrowed a minibus from another church which I can drive (having a minibus test certificate) and we have hired a community transport minibus which can take wheelchairs. Added to that will be 3-4 cars, some carrying people with wheelchairs too.


I will also prepare a visual sheet to explain where we are going and what we will be doing there, using pictures from previous years, for those who have not been before.

I am so grateful to all the Team members and carers who are helping to make this possible.


I hope to be able to post some pictures with permission, when we return.

If you have a group or support people with additional needs in church, please don’t be afraid of going out and about. A risk assessment and preparation is worth all the hard work – and for us meeting other groups like ours is so encouraging.

Another Barrier -part 5


How easy it is for most people to get to church these days? Do you walk, drive, take the bus? Is your church easy to get into? Are there steps, narrow doors, corridors to negotiate?

Following on from my Jan / Fab blogs about barriers which you can read here : Barriers 1 (reading) …. Barriers 2 (talking) 3 (jargon)  ….Barriers 4 (us)

Barriers 5 – Physical Barriers

Thanks to legislation, all public buildings have to have disabled access. However some people think that adding a ramp and a disabled toilet ‘ticks the box’ and makes them disabled friendly and an inclusive church….but where ARE the people with disabilities in our churches?

Last week I was privileged to meet with a group of ladies during a conference for women in ministry at my church. This little group got together in the afternoon because we had a shared interest in ministry to people with additional needs.  Some of us were in established ministries, some of us supported an individual child in church, some of us were just starting out and  interested in developing a ministry in their church. We were discussing barriers to people with additional needs being part of our church families.

As well as the barriers I have already spoken about – there is still the issue of physical barriers that go beyond a ramp or a toilet.

There are barriers to leaving the house and getting to church – what if someone is agoraphobic? What if someone is autistic and cannot just be taken to a new place without preparation? What if someone is in a wheelchair and relies on someone else to transport them? What if some one is not confident or able to travel on their own for other reasons? What if you have no transport or your carers cannot bring you because there are other people in the house to care for too?

Church is about Gods people being family. If that means we have to be flexible, adaptable, accommodating and open to new ways of including people…then that is what we must be.  Being willing to pick someone up and physically take them to church can be a great start.  Many of our Good News Group could not come without team members who bring them in their cars.

_52222349_a9be1a28-1382-443e-a59e-8948aace65e3Leyland Life Week

However, I have been thinking about this too – Is it right that we expect people to come to us to hear the gospel and receive the life Jesus offers?

Jesus told his disciples to GO and spread the gospel….not to sit in a pretty building and wait for people to come to them.  Our buildings may be the very barrier that is stopping them knowing about Jesus.  So maybe the physical barrier is actually a barrier to us too – a place we safe and secure from the outside world where we can feel comfortable and do our ‘faith’ for the week.  Maybe we feel too comfortable or fearful to go out and share our faith?

Maybe we should be overcoming the physical barriers by getting out into our communities more, meeting people in their homes and places they CAN access easily. It might help us realise how we can make our actual church building more inclusive!  It doesn’t have to be standing on a street corner, knocking on doors and preaching. It can be going to a coffee shop with a friend who has a child with special needs, or taking someone shopping or visiting them at home. We can find natural ways of sharing experiences that lead us to talk about the gospel.  We can do assemblies in special schools, we could offer a gospel-focused but fun session at a day centre or nursing home.

I am challenged by writing this…am off to arrange a visit to a coffee shop with my friend who hasn’t been to Good News Group for a couple of weeks…

Have you been challenged too? Do comment and share your thoughts and experiences…

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