Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Posts tagged ‘#Christianity’

People with learning disabilities are scared about the news too.

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This past month has been really difficult for me.  It was building up since before the Brexit vote, but that tipped the scales.  I’ve been worrying about even watching the news, wondering what horrible event will happen next.  I’ve been upset with the political situations in Britain, Turkey, America, and the middle east.  Upset about the violence, murder and persecution of people all around the world.  I’ve been trying to pray for those killed and hurt in attacks, not just in Europe, not just those splashed across the newspapers in our country, but the forgotten and ignored tragedies in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and other countries.

But I’m overwhelmed.  On top of the exhaustion that comes to every teacher at the end of the school year, I want to yell at God…”STOP THE WORLD…AND LET ME GET OFF!”  I’ve not been sure how to cope at all.

And it was in this state that I set up the ‘Day of Prayer for our Nation’ on Facebook. (Join me here if you still want to pray).  That did help a lot.  In searching the Bible for guidance and when a wonderful friend offered to help, we remembered our response to this world is to pray and to share God’s love.  Praying through those prayers as the day went on, really helped calm my troubled soul…and continue to do so.

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It is so important to include people with learning disabilities in our engagement with what is going on in the world. They worry too. They hear and are affected by what is going on, sometimes more directly than we are.  (Take the Government’s welfare reforms as an example). We can pray with them and give them access to praying with us if we help their communication.  The accessible prayers are just one example. Signing or pictures may help  some. I know L’Arche communities are wonderfully experienced in building the prayer lives of everyone in their communities.

On the Wednesday, at our usual Good News Group meeting we set aside some time to pray for our nation, using the accessible prayers that I had made for the Friday.  Each table had a set and the members and carers each chose a prayer to offer, in our usual ways of either reading it out themselves, a team member reading it for them or just by placing it in the centre of the table, showing that they are offering their prayers to God.

Everyone there took a prayer and offered it to the Lord. What really struck me was their real concerns and worries about Brexit and all that was happening.  People with learning disabilities hear things on the news and worry the same as the rest of us, we shouldn’t be surprised.  They too want to make sense of it all.  The comments I want to share with you show how much they care about this.

D, who isn’t a Christian but comes to the group every week, was really fascinated by the prayers we had set out on the table.  He said “I’m really glad you’ve put these out.  I don’t believe but I want you to pray about this…” and he passed a card to one of the team to pray. 

V said “I’ve been hearing about all this on the news. It’s terrible.  What’s going to happen, I don’t know.” and she chose a prayer for all the politicians. 

E said, “I’m worried about what will happen to my carer.  She’s not from this country.  I’m scared they are going to take her away, then who’s going to help me then? She’s lovely is my carer. I don’t want another one.” 

And all around the room, people with learning disabilities were joining in as prayer warriors for this nation.  Lord hear our prayers.  Lord have mercy.  Lord hear our prayers.

I’m hoping that others have joined us too.  I sent out the accessible prayers to a few people who asked for them, so if you were one of those, I’d love to hear how your prayer times went.

I feel that God has been sending me encouragement this week in two blogs I have read.  I am sharing them here and hope that if you feel overwhelmed and discouraged they will help you too.  Firstly Anthony Delany reminded me of the parable Jesus told us about how we should know that there is evil in this world. God is allowing the weeds and the wheat to grow in the ground together but he will protect his wheat and burn the weeds at the harvest.  It helped me.  And then Helen Murray encouraged me by reminding me of how Gideon felt when God asked him to fight the Midionites – and to go in the strength that we have because God is with us.  Thank you both.

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A very special talk, challenging how we ‘do’ church.

As promised, here is the full talk from Alma – her words are better than mine and so I am delighted that she has written this down for us. 

Last Weekend I was invited to share my thoughts about Mental Health and Church at a meeting of the Lancashire Roofbreakers.  Lynn has kindly allowed me to share the substance of that talk here.

How Safe is my Church?

It is interesting to consider how quickly our minds move towards physical and accommodation issues when considering this question. Or am I a minority of one?  I find it interesting when listening to others whose concern focuses on other disabilities. The need for ‘inclusion’ seems to equate to making sure people can all join together in one big crowd and how we manage to make it physically possible for that happen. This includes the size of our buildings, accessible doorways, seating etc.

As someone who has grown up in churches of all shades and opinions and who lives with a complex mental health condition the focus on the physical surrounding is irrelevant to me in helping me to feel included within the Church Family.

My biggest problem with Church is the people.  Not the attitude I encounter (although stigma remains a massive issue) but the fact that Church by its nature forces me to spend time with large numbers of people.  Let me explain why this would be a problem to me.  I have a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. It is sometimes now referred to as either Emotionally Unstable PD or Emotionally Sensitive PD.

Marsha Linehan, an American Clinical Psychologist who has created an effective therapy for BPD called Dialectical Behaviour Therapy and who finally admitted she herself shared the diagnosis, has summed up the experience of living with BPD as follows:

 ‘Borderline individuals are the psychological equivalent of third-degree-burn patients.  They simply have, so to speak, no emotional skin.  Even the slightest touch or movement can create immense suffering.’

Let’s just pause for a moment and imagine that the presence of other human beings, of any number can feel excruciating, then let me ask some questions about ‘how safe’ the way we do church, especially on Sundays, feels to me.

How Do We ‘Do’ Church?

  • Medieval

If you spend any time visiting the large spectacular buildings of our historic churches and cathedral, we can observe how the medieval church gathered.  It was often the largest building towns and villages and therefore was used for mass gatherings, there was no seating.  As a modern church we have inherited buildings from earlier generations.  From a purely appreciative perspective, it is fantastic to know that there is such a ‘Cloud of Witnesses’ who have gone before us.  Have they always worshipped solely in large spacious buildings, in large crowds, or has there been a different way of gathering together?

  • Victorian

If we have a legacy of physical spaces which force us to look at numbers over quality of relationship…What then of the timetable of fellowship in each week? The Victorians put pews into the large medieval structures, or mimicked them by building huge structures in the medieval image.  That means that it would feel like a waste if our main meeting together didn’t make use of this accommodation.  What about two large gatherings every Sunday?  Evening services effectively developed when Sunday Schools were at their height and churches needed to feed their Sunday School teacher spiritually. Is the way we plan services on a Sunday effective for today’s needs?

  • Big Crowds

When I am invited to join in with my church family I am caught in a conundrum. I know that the Bible exhorts us to ‘not give up meeting together’, but why do our gatherings focus primarily on large groups of people?  We like numbers, in a society where Christianity faces many challenges, sometimes our need to gather in large numbers can feel like a form of defence.  It’s okay if our large Victorian building is full, especially every Sunday.  We feel safe in large groups.  They’re anonymous.  If the presence of people inspires anxiety and panic in me, is it safe for everyone? What would happen if our focus moved from joining together as the whole church body (particularly in large and growing churches) and looked at how well supported our small groups are?  It’s easy to escape the challenges of living in fellowship if you only attend the large, well-attended meetings particularly on Sundays.  It also allows us to absolve our responsibility to be an inclusive church to the Welcome or Leadership Teams.

  • Family Focused

For many with Mental Health issues families are not safe places.  I need you to teach me and model for me what a loving family can be.  Is the emphasis on children, and the importance of family in the way you do Church, or hurting people who have internal wounds which need to be healed?  I found it interesting at our meeting of Roofbreakers how much time was spent discussing the needs of children in church with Learning Difficulties and the practical solutions offered to help them stay in Church.  Many of the solutions were on drawing people into the larger group.  The prospect of only being able to access Church if I am prepared to manage my emotionally responses enough to ‘cope’ with being in groups of 100+, terrifies me so much, most Sundays I either have to put in all my energy to staying there, or I opt out.

Woman Praying in Church

How Can We Do Church?

  • Redefine

Can we redefine church from being the gathering of EVERYONE in our circles on a Sunday to a broader definition?  How often do enjoy being able to share in the Spirit with the struggles of the church worldwide, while we neglect the regular remembrance of those who are housebound, or unable to join with us due to disability of any kind.  For me, the ability of friends in ones, twos and small groups to meet together and support me spiritually is vital to me feeling a part of the church.

Do we need to look again at where the church started?  3000 were suddenly added to the church at Pentecost, where did they all end up meeting?  They didn’t have large buildings, nor did they have the ‘evangelical timetable’.  You know the one: Sunday is Church, Monday is Ladies’ Prayer, Wednesday is Small Groups, Thursday/Friday is Youth.  Where is the idea that Church is ‘where one or two are gathered in my name’, or ‘Whenever they met together’…. If Church is only Sundays (I know and have heard many times, ‘Church is not the buildings but the people’) then is the way we define Church out of sync with what we believe about what Church should be?

  • Break Down the Numbers

What would happen if our focus was more on organising ourselves as mainly meeting as church in smaller groups?  What if our gathering of the ‘whole’ congregation became less regular, on a monthly basis, and the main point of teaching was within smaller groups? What if we sold our buildings off, or changed them to be an essential resource for the community, thereby having a daily presence of the Church in witness to the world?

  • Challenge Stigma

The best way to challenge any prejudice is to introduce the bigot to a real living person with whom they have to interact.  If you want to know how my experience of life and faith differs from yours, ask me.  In smaller groups it is easier to break down barriers.  Again if Church only means the big Sunday Services, it becomes very easy to pat me on the head and distance yourself from what I’ve been banging on about at the front.  Especially, if you misunderstand what Mental Illness is and how it affects people.

  • Relationship

My understanding of the gospel is that relationship is central to it.  In the beginning, God established that ‘it was not good for man to be alone’.

Before we are in relationship with God there is a vacuum.  Emptiness and isolation are common symptoms of a number of complex and more common mental illnesses.  It follows then, that the Church has hope to offer to people with Mental Health issues.  God understands that we were made for relationship.

Is the way we do Church at the minute designed to help us develop effective and satisfying relationships with one another?  I often have conversations with people about how dissatisfied they are with the lack of depth in their Church friendships.  That’s because we fail to apply God’s principles to our Church relationships.  We emphasise our relationship with God, rightly and stress the importance of time spent learning more and more about Him through prayer and Bible Study.

The Church is Christ’s Bride, that means that everyone of us form a part of one body, we are all united to one another in Christ.  Somehow, I think we have decided to accept that this mysterious, spiritual union, somehow negates the necessity to learn more about one another, in fellowship.

How do we do that? By spending time with one another, for me the most effective and safest way to get to know my Church Family is in ones and twos.  When I spend more time with you during the week, then there is a shared understanding when we come together for worship and fellowship as part of the wider family.  If I can see that I am accepted, that there are reliable relationships and true friendships, then it makes the struggle to get to the bigger meetings worth it.  How important, really is relationship and enabling the building of in-depth relationship, in the way we currently do church?

I am not offering any answers. I recognise the inherent challenge in much of what I have said.  However, I hope it helps us to engage with the thorny issues around probably the most isolated disability group in our churches.  Solutions and hope for relationships are welcome.

 

Three amazing talks at our Network meeting.

On Saturday 30th April we met for the fourth time as the Lancashire Roofbreakers network.  Over 20 of us met, and listened to 3 great talks that prompted a lot of discussion and questions, which was fantastic.

Talk 1 – setting up an additional needs ministry for children and the wider church

A small tent with sensory toys inside

James and Sarah talked to us about how they had planned to put provision in place for children with additional needs in their children’s activities on a Sunday morning. But more than that, they had put together a 3 part plan to develop awareness and engagement from the wider church, with the ultimate aim of getting everyone aware and equipped for including children, young people and adults in their church.

James had put together a training evening for the children’s workers, (which was very similar to the All Inclusive training done by Mark Arnold from Urban Saints) and has rolled up his sleeves to get involved in the Sunday children’s work each week. From there, he and Sarah can implement the advice, support others doing so and speak to parents of children with additional needs.  I was very impressed by the lengths they had gone to in order to listen to children and parents so that what they needed was made available. Sarah showed us some of the resources they were using and gave us chance to look at them through the morning.

Secondly, James and Sarah have attended leaders’ meetings and presented their vision and plan so that the leaders understand, know and can support what they are trying to do.  They have spoken to smaller committees and leadership teams and are hoping to speak to every group in the church.  This is a good approach…communication and having everyone be aware means that what they are trying to do will be understood, supported and hopefully adopted by others.

Finally, James and Sarah shared a wider vision…to reach out to the community. To tell them through the community newsletter what they are doing and what is available at the church for those with additional needs and disabilities.  We all know families and individuals that find church hard, or who came once and felt that they weren’t going to fit in, and they want to make a way for people to come back to church, or come for the first time, feeling that they will be understood and supported with care and acceptance.

Talk 2 – Disability and Jesus

Dave, Bill and Jarvis the Guide dog

We were excited that Dave, Jarvis the guide dog and Bill had travelled over from the North East to join us and grateful that the snow earlier in the week hadn’t stopped them coming.

They came to tell us about how and why Disability and Jesus was set up, what they believe about disability and about their conference in June.

First they talked about how they want to develop a Relational model of disability. Our society looks at disability as a medical (disabled by medical causes) or social (disabled by society excluding or not valuing) issue.  Relational is about that we are all this together – all of us.  As Christians, and human beings we are all in relation with each other and should be journeying together towards our goal of being more like Jesus.

Bill said that we are all made in the image of God.  A God who doesn’t make mistakes. They also spoke about Jesus how exercised an inclusive ministry. He drew in those who were excluded. His ministry was one of incredible inclusion and welcome. They then went on to talk about the difference between healing and cure.  Healing being, coming to terms with your disability and being at peace with who you are with that disability. Cure is taking that disability away. God can do that but the healing is the most important thing.  The important part of healing is peace with God.  It gave way to lots of interesting and important discussion about healing and the wants and hopes of different people.  Disability and Jesus will be giving people an opportunity to look at the Biblical basis of disability, healing and inclusion at their forthcoming conference https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/towards-a-theology-of-disability-tickets-24367371464?utm_term=eventurl_text

The practical application of being relational with people with disabilities in church is about stopping people building walls between groups of people. They suggested we ought to be radical about hospitality, inclusion, welcome.  Asking why do we segregate people? How can we all come together and make it accessible for everyone.

We should be doing what Jesus did and going out and finding disabled people, sharing the gospel and bringing them in from where they are.  Making sure that what they encounter is the right ATTITUDE.

It’s not the church building – it’s the welcome and attitude that speaks more than any ramps or accessible toilets.  It goes beyond ACCOMMODATION – providing separate access.  It’s about INCLUSION in what everyone does.

Being community, all flourishing TOGETHER is what God wants.

Talk 3 – Alma Johnson

Alma with her question that says, Is my church a safe place?

Alma began with a startling question…

“Is my church a safe place?”

She then shared some of her own testimony and challenges of having a personality disorder to challenge us all about what made church safe for people like her and other conditions, that meant being in one place with large crowds of people were just too overwhelming and therefore made church unsafe and inaccessible.

Alma herself has written a blog post about what she shared and so I will post it as the next blog so you can read it from her own words.

Reflections 2015 and Resolutions 2016

Our Welcome Booklet

Our Welcome Booklet

“But the true idea [of Genesis 1:26,28] is that you’re to invest your abilities to create value on the earth, to plant and to build and write and organise and heal and invent ways that bless people and cause God’s kingdom on earth to flourish.”   UCB Word for Today 28.12.15

“I remain confident of this, I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.  Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart, and wait for the LORD.”      Psalm 27:13-14

Reflections 2015

  1. It’s only when you stop and look back that you realise another year has gone by and wonder did you make it count? I could list all the time I’ve wasted, all the things I wished I’d done but didn’t and all the times and chances I missed to do something less selfish.  I’ve been spending time in the Psalms this year and all my faults, worries, regrets and concerns are there… and that is so comforting.  The best thing about the Psalms is that each one can be summed up as this…  “Life is often really rubbish; But GOD IS GOOD.”
  2. The Good News Group has continued to be a great joy in my life, but this year we have had some difficult times and challenges.  Towards the end of the year we seemed to be struggling and as leaders, we felt under attack.  We did, what we always know we need to do and that was to come back to prayer.  We realised that in our haste to get everything set up each week, our prayer time had been pushed aside and some weeks didn’t even happen.  So, with repentance we got back to praying and also hosted a whole church prayer meeting in the week of prayer. Things have been getting better since… we shouldn’t be surprised at that!
  3. Two of our GNG members went to be with the Lord this year and we do miss them.  It is so different when you know someone responded to the gospel and knew Jesus as their saviour. Praise God that these two men did.
  4. We’ve had three meetings of the disability network (now called Lancashire Roofbreakers) and we are very grateful for the network and support from Tim Wood at Through the Roof.  It is wonderful to see people from different churches coming together to see how we can promote and support more inclusion of people with disabilities.  One church has now started a children’s ministry which is very inclusive of children with additional needs and another has a regular autism friendly children’s event.  I am sure there is a lot more to come from within this group.  God willing.
  5. I had a BRILLIANT time as part of the Keswick Convention Team with Prospects in the summer.
  6. Over the past 6 years I have been collating the teaching materials we have written for adults with learning disabilities, on different books of the Bible. I am beginning to explore how we can share these with others and sent them out to a couple of people we might be able to partner with to make them available more widely.  We are blessed with a great Bible teaching church and have some new team members willing to write a session each term.

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Resolutions 2016 (Our prayer list!)

  1. To pray more…learning the lesson from this year, we cannot exist without making the Lord the focus of all we do.  He wants us to go forward in his will and bless us, so we cannot afford to lose our way by doing anything without God. We have loved teaching our members to pray at the Good News Group and we can make sure that we include them in praying for the things we teach, the relationships we have with each other and for those who are struggling.
  2. To make disciples… to help those who have been coming to GNG for a long time to grow in their faith and to make new disciples from the many people with learning disabilities and their carers whom we have not yet reached.  This is going to challenge us to get out and reach out to new people in our community.  The challenges include time to do so (many of our team work) and to pray for opportunities.  I think God wants to open doors for us and we want to be able to take those opportunities.
  3. To make our teaching materials available to others.  I’m in discussion about this, as I said, but whether it is put in printed form or online will be a decision to make.  I’m leaning towards an online version that people can subscribe to – what would you prefer? Would you use Bible study materials for adults with learning disabilities?
  4. To do all we can to reach out to other churches and support them in including children and adults with additional needs. Personally this will mean praying about how I can use my own experience to support churches, but also by putting on some courses such as Makaton training from Prospects, some courses from Through the Roof and the All Inclusive training from Urban Saints.  This will take some organising and marketing, so prayers for this will be appreciated.  I have an idea about putting on a conference later in 2016 or even the year after.  I’ve no idea how to do that, but if it is God’s will, I’m sure he can make it happen.

There, I am stopping before I get carried away.   If you could remember us in your prayers, that would be wonderful, and if you are involved in ministry with people with additional needs, tell us your prayer needs below and we will pray for you.  Our Good News Group love to pray and we will make a symbol for your prayers and add them to our sessions.

An example of an inclusive church!

Well, now December has hit us it’s full steam ahead for Christmas for many of us.  Here at St Andrew’s, the church is having a week of prayer and we are very excited at the Good News Group because one of the prayer meetings is at our meeting on the Wednesday night.

St Andrew's prayer meeting leaflet showing the Good News Group prayer meeting on the Wednesday

You can just spot us on the Wednesday (a clue – it’s in red!)

Of course we are going to do prayer the Good News Group way so it is accessible to all.  We will use our prayer trees and bowls. (the idea is for those who cannot or don’t want to speak to offer their prayer into the bowl as a way of joining in prayers.)

a small metal tree which we hang prayer cards onto

a wooden bowl which we put prayer pebbles into

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And I have been making some symbol supported prayers at different levels so those who need help praying can use them.

a set of cards with symbols of our prayer topics

As well as this we are practicing for our Christmas outreach service which happens next week.  This is one of the main outreach services the Good News Group has each year and we encourage our members to do the reaching out.  They invite their friends and family, neighbours and carers.  It will be great to share the Good News with so many more people.

I hope you are all remembering that God is working in all circumstances and loves you very much.

collection of names of Jesus word

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!

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