Many special needs families don’t get to church.
Some can’t make it–their child just can’t leave the house or handle being at church. For others, they tried, and it didn’t work. What makes me really sad is that there are many families who have been ostracized from their church due to outspoken actions and attitudes or subtle hints that they’re not welcome.
My church is not one of those churches. Over the last year I have watched how they reach out to the five families with kids on the autism spectrum. I excitedly ponder the potential as we grow and expand our ministries.
This summer was Community Bible Church’s first-ever Vacation Bible School (VBS). Prior to this, they did not have their own facility to host such an event. I didn’t volunteer to work during the week because I didn’t know what my husband’s schedule would be. I did get there four out of the five days, and it was very exciting. I watched through the eyes of a special needs mom, and this is what I saw that my church did right….
1. They asked for information ahead of time.
Our church had online registration for VBS. In addition to the typical questions–age, address, contact information–the form also asked if the child had any medical needs or allergies. This let them know in advance of special needs so they could be prepared.
2. They made special needs families feel welcome.
A friend at church asked me to help her prepare allergy-friendly snacks. I remember her words, “We want ALL of the kids to enjoy the treats.” I was very touched that she went through the extra effort to ensure this. In the end, my boys were the only ones there with food sensitivities, but that’s not the point. They were very prepared–down to keeping the food separate. My sister commented to me, “How nice that they’re not making you feel like your food sensitivities are a burden.” Very true.
Additionally, I had the pleasure of taking a mom and her son down to a classroom because they arrived a few minutes late. She mentioned to the teachers that her son might be on the autism spectrum, and both teachers made her feel very at ease and explained that that was not a problem and they were able to care for him. What a blessing to make a visiting mom feel at ease!
3. They had teens help the kids who needed it.
I was so proud of our teens during VBS! They volunteered throughout the program. What touched me most was to watch teen boys be a buddy to boys who needed it–one who liked to escape and one who needed to take breaks. They were kind and gentle, and you could tell they were happy to help and did not consider it a chore or “I got stuck being a buddy.”
If you have the opportunity to influence your church in the special needs area, these are things I recommend. Another thing I recommend is Leading a Special Needs Ministry by Amy Fenton Lee. Amy sent me a copy of her book and I consider it a must-have for each church, whether or not you have a designated special needs ministry. I give it five stars. You can read my review over at HEDUA’s review site. You’ll see exactly why I love it!