Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Posts tagged ‘#friends’

Fear of Disabilities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nurse Holding Elderly Patient's Hand

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

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

 

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Puppet skills workshop for adults with learning disabilities.

All the room was full of people using puppets

What a great workshop we had. Everyone engrossed in activity.

Two years ago I introduced puppets to the Keswick Convention Prospects sessions and they were very popular.   Molly came to ask lots of questions and we held a puppeteering workshop on the Tuesday afternoon.  Here’s a reminder:  People, puppets and praise.

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These two ladies are very good puppeteers!

Last year my daughter and her friend, who both are on the team of our Good News Group,  took a similar workshop.

This year I wanted to move the puppet skills on and teach something more useful for those who had done puppets with us before.  We also had to make sure that the language and processing levels were right for the group too.  So this is what we did…

First we taught the whole group the basic puppet skills such as making the puppet look at the audience, how to use their wrist and arm for different kinds of movement, how to show expressions and character traits.  My daughter then taught us all some basic dance moves such as ‘the walk’,  ‘the slide’, the shimmy’ and ‘the bop’!

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We then split into two groups and I took my group to a classroom to learn how to have a conversation between two puppets…using ‘knock, knock’ jokes.  I was thrilled that this worked really well.  Participants were able to practice their lip-syncing and puppet eye-contact and taking turns in a simple conversation.  Followed by a hearty laugh at the end!

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My daughter taught the other group a simple co-ordinated dance to the song “Happy” by Pharrel Williams.  They worked in pairs to make their puppets dance together following the sequence she had devised.  Again, this worked really well.

Feedback.

  • Two years ago one woman loved the puppets so much that she got her mum to buy her a puppet just like Molly.  Since then she has been almost inseparable from her puppet, called Jessica, and she uses Jessica to be her communication and confidence support.  This young woman has grown in confidence a lot since she bought Jessica.
  • An older woman with dementia had come along with her family.  She held a teddy bear puppet all through the session and learned to make it dance.  When she came to our meeting this morning, she asked for the puppet again so she could sit with it.  It made her smile.
  • A woman from Malaysia visiting the Convention said she had been taught how to make puppets and had made many…but hadn’t been sure how to use them.  This session gave her lots of ideas and the confidence to develop some ways of using the puppets in her setting in that country.
  • The whole afternoon was such a delight.  Everyone who came was involved, engaged and was able to access the session.  Special thanks go to Karen, our signer, who enabled one of our deaf guests to access every part of the dance teaching session through using some very inventive and imaginative strategies!  She also made very good use of my signing puppet and named him “Hans”.

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Why use puppets?

Puppets seem to appeal universally to all ages and abilities.  We’ve always find that most adults with learning disabilities find them fascinating and enjoyable.  And they can be age appropriate by the actions and content you use with them.  For example, we often use our puppets to bring a Bible character to life.  Our puppets can also cover current affairs, discuss difficult issues and ask all the questions you often wish you could.  They also are a great source of humour and can easily be cheeky which often makes the listeners laugh and be on the puppets’ side.

Puppets can also be used for ‘singing’ along to a song or dancing to it.  This can enhance worship and sometimes provide a reflective visual performance for people to engage with.

Puppets can be the ‘voice’ of someone who is shy or finding it hard to communicate.  Like the young woman in our group, the puppet can build a character that they wish they were able to be, and in time, build their own confidence so that they can do things they wouldn’t have done before.  For example, that same young woman now sits with different people in church apart from her mother.  This is helping her learn to become more independent.

There are lots of other things too which I can write at another time.  I’m so tired today as we had a party after being on the main stage on Wednesday (I’ll write about that next!) and I didn’t get to bed till 1.00am.  I never stay up that late!!!

Oh, and my daughter and her boyfriend got engaged here in Keswick yesterday…. 😀

 

Can we all be a bit more like Angela please?

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Psalm 131 (NIRV)

A song for those who go up to Jerusalem to worship the Lord. A psalm of David.

Lord, my heart isn’t proud.
My eyes aren’t proud either.
I don’t concern myself with important matters.
I don’t concern myself with things that are too wonderful for me.
I have made myself calm and content
like a young child in its mother’s arms.
Deep down inside me, I am as content as a young child.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forever.

I’ve just come home after attending the funeral of one of our Good News Group members.  Angela had Down’s Syndrome and lived to be 61.  She lived with her family and was part of a church that loved and accepted her as she was.  She’d been at the GNG for many years but hadn’t been attending for almost a year due to being ill….but she is and always will be part of our family.  We will miss her very much.

You see Angela didn’t have very many words but those she did have she used to great effect.  She introduced herself to everyone – literally everyone – by going up to them with a huge smile on her face and greeting them with “Hello, my name is Angela” in a beautiful sing song voice.

Angela loved handbags, football and colouring in.  She loved music and singing worship songs and got so excited when we had puppets that we used to just get them out of the box and sit one next to her, just to share in her delight.  She had a twinkle in her eye that told us when she was joking or pulling our leg and Jesus shone in her and from her every pore. And Angela could say “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” because that came from one of her favourite films.

Angela was never judgemental.  She had no regard for status or rank.  She treated everyone the same whether she liked you or you had done something that annoyed her (although she was never mad for long).   Angela lived each day just for that day and didn’t seem to worry about the future.  She did love and engage with everyone around her, no matter who you were.   The Queen would have had the same greeting as a pauper.

A bit like the Jesus I know.

I’m tired of people being excluded from church families because they are different, don’t fit the mould or are the wrong kind of person.  “Are you disabled? Well, you can’t do this or that.   Are you a woman…then, you can’t do this or that.  Are you LGBT?…then, you can’t do this or that.  Are you a foreigner?…well you can’t do this or that.  Can’t you keep you disabled child quiet?…then you can’t do this or that.  Are you mentally ill?…then you can’t do this or that.  We can’t have our churches run by these kinds of people.”  

 Did Jesus make up these categories…I don’t think so…

But these are the messages I hear from all kinds of Christians and church people.  We’re all shouting at each other and no-one seems to be listening.  (Except maybe the outside world who think what are they on about?!)

So, in my grief today I was reminded that Jesus came for all of mankind.  That no-one is excluded unless they think they don’t need him.   I want to be more like Angela and accept everyone, just as they are.  I am working it out as He teaches me what that looks like in practice.  I’m willing to be shown where I’ve got it wrong –  by the Spirit working in and through the people and situations I meet.   At the moment I don’t even know if I want to part of ‘the church’ in this country that’s doing a lot of shouting – but not about the gospel, only at each other.  But I expect God will sort my thoughts out about that eventually.

So will you join me in being more like Angela?  Angela’s name means “MESSENGER OF GOD” and here’s her message. It’s simple really.  Open up your arms and greet people in the name of Jesus.   No matter who they are.

Multi-Ethnic Group Of People Holding The Word Welcome

Nana’s Button Basket

  Nana's Button BasketI wasn’t really looking for it but it fell off the shelf in the garage as I was trying to find something else.

My Nana’s button basket is old, creaks when you open it and is full of buttons. Big, tiny, dull, coloured, round, star shaped, flower shaped, long, two holes, four holes, fabric covered and even sparkly ones swarm together, mixed up and magical.

I love the oldness of the basket.  They don’t make baskets like it these days. The old clasp that clicks when I fold it over is beautiful and the size is small but perfect. Just the right size for buttons. I love the sound of the buttons as I swish my hands through them, picking out one, then another, never finding two or more that match!  I use them, not for clothing, but for adding to cards that I sometimes make. It’s great to find something useful for all these odd buttons.

The sound and feeling of running my hands through the buttons brings a sense of calm. It connects me to my Nana, now departed, who taught me to sew my first button and who helped me sew my own wedding dress. 

The fact that hardly any of the buttons match and each one is different reminds me of the colour and variety of people I meet in this life. I’m glad for my friends and how each one of them is different, and no matter how much I search I’ll never find one the same as another.  Isn’t that great!

” Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1Thessolonians 5:16-18

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