Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Posts tagged ‘#inclusivechurch’

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

wbay-team-final-this-one

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 www.facebook.com/take5andchat 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.

img_3367

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!

Email    info@take5andchat.org.uk

www.facebook.com/take5andchat  

https://twitter.com/take5andchat

Website (coming soon) www.take5andchat.org.uk

lego-builders

People with learning disabilities are scared about the news too.

IMG_2206.JPG

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.

pray

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.

MP900382868

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.

IMG_0754

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.

Would I do it again? – Day 5 

I’m home now…shattered and in a reflective mood.  I really did enjoy the week, but after encountering God each day in a deeper way, I know he has plans for me that may or may not include me coming to Keswick with Prospects again next year.  For the record, Lord, I really WOULD like to!  I’m going to discuss what I learned and what I think the place of a separate stream like this has in Christian conferences, but first, let me tell you about the last day…

  
The last teaching session and celebration brought tears of joy – a wonderful way to finish the week… And tears of sadness – sad to leave such a special team and the new friends I made. 

We were joined by my group from Leyland (the Good News Group) and they had a great time with us. We needed to pray for the elastic walls again, but just managed to fit everyone in.  The highlight of the morning was singing and praising with our instruments, puppets and flags to “10,000 Reasons” … you know the one, “Bless the Lord, O My soul, O my soul, worship his holy name, Sing like never before, O my soul, and worship his holy name.”  I felt like the room was full of angels praising along with us.  It was amazing praising!    

Then it was off to Fitz Park to have a picnic together. 

   

Is the Keswick Convention Accessible to All? 

Starting with the website I can find out that there are large print or Braille copies of the songs and that all the speakers and song words are projected onto very large screens around the main tent.  It was also clear about access and disabled parking and the presence of BSL interpreters in the main meetings. All venues offered a hearing loop system.  However, there didn’t seem to be a Braille or large print version of the programme but it was accessible on the website. The Prospects provision had its own page, under the title “special celebrations”  https://www.keswickministries.org/convention/special-celebrations  – what do you think? Is that a good description? I do think people would have a good chance of finding out that Prospects were there with a whole page to promote it, and it was in the literature booklets as well.  One niggle, after changing our workshop day because Keswick changed our night on the main stage, the workshop was advertised incorrectly on the website. And our seminar wasn’t well advertised. I’ve already had a message to say that someone wanted to come but they didn’t know it was on. 

  I do think that generally Keswick Convention has a good attitude to including people with disabilities and inviting Prospects onto the main stage every year is a sign of real respect for what Prospects does. So many of the families said they could not attend without Prospects being there.  When I came home I had a lovely email from a friend saying how Prospects providing services at Spring Harvest had meant that her whole family could attend that too.  It seems such a small part to play but something that makes a huge difference to so many. 

However, I came away from the meetings with a lot to read! Fine for me but overwhelming for those who can’t read, including some of our team members. 

What these sessions at major Christian festivals does more than anything, is give adults with learning disabilities the opportunity to access good Bible teaching, grow in their faith and be encouraged by others who have the same kinds of challenges they have.  And in our team, the chance to share their gifts and to serve others with a team who see them as ‘able’ to.   The reason I work with adults with additional needs in my church is that there is often a focus on children with additional needs, which is great, but these children usually grow up and are usually adults for far longer than they were children.  There is much work to do in both these areas across our churches, but I am so glad that Prospects, a small charity, is doing this work. I hope and pray that Keswick Convention will continue to support their involvement, learn from them, and that other conferences and festivals will invite them to contribute too.  

They just might need a few more leaders if that happens! 

Finally, I have to say how much I loved being able to use Molly to recap what we had learned each day. I hope she’ll be invited back next year too…

  
 
 

 

 

People, Puppets and Praise – Day 3

Today I am going to let the photos show you what a fun day we had.  In the morning we had a group from Kendal join us.  They brought a drum and a guitar and lots of enthusiasm too. We continued to learn about Elisha and Naaman, through drama and had a great telling of the ten lepers story from Janet (who is a person who tells stories really well!)

In the afternoon I ran the puppet workshop and around 36 people turned up! We learned some basic principles of puppetry such as keeping your puppet looking at it’s audience, how to do different movements and emotions.  Then we put on some praise songs and put it all into practice.  I’m going to let the photos tell the story…Puppet Workshop wed 22.7 (11)

The two types of puppet we used.

‘Talking Puppets’ and ‘Dancing Puppets’ Me and Karen the signer.

Puppet Workshop wed 22.7 (17)

Two girls holding puppets.

Sio and Frazz my two assistants and our performance to the group.

Puppet Workshop wed 22.7 (82)

The guests having a go.

The guests having a go.

Puppet Workshop wed 22.7 (23)

More guests having a go with the puppets

More guests having a go

Puppet Workshop wed 22.7 (98)

All the room was full of people using puppets

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

Hope you enjoyed our pictures.

I’d love to recommend a couple of websites / resources for learning how to use puppets. This book by Amy Robinson with accompanying DVD is brilliant to teach anyone about puppeteering and One Way UK do courses and sell puppets (although puppets can be bought anywhere of course.)

Recommended book by Amy Robinson

Recommended book by Amy Robinson

 

Why volunteer – Day 1

  

2 Corinthians 8:23  Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)

Now about Titus—he is my partner. He is working together with me to help you. And about the other brothers—they are sent from the churches, and they bring honour to Christ.”  

The Team

That’s the first day done! I am relieved…have learned some things…and found it a fabulous experience.  I didn’t mess up my actions or speaking parts and watching the whole team doing their roles was like watching a ‘well-oiled machine’! I am a proud wearer of THE PURPLE SHIRT.

The purple polo shirt to identify us as Prospects volunteers

So here is the team I am working with…

There is Andrew, keeping us all on task (ish) and who has planned, organised and brought everything we could ever need (except arm bands) and has a plan for any eventuality. He’s like Doctor Who…I’m his assistant….

Liz, who sits majestically at the computer, all the pictures and song words coming up at the right time, in the right place. (And who courageously volunteered to do all the cutting out for tomorrow)

The music team – John, Janet, Agnes and Susan. wonderful sounds from keyboard, clarinet, saxophone and drums.  I particularly appreciate how John went at a pace slow enough for all the guests to keep up with the signing and singing. This is a really important and considerate aspect of making the worship accessible to all.

Karen, our signer.  She’s fascinating to watch and enabled those who couldn’t keep up with the verbal information and those who could not hear to access the meeting.  She even coped with my ad-libbing when I threw in some quick testimony!

Christine, Audrey, Nigel and Steven – the welcome and bookstall team.  I noticed that no-one came in without being warmly welcomed, old friends hugged and delighted in and people who were new to the meetings were looked after individually.

The lovely Anne who provides us with all the brews we need.  She is my hero after not being bothered at all that I’d asked for a China mug instead of a polystyrene cup because polystyrene goes through my teeth. She is the lady who draws a smiley face on the bottom of the [polystyrene] cups so you share a smile with those around you every time you lift up your cup to drink!

And finally there is Gill, who never stopped talking, supporting and helping anyone who needed it all through the session, and managed to be the official photographer as well.

The quote from 2 Corinthians 8 seems to illustrate just what is going on here. A variety of people, from different churches, with different skills, experiences but with one heart for people with learning disabilities to access the life God promises through Jesus.

All we want to do is bring honour to Christ…please pray that we will.

Autism and your church

Screen-Shot-2013-10-14-at-9.31.36-PM

My day job is supporting autistic pupils in schools and I love it. Listening to and working with these children teaches me so much.  For ten years and with hundreds of pupils, I have developed a bank of strategies and ways of working that really work, and the understanding that at the centre of it all is a child who can communicate their likes, strengths, dislikes and needs … if you know how to listen.

Helping people with autism feel fully part of our church family and ministries (as receivers and givers using their gifts) can be approached in the same way.  I wrote about “being an advocate in your church” and “15 ways to include people with additional needs”. At the heart of it all are PEOPLE we can listen to, share the gospel with and disciple.  My blog this week is about sharing two excellent blog posts from others.   First; Ann Memmott is an autistic woman who has a great gift of communication…she can explain what being autistic is like and how she finds the responses she gets from church people.  What I like about Ann is that she doesn’t just explain, but she also suggests ways to overcome the barriers or issues, and I have learned a lot from her, just from listening.

Here is her post titled “Othering” from 11th July 2015

http://annsautism.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/othering.html

It’s sometimes tough stuff, trying to encourage churches to welcome all.
Some churches are fabulous.  Their leaders are enthusiastic about learning.  They enable their teams to get good training.  They fundraise and allocate budgets to ensure that everyone can get to a service and feel valued.  We know that such churches see their congregations…and finances…increase year after year.  I am fortunate to have found several like this.  But some others…well…I want to talk about feeling valued. What it is.  What it is not.  And about the ‘othering’ of people like me.  Born autistic.  Autism is a sensory processing and social communication disability, nothing to do with ‘bad behaviour’.

So often, disabled people or those who live with differences are tolerated.
‘Tolerate’ is what you do when you let someone sit next to you… whilst you feel uncomfortable and hope they sit somewhere else….but you smile at them in a false way.  The thinking behind this is, “I am such a good Christian for allowing you near me.  After all, someone like you being in my church spoils my experience of God.  You should be thankful to be allowed here”.  Had that happen a few times.
Now, the strange thing is that if it was done to them, other folk would immediately see that as intolerance.  As prejudice.  As falseness.  As fear or hate.  But it’s something that folk like me are often expected to be grateful for.  I think not.

Sometimes disabled folk and others who live with differences are the subject of ‘awareness raising’.  This means that we get to stand up in front of everyone and explain all the things we cannot do.  All the things that make us feel really small and really bad about ourselves.   And then, people are ‘inspired’ by us.  “You brave person, coming to church!”  “Wow, people like you can talk!”  “So do you live in a residential home?  Is that your carer with you?”  I’ve had it all over the years.  We are not friends.  We are not colleagues.  We are not equal.  We are exhibits.

Now, the strange thing is that if this was done to them,  other folk would feel really uncomfortable.  But it’s something that folk like me are expected to be grateful for.  After all, we’re talking about autism now, aren’t we.   Yes, yes we are.  In a way that demeans and uses me, and has no regard for the after-effects. Often I’m expected to do this for free.  As if it is a special treat for me to be allowed to talk to church people about embarrassing things and then go home feeling bad. That’s not brilliant.

Yes, people like me offer training to the outside world.  Training where we knowingly do stand up in front of many others and explain our ‘deficits’.  Our difficulties.  Training where we are an example to be assessed, a thing to be stared at.  And after each session, we go home to our families and friends and partners and children…and try to restore our sense of self-worth.  Important stuff, awareness-raising. But it’s nothing to do with valuing us.

What does valuing us look like?  What does it feel like?  What does it sound like?
It feels like we are seen as people, as colleagues, as friends.  It feels like people want us to sit next to them.  It feels like we’re offered the same chances as others to show our strengths.  It feels like we are enabled to feel safe and supported, of course – but in consensual ways that ask us.  In quiet, invisible, respectful ways.  Training like that happens in many places, and it’s always a joy to work with such groups.

It doesn’t look at us as a cost burden.  As a time-waste.  As a ‘danger’  (frankly we are no more likely to be dangerous than you are).   It doesn’t think that Church happens ‘elsewhere’ for us.  There are no churches for autistic people.  None.  It’s like a thing where Jesus got his team to hand round food to the 5000 and left all the autistic ones hungry and thirsty.   Do you think that’s what happened?  Me neither.

We are God’s loved children too. Valuing us doesn’t allocate the budget and team and support to everyone but us… and then claim no money, no spare time.  It doesn’t involve ignoring bullying of us, or blaming us for the bullying.  It doesn’t involve laughing at us or using us as some sort of freak show.  Or encouraging others not to help us.  Or encouraging others not to talk to us, by pretending we are a nuisance.  We’re not exhibits or dangers.  Truly we are not.

We are your friends.  We love Jesus and are Christians who want to share our love and care with others, just like you do.  We have families, just like you do.  We have passionate interests, just like you do.  The church should not get to pretend that we are ‘other’.  Not in front of God we’re not.

It’s our church too.  It belongs to God, and God says yes.    That’s a reality that every church already has to come to terms with.  Plenty of us are willing to help.  But know the cost, please.  And value the time and exhaustion and despair that it causes, especially when so often the response is ‘go away’, a budget-withholding, silence-enduring, “We don’t want your sort here”.

You are loved.  We are not your enemy.  Learn about our gifts to the church and to God.  Value us for who we are, God’s children, made in God’s image.

cd page - forgiveness through christ

Second, I came across this blog in my travels around the net and loved it’s positive suggestions for things to say to autism parents:

Read more: http://themighty.com/2015/04/12-great-things-to-say-to-parents-of-kids-with-autism/#ixzz3fsFhlINO

But now I realize that it wasn’t fair to tell everyone what NOT to say to a parent of a child with autism, if I don’t give some advice on what TO say.

Just like every child is affected differently by an autism diagnosis, each parent is also affected differently. A comment that I believe is kind and encouraging, another parent may see as rude and condescending. Needless to say, I can’t give you an exhaustive list since every situation is different, however, I have come up with a few things people have said to me over the years that clearly left a mark and not a scar. So, this is a list of things TO say to a parent loving a child with autism that made me smile and want to hug them rather than hit them or scratch their eyes out.

The one thing to remember, regardless of the child or the parent, is to always be accepting, be aware and be kind.

1. “Wow! I can’t believe how far he has come!”

Even if the distance from where he was to where he is seems miniscule to you, chances are it is a huge, expansive distance to my son and me. Commenting on progress is a beautiful thing to say, but only if you really see progress or change. We mothers are like dogs; we can smell your fear in an off-handed, don’t-know-what-else-to-say remark. So if you do believe it, then say it. And be prepared to be hugged.

2. “He is so good at… [insert anything here].”

Whether it’s a perfect Jim Carrey imitation, how long he can sit watching the same episode of “Thomas the Tank Engine” and recite every word perfectly, or his ability to memorize all the details of every earthquake in California’s history, point it out. Point out the positives. See the positives. We see it. We know it. We love when you do, too.

3. “My friend’s, sister’s, cousin’s, great aunt twice removed’s son has autism and he is in college now.”

Yeah, we know that your friend’s, sister’s, cousin’s, great aunt twice removed’s son is not our child, and we know that autism is a spectrum of strengths and struggles, but, hearing success, hearing good news and having you share that in a kind, accepting and compassionate way, makes us love you, even if we don’t know you. I hope you like hugging strangers, because this may get you an even bigger hug than #1.

4. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Asking this question in the middle of aisle six in the busy, loud grocery store where our child is currently having a huge sensory meltdown as we try to calm him down and discreetly scooch the glass shards from the spaghetti jar that just missed your head under our cart, rather than staring at what you believe may be an “undisciplined child” having a temper tantrum, may possibly make you the hero in a blog story that goes viral on social media three hours after you get home from the grocery store.

We know people are staring. We know people are judging. We know people don’t get it. That’s why those eight simple words from just one person are beautiful. Oh, and sorry about the spaghetti sauce on your new shoes.

5. “He feels so much, doesn’t he?”

This is a kind, compassionate and understanding way to say that when you see our child crying easily, melting down regularly, and being terribly inflexible, you are letting us know that you recognize that there may be more than meets the eye and that our child is not bad, and neither are we.

6. “He is fascinating.”

Not weird, not odd, not quirky. The way his mind works is fascinating and often has me in awe and wonder. I love knowing that you see his mind as extraordinary and not as something that is broken and needs to be “fixed.”

7. “He really loves you.”

Yes he does. There is such a misconception that children with autism don’t feel love, that their emotions are too bogged down by autism to “feel,” but, believe me, they feel love, they know love, they give love. And on days when it’s hard, on days where we have lost our patience, raised our voice and dried countless tears, we don’t feel very loveable, so it’s great when others see and feel that love, too. We know that our child loves us like no other and although that love may look “different,” it is never to be trivialized or minimized.
O.M.G. If you only know how many times a day I have wondered the VERY same thing. “If only I could get inside his head,” “If I only knew what he was feeling,” “If only he would let me in” has crossed every parent’s mind countless times. Knowing that you take the time to wonder, too, well, you have just gone up higher in rank on the Favorites list on my iPhone.8. “I wonder what he is thinking?”

9. “What is autism and why do they call it a spectrum?”

Yes, maybe we are tired of talking about The A Word, maybe we want people to see past autism and just see our child, but, we will never turn down an opportunity to educate someone about our child and debunk the “He doesn’t act like ‘Rain Man’” myth. So please, ask away.

10. “He has taught me so much!”

These kids see the world differently and if you take the time to get to know them, really get to know them, you will open your mind and your heart to their world and you will be better for it.

11. “I brought wine.”

Even though you might not fully understand what loving a child with autism is like, the fact that you are here, on our doorstep, holding a bottle of wine and trying to understand, well, there are no words to express our gratitude. We love that you feel like we are in this together, so grab two glasses while I get the bottle opener.

12. “I have Velveeta Shells and Cheese (or whatever the one and only type of food is that child will eat).”

You win. Game over.

When trying to decide what you should say, keep in mind that these children and adults with autism may have severe language deficits and they may not be able to say a word, but that does not mean they aren’t communicating with you. Take their lead. Maybe no words are necessary. Maybe you don’t have to SAY anything. Maybe it’s just a kind smile, a door held, making eye contact with us or a kind “hello” to our child.

However, if we initiate the conversation, if we say the words, “My son has autism,” just give us a knowing look, a kind smile and ask, “How is he doing?” We may say “fine” or we may break into a 10-minute long discussion about how far he has come and how far we know he will go. Whichever it is, trust me when I say, we will always remember that you asked.

I hope you have found these two blogs helpful.  I have!

%d bloggers like this: