Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

Posts tagged ‘#inclusivechurch’

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.

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Two girls holding puppets.

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

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The guests having a go.

The guests having a go.

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More guests having a go with the puppets

More guests having a go

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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

 

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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

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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!

Letting God build the ministry.

In January 2014 I wrote this post “ASC What’s That?”  about starting up my own business in supporting children with Autism in schools.   Part of my motivation was to get out of a stifling education system that crushed my ideas and creativity and give myself space to get involved in disability ministry more and more.  I was crushed, but not defeated; demoralised, but not without hope. I stepped out from all the pressure and condemnation into a world where all I had was a lot of ideas, buckets of enthusiasm and a need to start earning a wage very quickly.

My company – Reachout ASC

I hit the ground running and have hardly stopped for breath since.  I have learned how to actually think like a business, had a website made and am supporting nearly 20 schools regularly with over 500 people having attended training that I have delivered.  Not only to schools but family support charities, churches and a children’s work conference in sunny Eastbourne.   I was so keen to bring my ministry and work life together so that I could feel fully ‘me’ in all that I do.

I have been really encouraged by a Lou Fellingham song Build this House (listen here).  It says  “Unless you build this house, I am building it in vain.  Unless the work is yours there is nothing to be gained.”  (C) Lou Fellingham.   In any kind of job and ministry that is starting something, or moving something on, we can only build what God has planned.

Although God seems to be pressing on with things!  As well as my business growing so that I am taking on two more autism specialist teachers so that we can support more schools, I am whizzing around the county talking to Head Teachers, SENCOs, Speech and Language Therapists and teachers about our service and hopefully helping a few more children with Autism and Asperger’s have a successful time in school.   I now have a Facebook page here, full of articles and ideas about autism;  am active in the Twitter education and SEN community; (Follow me here @ReachoutASC ) and I am writing a book about supporting pupils with ASC in secondary schools.   I LOVE MY JOB!

My website! Please have a look.

My website! Please have a look.

I have always had a love of learning.  And I am learning so much that I am able to convert into action in church too.  I have set up a churches tab on my website and will continue to add new resources.

The Good News Group

We continue to run our weekly meeting for the adults with learning disabilities in our community.  We are seeing spiritual growth in so many as we let God lead us in discipling them.  We’ve had a brilliant Puppet workshop from One Way UK and a revamp of our activities during our social time (I think we were all getting a bit bored of the same things) and have just sorted a load of boxes with activities suggested by our members.  We weren’t bothered about age appropriateness when they asked for sensory toys, playdough and duplo!  It’s going to be fun for all of us to play together as adults.  We’ve also got some picture Bible’s to read, Bible colouring and some more crafts, jigsaws and games.   The group is just like I would love church to be for everyone.  Full of joy, love and freindship whatever your abiliity.   However, we have all the issues and trauma’s as any other ministry group might have and have recently had a bereavement.    We are feeling really sad about it, but we have hope in knowing that a lovely, quiet man who loved the Good News Group and liked to pray, is now with our Saviour Jesus.

One Way UK Puppet workshop

One Way UK Puppet workshop

This lady is our jigsaw whizz!

This lady is our jigsaw whizz!

Lancashire Disability Network

The Lancashire Churches Disability Network went really well.  With the support of Tim Wood from Through the Roof, we had over 40 people at our first meeting.  The buzz and enthusiasm was fantastic and we are praying once again….God build this house, or we are building it in vain.  The next meeting is in a couple of weeks and already, one church is making plans to set up their own group for adults with learning disabilities.  People want to find things out, share experiences and learn together.  I AM REALLY EXCITED AND GRATEFUL.  This group has been two years in the praying, planning and waiting.  I have learned some patience…………
I am grateful too for you who have read, shared and supported this blog.  Keep on sharing, commenting and looking where God wants you to build his house.  

15 ways to include children and adults with additional needs in church.

It is a privilege to be asked for advice on what a church should do to include people with additional needs. To make them feel welcome, to make them be able to come along each week and it be a place of refuge and strength for them.  The thing is, our church, like most others, are learners…we haven’t got all the answers or got everything right, so I turned to the lovely people of the Additonal Needs Alliance and asked them what advice they would give. This, along with a couple of blogs I have read recently, has helped me put together this post.  So thanks to Beth, Mark, Ruth, Barbara-Anne, Anita, Fiona, Liz, Rachel and Bea!

  1. Have a designated person to oversee and coordinate the support and overall vision of the church for inclusion and practical implementation of support for people with additional needs. This is like a school has a SENCO.  Mark Arnold from Urban Saints made this point.  I agree, all churches should have a SENCO.
  2. Understand what having a child or adult with additional needs in your family is like. It is 24/7.  It is an abundance of love for them standing alongside constant care, worry, sleepless nights and fear for their future. Every day is full on, no day is the same and parents and carers never switch off. They often don’t look after themselves too well (they don’t have time) and often give more of themselves to help others who are carers too.  Sometimes they feel grumpy and can be short of patience with small minded things.   Often they are sleep deprived and coming to church is not a break or a rest. It can be a minefield of fear, anxiety and stress.
  3. Listen to parents and carers.  They know their child best.  They may not yet be experts on the child’s condition, but they are learning.  However, do not tell them what you know; as often what we know is a generalisation;  but ask them if you can learn alongside them.  Even though I am an autism specialist teacher, I will always ask a parent how autism looks in their child, because each autistic person is uniquely autistic.
  4. Listen to the child or adult with additional needs. They know themselves best. They know what they like and don’t like. If they cannot speak, spend time watching them and learning how they communicate.  Think highly of what they can understand and achieve.  They have gifts that the church can be blessed with.  Jesus has a place in his body for them too and it cannot function well without them.

  5. Don’t let your congregation judge. Don’t even let one little “tut” come out of anyone’s mouth! Parents and carers of people with additional needs get plenty of that out there, in society.  It has no place in Jesus’ church.
  6. When you have listened you can ask some practical and patient questions. What works for you?  What works at their school or daycare centre? Is there any of these things that we could do to make church better and easier?
  7. Do….The things you can from the answers above. One small thing can make a huge difference to the child or adult with additional needs and to their family or carers. When you’ve done one thing, don’t think you have done it and can ignore them from then on…do another thing…and another.
  8. Consider getting good training for church leaders.  (Everyone who leads or volunteers for anything!) Have speakers who have additional needs.  Keep talking about diversity and learn together.  Prospects, Through the Roof, Liveability, Torch Trust, and others can be found on the Churches for All website.  Urban Saints do a great training course called All Inclusive and is highly recommended.  All these will provide or find training for you.  The local special school may have some Christian staff who would be willing to help or do some training for you.
  9. Keep reviewing how you are supporting the child/adult and their family or carer. Ask them how you are doing. Ask the people they talk to, just in case you get “I’m fine”. We all know “I’m fine” doesn’t mean everything is ok, it often means ” I don’t want to make a fuss”.  Encourage them and a friend of theirs to be more honest.
  10. Set up some special activities that are preferred by the child / adult with additonal needs and for once in a while, get other children or adults to come alongside them in THEIR comfort zone.  So whether it be a child who loves Lego, (have a Sunday School session based on Lego once a month) or an adult who uses Makaton (let them sigh the Lord’s Prayer in the service) bring their interests and strengths into how we do church.
  11. Teach the congregation about Jesus’ love for all people.  Send them out to serve in daycare centres, do assemblies in special schools, visit people with additional needs in their homes or talk to families with additional needs in the supermarkets.  Bring children up in the church to stand up for those who have additional needs at school.  Show them how to approach and be friendly, make sure they know the names of any children with additional needs who come to church, however infrequently.  Tell them to smile and say hello, when they see them, and not to stare when they make noises or behave unexpectedly.
  12. Have high expectations of God and his word.  Find ways to open up the wonderful riches of the Bible. It may mean you do your weekly services a bit different. It may mean your preaching takes on a different style completely.  You may need to use differnt forms of communication, like pictures, or signing rather than just talking for 20 minutes or more. Maybe all the church could learn some basic Makaton or BSL signs.
  13. Celebrate the diversity of God’s family.  Watch and listen to people with additional needs and let them show us how they connect with God.  I want to tell you about Becky who uses a special computer with eye-gaze technology to communicate. She drew this picture of the Easter story    Becky's picture        And another little girl who has autism, who danced around the cross on Easter Day, making people experience her joy and abandonment.  I want to tell you about our adults with learning disabilities who pray for us, serve in the church and love Jesus.                                                                                                        IMG_0237
  14. Know it is God’s work to save.  Then pray, be mouldable and trust him.  A willing heart can be used by God.  He can change us to be his family together. Be willing.
  15. Finally (for now!) is to remember that you don’t need any qualifications or even experience with additional needs to be a church who makes people welcome and part of their congregation.  All Jesus asks us is to follow him and do the things he did.  I don’t remember him ever “tutting” at someone trying to come to him….do you?

This is just a guide and summary of all the great advice people who have additional needs or who have children with additional needs have given me over time. We have put as much as we can into practice in our church and are still very much a work in progress….like we all are.  I hope you find this useful and encouraging….let’s all work together and let Jesus build his church for all.

We’re Better Together

I am finally ready to admit something that really bugs me…

It’s that each time we have needed training or wanted to go to a conference to support the ministry we have at the Good News Group, it has been ‘down south’…

Now, this is not a gripe about my lovely friends or the amazing people who live and work south of, say, Cheshire, but it’s just that I’ve noticed that in the North West of England, we MUST have a wealth of experience, expertise and resources right here that we can and should be using to support one another.   I want to be able to build a hub of expertise, training and resources that we can call on locally and where people can visit each other’s churches easily and share good practice, or observe what is going on.

So that is why we are setting up the North West Disability Network.  We are going to be connected to and supported by lovely people from various charities that support inclusive church. The group is facilitated by Through the Roof and Tim Wood is coming up (from ‘down south’) to start us off.

So if you go to a church in Lancashire, or knows someone who does, please pass this on to them.  We will have a great morning at our first meeting. Some of the Good News Group are going to tell you how they learn about the Bible, and there will be tea and home made cakes as we work out how this Network can work best for us in Lancashire.  Whether you are a church leader, a Sunday School teacher, person with a disability or parent of a child with additional needs, everyone is welcome.

If you can let me know you’ll be coming, (you can use the contact form at the foot of this post) it will be helpful, otherwise, come anyway.  We’d love to meet you.  Don’t forget to look at http://www.reachoutasc.com/churches-organisations/links-and-resources for some great free resources too.

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We should be more flexible to include those with Additional Needs.

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I sometimes wonder who is more rigid…the child with autism that I am supporting, or the school system (and people in that system) that I am trying to support them in?

In my work with autistic children in mainstream schools, I have found that those staff and schools who are most flexible, are better and more successful for those who have autism.

For  example, writing… Our whole education system is based on children being able and willing to write.  One aspect of autism is the need to see the point in what they are doing.  (A logical strength) However, the amount of writing demanded in every subject is enormous, and only increases with each school year as the demands of the curriculum get harder.  This is all well and good but what if writing and composing what you want to say is really hard?  What if you have trouble organising your thoughts and imagining what something might be like? What if you don’t understand the point of copying something out of a book, or writing things in whole sentences instead of giving the actual answer?

I have had some success with persuading teachers to be more flexible and allow pupils with ASC to write about things that are interesting and relevant to them.  Along with being allowed to type rather than hand write, for some.  Often this provides the motivation and relevance to write that the child needs and they usually develop more confidence, skills and academic progress.  To be honest, teachers are often relieved that I have given them permission to be more flexible and thrilled when it starts to engage the child in writing.  I once had a child writing about BeastQuest for the whole of year 5. By the end of the year he had progressed two levels and was more willing to have a go at other forms of writing. From writing almost nothing, by the end of the year he was writing full BeastQuest stories that he sent to the publishers!

I get cross that our education system has so stifled teachers creativity and flexibility that I have to give them permission, written out in a way that justifies what we are doing, just to allow a child to work within their interests for a while! Teachers feel under pressure to be seen to be doing the right thing, can be criticised for being creative while at the same time criticised for not being! It is the sad truth of our education and inspection system.

 However much I could go on about this (and it is based on experience not just opinion!) it is to churches I want to apply it. 

The Gymnast/Yoga: Back Arch/The Wheel/Chakrasana

Why do you do what you do? Is it because you’ve always done it that way? Will someone criticise you if you be a bit flexible or change things?

When including people with autism or any kind of disability we need to stretch ourselves and really think about being flexible.  I’m not criticising any one church but just drawing together my understanding of the experiences that people with disabilities have had in churches.  As with schools, the most successful are those who look at their members and adapt to their needs.  We don’t need to change the gospel message or the Bible to do this, but the way we communicate, illustrate and welcome people into God’s family can be very flexible.

It is quite realistic to suggest that there might be people who are on the autistic spectrum in your church. Many of them could be undiagnosed adults. There will be people who have hearing difficulties, sight or mobility problems. People who are dyslexic, colour blind or have mental illness.  All of these could impact on the way they access the rituals and teaching in your church. I’m not just talking about a ‘traditional’ church either.  I visited a lively church recently that insisted everyone stood up, danced and waved their arms about. The noise from the band was VERY loud and they played background music over EVERYTHING. Even the sermon.  I was completely overloaded, but many others were having a great time. Conversely, a quiet, traditional service can be really hard to follow with the antique language and unspoken ‘rules’ of when to sit, stand, kneel, respond.

So how do we be flexible in our churches?  One thing I love is that there are many different styles to choose from in most towns and cities.  In rural areas there may only be one small church for miles.  So for a person with additional needs, or a family with children with additional needs, it can take them some time and stress finding one that is suitable and comfortable for them. I know many who have given up after visiting one or two churches where they did not feel welcome.  The place and people expected them to fit in with their rituals and systems. They were rigid.  The families and individuals with additional needs were expected to be the flexible ones.

But the emphasis should be on us, in our churches, being flexible enough to change things.  Take communion for example. Do we have to go up to the front? Even taking it to someone in a wheelchair makes them different.  What if we took it to everyone where they are sat, so the wheelchair user feels part of it too?

We are challenged by this ourselves, in the Good News Group.  Our members needs are varied and wide and making them part of the church is something we work on together.  We are open to challenge and to change in our practices and we grow together in faith and as a church family as a result.  The only thing we don’t change is the Gospel Message and the Bible.  We have a routine, which is important, but even that is flexible too.

I hope schools and churches will be more flexible.  Don’t hold on to things “just because”.  Question and challenge yourself…WHY do we do this, in that way? Could it be more inclusive, and more meaningful?

I sincerely hope this helps you think about this.  Please do comment and tell me your experiences.  It’s an ongoing issues that we all are continually challenged by.  In schools, churches and society.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds.”  Hebrews 10:23-24

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