Thursday, January 31, 2008

"Challenged" Children and their parents -- do we have a place for them?

My online friend Nancy teaches me so much. She is a fabulous writer, and she would be a great teacher, even if everything in her life were "normal." But it's not. She has an adorable son who has the rare Williams Syndrome. This can make many things difficult, not the least of which is going to church.

She can't just drop her son off in the nursery and head to the service like so many of us. Her son needs special attention. So what are her choices? Seems to me she has two -- stay in the nursery with him or don't go to church. And where's the value in trying to soothe him in the nursery? Easier to do at home.

So this has me thinking about our churches. Does your church welcome autistic, mentally retarded, or "other" children? How do you do it? Special volunteers, special training?


Chalicechick said...

In churches I've been to, the pattern is "Parent(s) and kid go to church, then just hang out in the narthex or lobby or bride's room if the kid becomes so distracting that they are interfering with the service."

Probably an imperfect solution, but I don't know of a better one.

The problem I've seen more often is kids with various issues having behavior problems in Sunday school and making it hard for the other kids to learn anything.

Don't have a solution for that one, either.


Shannon said...

I don't have any answers, but you ask a very important question. While I love Unitarian Universalism, it really does seem the attitudes towards children are a chronic problem within the church as a whole.

Add in children with disabilities and its a whole new dimension. Parent of children with special needs (and the children) are often alienated from the community in profound ways. Those that that truly need the spiritual guidance and communion with a church don;t go because its just too hard.

If I belonged to a larger congregation, I would recommend workshops and trainings not unlike what congregations go through when becoming a Welcoming Congregation. We recognize that it cannot be only the members of the LGBT community that do the work of a welcoming congregation, parents cannot do the work of a fully inclusive RE program either.

Adults with special needs would benefit from this in our congregations as well, as these children with special needs quickly become adults.

I would love to hear about some of the experiences other churches have had with this. How do we become more welcoming to people of all abilities, to those who suffer from mental illness, and to those who come to us with physical disabilities that we may be unfamiliar with?

Comrade Kevin said...

Education is one component.

Thinking of ourselves as a community first and foremost and having a more communal focus without sacrificing our understandably precious individuality is the balancing act that faces all religious liberals. being inclusive of people different than us not failing to realize that at our core we are all believers and that God's grace extends to all.

Nancy said...

Sitting here with tears rolling down my face. Thank you.

I think all it takes is for somebody to even pretend like they care. We feel like freaks, and my church has just made things much worse by sweeping us under the rug. I think even the deacon who tried to help us is appalled at the lack of response she has gotten. She was so enthusiastic when she called the first time and I explained our situation.

Someday when I have the extra strength I will start some sort of movement...but right now I'm spent just trying to fit in during the week.

You know what makes you different? You care. That's it. Simple as that. I am not getting that feeling at all from my church. Even if they said, "Hey, we don't know what to do..." Anything.

If a kid is disruptive, then people need to realize there is a parent behind that kid who is tearing his/her hair out feeling just AWFUL who feels isolated from the "real world." In my case, we can't even go the playground with regularity or attend any normal setting with other children because of the noise, so we are unusually isolated from human beings. I don't fight for inclusion in every situation...I just want what works for our family. And that is isolation most of the time, unfortunately.

Thanks for caring. I mean that.

Steve Caldwell said...

I don't have any answers, but I can recommend a resource:

Welcoming Children with Special Needs: A Guidebook for Faith Communities by Sally Patton

And Sally Patton's web site can be found online here:

Sally has lots of resources for working with special needs children in churches.

Hope this helps.