Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Posts tagged ‘#asdfamilies’

“My church is on Tuesday and we have a train set.”


This is a guest blog from Elizabeth Mellor who runs an Additional Needs Ministry called “Take 5 take5& Chat”.  I thought it would be good for us to look at what kinds of Additional Needs Ministries were out there and give you some ideas about what you could do too. 

Whitley Bay is a small seaside town in the Far North East of England (FNEofE) and is famous for many reasons. We have St Mary’s Lighthouse, the Ice Rink – and the town has been used as the setting for many films and music videos. Whitley Bay is also the first town to run a Take 5 & chat Café Drop-in, supporting families who have children with additional needs.

It is a sad fact that many churches struggle to be a truly welcoming place for families who have children with additional needs. I know that there are many success stories but I have heard of so many families who take turns to attend church, look after their own children in church settings, or give up and do something more family friendly on Sundays instead.

So I wondered what the church could bring to the lives of families in our communities who face extra challenges? I wondered what ‘church’ could look like.

I thought about being the parent at the school gate whose child isn’t meeting the same targets as others. Perhaps their child isn’t invited to parties. Perhaps the teacher often has stuff to report at the end of each day. Perhaps their child is excluded by physical reasons from taking part in everything. When the other parents chat about the weekend, the holidays, the classroom, the reading scheme, this parent feels isolated and alone.

What about setting up something that meant these parents, from different schools in the area, could meet together, as if at the school gate? What might this look like?

It’s a while since my children were at school and my next step had to be to see if this was still needed. So on 9th March 2015, after much prayer and planning, I launched a Facebook Page as a ‘place to just be’ for those caring for children with additional needs. The intention was to reflect a face-to-face Café Drop-in on a Facebook Page. It hit the ground running and I saw quickly that the need was still there.

We opened as a friendly, accessible café at Whitley Bay Baptist Church in June 2015 and the Drop-in now opens every other Tuesday afternoon, all year round. The parents asked that we stay open through the school holidays as most activities close.

We have hot drinks and homemade cakes. We have activities and some toys – and a play leader in the holidays, but the children remain in the care of their parents. We are a friendly café, not a play scheme.

Neither are we here to directly promote our faith or attendance at our church on Sundays. We open for the parents to have a safe place to be, “an oasis”, as one parent said. God walks amongst us whether or not we recognise him.

Once relationships were established and everyone felt safe together, a number of the parents asked if we could offer any parenting courses, which we could, and did. (I am a trained Facilitator for Care for the Family’s Time out for Parents… but maybe that’s another blog post!)

So now there are over 30 families who ‘drop in’ to a room at the side of our church. They have found support and encouragement. They come with friends, they make new friends, they share the names of helpful teachers at local schools and tell each other where to go for further support and advice. They keep in touch via a closed Facebook Group. Whenever our team is a bit stretched, these parents eagerly step up to help set up, serve at the ‘counter’, clear up or talk to new parents. Because Take 5and chat Café Drop-in is their place and they belong.


Most of the parents have never been involved in any kind of church before.

Some ‘sign in’ on Facebook at the church.

Many now describe our church as their church.

On Tuesdays. With cake… and a train set.

 Our Founder & Coordinator, Beth, is available to talk with your team, or to your church/faith group, about setting up a Café Drop-in for those parenting children with additional needs. Sometimes having someone from outside explaining it can really help! (Fee is dependent on time and distance, and is to cover costs, please ask.)

If you would like to run a ‘Take 5 & chat’ Café Drop-in, using our name and logo, there is a one-off License fee allowing use of our name and logo to named individuals. We send you digital copies and a certificate. You can use this for your closed Facebook group, on mugs & aprons. (There is a good supplier!)

If you choose your own name, then please acknowledge us if you use any of our general wording or ideas. We can still help you get started!


Website (coming soon)


Additional Needs Ministry – Local Needs

As I attempt to add my advice to the other good advice that is out there – I was thinking about how ministry for people with additional needs may be quite diverse. It is a good idea, even once you have collected lots of good ideas from other places to then stop and reflect on the needs in your locality.
If you have spent time praying and getting your leadership on board there is further research you can do.


What are the needs in your local community?

Who comes to your church? If anyone comes with additional needs talk to them, get them on your team and ask them what works and what does not in your church.

Are there families with children with SEN? Do you have a special school near by? Are there support groups, or other services in your area?

Are there homes for adults with learning disabilities? Is there a day centre? Try contacting the local social services and ask them what services they provide.  If you can make contact with someone and meet them for coffee, outlining what you are doing, it can be a very useful contact indeed.  Our Good News Group has been advertised on social and other services websites.

Do the people who come to your church know anyone with additional needs?  Families? Neighbours? Friends?

Do you have anyone who works with or is knowledgeable about any kind of additional need? (Especially if the person has that need. They can be invloved in awareness training and equiping others to meet needs effectively).

This is a good time to get all your church involved.  You could do a talk (or get your pastor / vicar to do it!). I once did one to recruit new team members and used a great DVD clip from Prospects where adults with learning disabilities talked about their faith.  You could use a parable, for example the Good Samaritan. Be creative and be visual to help people see as well as hear what you are talking about.

I would ask the congregation to do the detective work with me.  All of them could look something up on the internet, speak to their family and neighbours or investigate where they live. Do a survey of your local needs and provision together and collate this so that you can see more clearly what there is and who there is.

When you have all this information collated you are then ready for the next step…

…deciding what your church should do first.  Brainstorm and prioritse…

Then pray.   And see what the Lord will guide you to do.

Hope this helps someone out there. Do let me know how you’re getting on or if you have done this kind of activity before – how useful was it?

Book giveaway result and help for everyone.

Party Hat

 I put the five names in a hat (yes, it really was a hat) and drew out the name of the person who I will give the book ‘Making Church Accessible’ to.

So congratulations to Jeanette –  I have sent you an email.

However, everyone who commented has a serious desire to make church more accessible and so in my next few posts I am going to give some ideas, resources and links to help you get started.  I will share our experiences of setting up and running a group for adults with learning disabilities, my experiences of supporting a teenager with autism through youth group and supporting younger children with additional needs in church and holiday club.  We may even have some great guest posts too. 

It will be great if people reading will post comments so we can learn from each other and start a dialogue.

So…we ask…where do we begin?

So many of us can be paralysed by feeling out of our depth, alone, confused, unworthy, thinking we don’t know enough or are not bold enough to tackle a new thing….and here we are talking about a huge issue of making the church more inclusive to people with additional needs. The task can seem too big.

Well, the good news is that I have heard of a few other people who were asked by God to do some tasks for him…and they complained, refused, ran away, made a mess…and still the task was done.

You might have heard of them too…some of them were called Moses, Jonah, Esther, Joseph, Jacob, Noah, David, Naomi….

What they all had in common was human faliability. So, that puts us in good company then!

What they all had in common too – was that God did the work and made it all happen the way he wanted to in the end.  He uses unexpected people to do amazing things. He uses the weak to speak up to the powerful and shows us that HE is the powerful one. 

So my STEP 1 of making the church more inclusive is to surrender all that you desire, feel, think, dream of doing  to Jesus.  Give it to him and pray, pray, pray.  Maybe your prayers could say:

“I will not do my own thing but your will Lord.  I will not give up but trust you to overcome all things Lord.  I will listen to you and to others. I will step out in faith, knowing my own helplessness and inadequacy, and do it anyway. Amen”

The next thing is to get others to pray with you.  Maybe give them a little prayer card and ask them to commit to praying for you and your church.   Remember if it is your own child you are concerned about, what you do will benefit many more, and I know from the comments on my blog that people have big hearts for this work.

Just a little tip – add pictures to your prayer card. They appeal to people and help them process quickly what you are about.   Here is an example – I would use clipart but  photos would do just as well as long as they are specific to what you are asking.   (Sorry – Due to technical difficulites my pictures would not add to this example.)


Please Pray 


  1. For a group of people who will join me in setting up and supporting ministry for children and adults with additional needs in our church.


  1. For God to lead all our church to have a willing and open heart for people with additional needs.


  1. For the resources, training and outside help we might need.


  1. For children, families and adults with additional needs to want to come to church and know Jesus.


  1. For boldness and courage to start making contacts and relationships with people with additional needs and their families and carers.

I realise that everyone reading this may be at differnt stages and already be some way down the line of doing this work. I am starting from the beginning so that everything is in context.  I start with this post because even many years down the line prayer is fundamental to everything we do and achieve.

It’s SO Wrong!


Today I was enraged.…I don’t often feel angry, furious, cross, mad, outraged, annoyed, irritated, infuriated, incensed, indignant, irate, incandescent, irascible, piqued or hot under the collar. I’m usually so calm….

But today I was talking to a fellow professional who told me about a family she worked with who had been asked to leave their church because of the disrupting behaviour of their autistic son….

My first response was to think…surely not? I asked questions, I needed to clarify, to check this second-hand information was really what had happened…and yes, the person had supported the family through that time, she was adamant.  They were devastated.

So am I.

I am a person who always tries to see every side of the situation or issue. I am the lone voice sometimes offering a perspective on the actions of others, sticking up for both sides to find common ground, offering advice to restore relationships.

I TRIED to reason what might have made a church do this to a family with a child with special needs.


But for once I failed.

I am devastated for this family who had to leave their community and network of friends and fellow believers. They were cast out, leaving them wounded and confused.

Why would a church do this? 

In my kindest moment I imagine they might have felt overwhelmed, not knowing how to meet this family’s needs. I imagine they might have exchanged cross words and fallen out?

I feel hurt, upset, enraged because as much as I love Jesus, as his church we sometimes don’t really reflect his grace to each other.  If I thought this really was an isolated event then perhaps I could explain it away and carry on just looking for the good churches who are trying to include and support those with additional needs. I am glad they are there…but I am worried there are other families and individuals with additional needs out there who have been thrown out, ostracised or made to feel that they don’t belong in church.  Made to feel unwelcome because they don’t conform, sit quietly and have needs that challenge us all to change.  How can we be brothers and sisters in Christ, God’s family,  when this happens?

Over to you:

I am scared of asking….but do you know of these things happening too?

P.S.  I am glad to report that the family have found a new and welcoming church. I pray for their hurts to be healed and for them to be restored.

Effective communication is efficient communication.

Thought this was worth another look!

To communicate effectively with an autistic person – don’t use too many words.

I am a great waffler! In fact, I could get a medal waffling for my country.   I love words, explaining things and even (now don’t be shocked) talking about the weather. I have been known to be a bit nosey, occasionally gossip (sorry) and even nag. But guess what? Effective communication is efficient communication.

1. Say what you mean.  Mean what you say.

2. Keep it short and simple.

3. Say what you want, not what you don’t want

4. Don’t repeat things too quickly.

5. Use the person’s name first.

6. Leave clear pauses for the person to reply.

7. Be relaxed and stop rushing, we always seem to be in a rush don’t we?

I tried this out on my own kids when they were younger. You might recognise the scenario… It’s 7.55am. Everyone needs to be out of the house by 8.00am. Oldest child has yet to emerge from their room, youngest is still eating their toast. Mum goes into full nagging and panic mode,
“Have you made your lunch? Where’s your shoes? Have you got everything in your bag? Don’t forget to brush your teeth! And you’ll need your coat, it’s raining. Come on, you’ve only got 5 minutes. I said COME ON, GET A MOVE ON.”
Mum then runs to the bottom of the stairs,
“Oi, you’d better be out of bed, you’ve got 5 minutes………” (and repeats the entire tirade!

I hated getting to work stressed and minus something really important (usually my lunch) because I’d been nagging the kids so much, we’d barely got out of the house in one piece and in time.

The above points needed to be put in practice. They worked for the children I worked with so I tried them out on my own.

Now the morning went like this:
It’s 7.55am. Everyone needs to be out of the house by 8.00am. Oldest child has yet to emerge from their room, youngest is still eating their toast. Mum goes into calm and effective communication mode.

“Right, child eating toast. Finish your toast, then shoes, bag, teeth. Go!”

Mum goes to top of stairs, knocks on door of older child and says,

“Morning older child. In 5 minutes I’ll see you downstairs with your bag, shoes on and teeth clean.”

Mum retires to kitchen, picks up her lunch and finishes off her coffee.
At 8am the whole family is ready and out!

And believe it or not, with a bit of practice, this really worked.

What does effective communication look like in your house?

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