Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Posts tagged ‘#disabilityawareness’

Training the Team and a building a local Network

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It’s half term….phew! Well I used to think that when I was a teacher in school.  Although when my children were growing up it always felt like a busmans holiday, I’d still be surrounded by little ones demanding very minute of my time and who wanted entertaining.  In truth, I loved those weeks where we could go and learn through visiting museums, walks and journeying to anywhere we could get to on a train.  Have-railcard-will-travel.

A break and time to be refreshed is why we keep to term times at the Good News Group. It may seem strange when none of our members go to schools any more, but we have found that the break does help us all.  Some members do get a little anxious and need to know exactly how long it will be before the group starts again,  that is easily dealt with.  We give plenty of notice and visual or written reminders and each house gets a letter reminding them of the date we return.  These measures may seem simple but are vital to our group, many of whom are cared for in community homes, with a rota of carers and everyone needs to know what is happening and when.

Another reason we take a break is to look after the team of people who volunteer every week to support and teach at the Good News Group.  The first week of each new term we have a team meeting and along with prayer, sharing a meal together and planning all the practical things that help the weekly meetings go so smoothly (well, usually they go smoothly!) we get to learn about our members and share how best to support them.

This year our team asked if they could have some training about the different conditions that our members have.  So, I have trawled through the people I know and found some that will talk to us for an hour.  I started us off with a session about autism and the next session is about deafness.  After that I have lined up talks about Down’s Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy.  I am also talking to some of our members about their conditions and asking if they’d like to tell us about it. One or two have said they would but others have given permission for me to pass on what they have told me.

I think that training is really important and helpful in any ministry with people with disabilities.  I do believe in listening to the people who we are ministering with and learning about their abilities as well as their difficulties.  It is also helpful to have a wider overview of a condition.  We’ve had training in the past from http://www.prospects.org.uk which has been great and we highly recommend it.

We are also looking at what we can access locally.  This is a project I am starting, to build up a directory of people and organisations in our area that can offer training to church groups like ours.  We are partnering with http://www.throughtheroof.org to set up a North West Disability Network to try and bring people involved in supporting people with disabilties and people who are disabled together.  We want to see how we can encourage, support, share and build good inclusive ministries in the North West of England.

If you live in this area please consider joining this Network.  Our first meeting will be on the 25th of April 2015.  I will be putting a flyer on this and other sites as soon as they are ready, and you can also get in touch with me on Twitter @includedbygrace  or on my website  www.reachoutasc.com/churches. (The links and resources from my talk in Eastbourne last weekend are on the website too)

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Inclusion or separate provision?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You do not know the seeds you plant?

Leyland Band

    Leyland Brass Band were amazing last night. A world class brass band who happen to come from our town and doing a concert in our church. I never thought I would love brass bands so much, but then I never thought our 15 year old son would be playing trombone in another local brass band, either.
It was at primary school when a brass playing headteacher arranged for the whole year group to have free brass lessons for a year. The instruments were given out by size, so being one of the taller ones, our son got a trombone. A seed was planted that was watered and nurtured in him and still amazes us, his parents who are not musical at all.
The same sort of thing happened when I was a girl. It wasn’t music that someone planted into my life, but church. An elderly lady took my best friend to Sunday School with her every week. One week I was playing outside my house and she asked if I’d like to go too. Like the Pied Piper, she walked a long route to church, collecting various children, about 5 or 6 each week, and took them to church. None of our parents or siblings were interested in going and so, if she hadn’t have planted those seeds, I would have not have loved the Bible stories and Wesleyan hymns that still are the foundation of my faith.

‘My food,’ said Jesus, ‘is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, “It’s still four months until harvest”? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying “One sows and another reaps” is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour.’ (‭John‬ ‭4‬:‭34-38‬ NIVUK)

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In our ministry to adults with learning disabilities we planted cress seeds last week.  Some of the members came back this week very excited that their seeds were growing.  We want the seeds of the gospel to grow in their lives too.  We don’t always know what they already know.  Some have been to church with their families and tell us about their faith (such as Liz who wrote a blog post for us – https://includedbygrace.wordpress.com/2014/10/23/what-one-member-thinks-of-the-good-news-group/ )  Others are unable to tell us and others we know have never been to church before coming to our group.

A retired church leader once said to me “Why bother teaching the Bible to people with learning disabilities when they have the understanding of a three year old?” … after quickly composing myself, I forgave him his ignorance (we are all ignorant until God open’s our eyes) and talked to him about how this was a wrong assumption and asked him would he teach the Bible to a 3 year old.  He said yes, but not all of it as they couldn’t understand.  But for the fact that it is a completely wrong assumption, we talked about the power of God’s word and how we cannot limit it’s power by assuming someone can’t understand it.  It lead very well into the session I was delivering about how to communicate the Bible in accessible ways!!

We are farmers of God’s word, in this ministry and in all ministries.  We are sowing the seeds of the gospel to EVERYONE and we are harvesting the souls who receive it in faith.  But let’s not forget that God is the gardener, it is he who brings the water and the sunshine to nurture and grow those seeds and it not for us to exclude any people because we think they can’t understand it.   Let’s not be a barrier to God’s power and transforming Spirit. read this

I think we also need to be sowing lots of seeds to help others in the church understand that including people with learning disabilities in their fellowships is something they need to do, and have high expectations of how they can receive the gospel, be ministers of God’s grace and serve the church family just as we all can.   This is the purpose of this blog and why I’m so privileged to be involved with the Additional Needs Alliance, Prospects, Through the Roof, Urban Saints and Churches for All.  I’m privileged to speak about what we do, be interviewed and write about it…anything that will help and equip others to become involved in a fabulous, rewarding and amazing ministry.   I’m currently getting my talk together for the Additional Needs Alliance forum and Hand in Hand Conference in Eastbourne  http://www.handinhandconference.com/  and wondering if I can get one of our GNG puppets into my suitcase…

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

5 things to learn from the Parables

 

Singing and Signing "Come and join the celebration".

Singing and Signing “Come and join the celebration”.

The Good News Group’s Christmas service was amazing! We had lots of visitors and the members told the story of Jesus’s birth together, everyone doing their part so well. We were blessed to have the minister from our sister church at Buckshaw village, Who did a great talk linking it all together with the message that Jesus the baby grew to be the man who died for us on the cross….You should have been there!

This term we head back into the New Testament and are going to look at some parables we haven’t covered before, except one. As always we have chosen a main point for each session and all our teaching is about who Jesus is and why he came.

Jesus often used parables in his teaching. He taught them in a way which  people of the day could understand. Jesus used terms and pictures which his hearers would have been familiar with. His hearers would often be captivated by the parables and would then discover that they had been about themselves. So they are just as relevant to us today because they both reveal and conceal truths about God and ourselves. There are 5 sessions so, we are going to look at 5 parables. They are, THE SOWER, THE WICKED TENANTS, THE GOOD SAMARITAN, THE WEEDS, THE WEDDING FEAST.

Parables can be tricky for those of our group who only understand things literally. We also have members who can understand the meaning and will tell us what they think about it. By keeping things simple and direct, we are hoping that all our members and carers can understand the gospel. We want them to know they have a choice and that being accepted by God is as simple as accepting and believing his Son.  We will be using our usual communication approaches such as clear explanation, short sentences, repetition of key phrases, slower pacing, sensory engagement, signing and drama or puppets – not all at once of course!  So our 5 points are:

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  1. Jan 14th The Parable of the Sower (Mt 13:3-23)  Main Teaching Point: People treat the Good News of Jesus in different ways. 
  2. Jan21st The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mt 21:33-41)   Main Teaching Point : We can’t share in God’s promises unless we obey Him.
  3. Jan 28th The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:30-37)   Main Teaching Point : Our love for God is shown by how we treat each other.
  4. Feb 4th The Parable of the Weeds (Mt 13:24-30 & 36-43)  Main Teaching Point : God will, one day separate the people of the world. 
  5. Feb 11th The Parable of the Wedding Feast (Mt 22:2-14)   Main Teaching Point : It’s foolish to refuse God’s invitation.

We are looking forward to this term and can’t wait to see our members after the 3 week break.

IN OTHER NEWS

On February 6th -8th I’m travelling all the way down to Eastbourne to speak about ways to make Bible stories and worship more accessible for children with disabilities.  This is at the kind invitation of Kay Morgan-Gurr and Mark Arnold who run the Additional Needs Alliance (join their page on Facebook – it’s great).  I’ve never seen my photo online as a conference speaker before and it all seems quite surreal – but I’m looking forward to the adventure (no least the actual travelling, and praying for no snow or delays!)

http://www.handinhandconference.com/conferences-training/2015-timetable/  – if you are there and have read my blog – please do come and say hello!

God Bless you

Lynn

Consider the history of people with learning disabilities in discipling them

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Did you watch “Call the Midwife” over the Christmas break?  For those of you who didn’t, it’s a drama set in the 1950s and 60s about midwives in the East End of London.  This Christmas episode focussed on a group of unmarried mothers in a mother and baby ‘home’.  It was a bit (well, a lot) sanitised in the programme but reminded me of the way unmarried and pregnant girls used to be treated.  Their babies were often taken from them (whether they wanted it or not) and we can only imagine the effect on a whole hidden layer of our society – the mothers and the children, still alive and whose lives were forever changed by the decisions that were made.

My own grandmother was an unmarried mother in the 1930s. She had a terrible time as the family outcast, but the kindness of her sister and later reconciliation with her parents enabled her to bring up my dad as a single mum.  No wonder she was always such a fiercely determined woman!  Yes, things changed in society in the 1960s and 1970s but there are centuries of ill treatment and children being abandoned to overcome.  History is full of the illegitimate children of kings, but so many ordinary people must have been in the same situation, outcasts from the start.

The same attitudes went for those who were born with disabilities.  So many were outcasts and later in history shut away in large institutions. Some families bravely kept them at home, but education and employment were hardly options for these children.  Education and inclusion for people with learning disabilities, is a rather new concept.  In history we read about the ‘village idiot’ and the Victorian ‘asylums’, of homeless and neglected people with little opportunity in life but to rely on the charity of others.  Life expectancy was low for many people with learning and other disabilities.

Are you glad that you live in these times.  We have an imperfect but much improved education system.  It is enshrined in law that a broad and balanced education is a right for all.  We have social and national health services and community living.  There are some opportunities for employment.   Oh yes…there is far to go and much to complain about…but what if we start from a place of gratitude.  What we do have is a blessing and we can build upon the work of others and make it better in the future.

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In our churches, communities and towns are people with disabilities in their 40s, 50s, 60s and older who were born and raised when times were very different. In our group we have at least one person who grew up in a large institution… a large ‘metal’ hospital.  (As it was known). Now living in the community and well integrated into ordinary life, it is easy to forget how this early experience might have shaped his life.  Do we take the time to ask sensitively about the early lives of the people with learning and other disabilities in our churches?  it is easy to assume that they had schooling and support when they were younger…and maybe they did…but asking them about it might reveal some very interesting insights into the way they have been treated and brought up.  And be careful…we need to be very sensitive to safeguarding and respecting privacy.  Did you know that if an adult with disabilities reveals abuse or accusation to you, then it is their right to report it OR NOT?  This is the difference between adults and children, even if they are vulnerable.  I can cover this issue in another post if people are interested.

If we are to minister to the whole person and disciple them, then we do need to be aware of where they have come from.  I know from my own experience how Jesus ministers to the deepest and most vulnerable parts and heals what has hurt me or made me think wrongly.   People who have learning disabilities and maybe don’t have the words to say or work out what they need healing for, may be able to tell you about their childhood or early experiences.  A parent or carer may know some things that can help.  Then we must pray.  Only Jesus can tell us where to be sensitive and where to challenge.  Only Jesus knows each of us and all we have been through.  He knows what has shaped us for good or ill, and can heal….oh…he can heal…and make us whole in spirit.   It is how we are disciple and how we grow.  Praise God that none of us are different or excluded from this.

A Living Hope – 1 Peter 1:3-9

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God has great mercy, and because of his mercy he gave us a new life. This new life brings us a living hope through Jesus Christ’s resurrection from death. Now we wait to receive the blessings God has for his children. These blessings are kept for you in heaven. They cannot be ruined or be destroyed or lose their beauty.

God’s power protects you through your faith, and it keeps you safe until your salvation comes. That salvation is ready to be given to you at the end of time. I know the thought of that is exciting, even if you must suffer through different kinds of troubles for a short time now. These troubles test your faith and prove that it is pure. And such faith is worth more than gold. Gold can be proved to be pure by fire, but gold will ruin. When your faith is proven to be pure, the result will be praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ comes.

You have not seen Christ, but still you love him. You can’t see him now, but you believe in him. You are filled with a wonderful and heavenly joy that cannot be explained. Your faith has a goal, and you are reaching that goal—your salvation.

Face to Face…

This week I’m very excited to have my first ever guest blogger!  Maureen Chapman has been commenting on my posts for some time and this week I challenged her to contribute from her own perspective as a deaf person.

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The challenges faced by the deaf and hard of hearing in both church situations and the wider society!

Believe me, they are many and frustrating too. So where to begin?

Deaf people are human beings, with just one part of their bodies not working properly.

Deaf people are not all the same. I will use mainly my own experiences here. You are face to face with me.

So who am I? In my seventies, ex mission nurse/midwife working in Nepal in the 1960‘s, married and with my husband, ex-hotelier and mini -market owner.

I was born into a deaf family, my father, his brothers, my own brother and his two daughters have all been deaf from birth. We have varying degrees of deafness, mine was slight as a child, and then nosedived when I reached my forties, partly due to Meniere‘s disease which destroys hearing.

Deafness is not just absence of sound, though some are born without any ability to hear and some completely lose any hearing they have for various reasons.

Most deaf folk do hear some sound, but what exactly do they hear? The times people have repeated something to me and then triumphantly said, well you heard that, so you are not deaf!

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Think of a piano, the black and white keys each responsible for giving a particular sound. When all is in tune and played by a pianist, the music is great, moving engaging our emotions with joy and delight.

But now imagine a scenario of a piano where some keys don’t work at all, other keys give reduced sounds and more keys make distorted, out of tune, noises. The result when a pianist tries to play would definitely not be sweet music.

Or perhaps you are familiar with people getting agitated while using a mobile phone and the signal fails. ‘Its breaking up, I can’t hear you are you still there?’

Or perhaps you are familiar with the kind of quiz where you have to identify words, which have no vowels eg c–c- -t- f-s- what does that phrase mean? (catch the fish)

That’s how I hear. People become impatient with me because I am slow to respond, but my brain is working overtime trying to fill in the gaps, make sense of a gobbly-de-gook mish-mash of noises and come up with a sensible answer. When I get it wrong, I am judged as stupid, not suitable, a person the be side-lined. ‘Oh it doesn’t matter,’ they say and move on without me. It hurts.

Deafness is a hidden, invisible disability. Couple that with poor or limited sight and the problems pile up.

Deaf people live with this problem all the time, and the concentration needed to interpret what they are mis-hearing is intense. That’s why many of us have scowly faces! We are concentrating so hard we forget to smile and laugh.

Face to face is essential. We ‘hear’ through lip-reading, watching the body language and the unconscious signals people make as they talk. If I can’t see, I can’t hear.

Phone. The first point of contact with most authorities such as banks, the doctor’s surgery, making appointments etc is by phone. What if you can’t use a phone? I can’t.

A friend of mine, called Joanna, recently gave birth to a baby girl, who needed her first heart operation at the age of 3 weeks. The first four months were spent in hospital. Then the great day, take the baby home! But Joanna is profoundly deaf, and has a cochlear implant. She left hospital with needing to make 9 appointments with hospitals/medical workers in London, Bristol and the West Country where she lives, for the baby. Every appointment needed phone calls. Why could not a ‘helper’ come alongside her and help with such vital phone calls? Why expect her to hear over the phone when she can’t? Would you expect a blind person to read forms and fill them in? Would you expect a paralysed person to walk somewhere?

So face to face is vital for clear communication. Friendship is even better. Understanding is like pure gold.

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About Maureen Chapman

I officially became a Christian at a Billy Graham rally at Wembley Stadium in the 1950’s, but with hindsight, I think I came to faith as a small child.

At the age of 5 I told my teacher I wanted to become a missionary, and I did become one, a nurse/midwife serving 4 years in Nepal in the 1960’s despite my mild deafness as it was then.I passed my language exams in Nepalese.

I have always seen God as my father and friend. He has never let me down. Even now, at my age, he is more real to me every day.

The church I attend now in the Swansea Valley, is very much a mission minded church, with lots of young people and contacts world-wide.

I hope you enjoyed this post from Maureen.  It is a useful reminder to me to think about my friends and family members who have trouble hearing.  Not to be impatient with them and to understand how much being face to face with them will help us both have a great time of communication.  Thank you Maureen x

It’s Christmas!

Donkey’s, sheep, kings, innkeepers, shepherds, Mary, Joseph, angels, robots, dinosaurs and aliens…

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Yes, it’s the Nativity season, and in my primary teaching years it was the most stressful yet exciting and yes, shedding-a-tear-time in the whole year.  We generally kept to the Nativity theme, although some links were quite tenuous! My favourite one was done completely in rhyme, the whole way through.  I managed to get about 5 consecutive years out of that one…but then someone brought in ‘The Grumpy Innkeeper’ and we had to go with that…but still…

Do you remember the Nativities you were involved with as a child?  I have vivid memories of going to school in my pyjamas when I was 7 years old…and the song…”Girls and boys, leave your toys, make no noise, kneel at His crib and worship Him…” I can still remember most of the words!

My worst experience was at Sunday School. There was a lack of boys in the group and they needed a Joseph…I can’t tell you the embarrassment of being a 12 year old girl being forced to be Joseph in the Nativity…the only saving feature is that they made me wear a beard – and so at least I wasn’t that recognisable.  My brother took the mickey out of me for ages after that!

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Finally, in my last year at primary school I got to be Mary, with lines to learn and everything.  My best friend was angel Gabriel, but we kept being late for before-school rehearsals and were threatened with the sack!  We weren’t sacked in the end, phew! My mum remembers this performance with pride, but only because I carried on courageously as the scenery collapsed around me…and stood my ground as I refused to hold Joseph’s hand as we walked around the school hall on our way to Bethlehem!

We all remember the Nativity and children everywhere are going through the same story these next few weeks. for many of them it will be the only time they hear anything about God’s Son Jesus and let us pray that seeds will be sown as they wonder who this baby was and what relevance he has to their lives.

Churches too are gearing up for the celebration….and we too, at the Good News Group are getting ready to share our version of the wonderful story this Wednesday.  Please pray for us.  It is our main outreach of the year and we encourage all our members to invite their friends, housemates, families and carers to come and share in our joyful celebration.  All our members are involved and doing something, reading, praying, acting, puppeteering and the tableau that we will create as we go along will not leave a dry eye in the church!

Here’s a photo or two of our service last year, and if you are local – come and join us 5.45pm start, Leyland St Andrew’s church!

Actors and Readers

Actors and Readers

Singing and Signing "Come and join the celebration".

Singing and Signing “Come and join the celebration”.

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