8 Things a Church Should Consider for Kids With Disabilities and Their Families

For families who have members with disabilities, church attendance can be daunting. Sometimes impossible. This can be very isolating, both for the person with disabilities and for the family.

Some people with disabilities have sensory issues that can result in sensory meltdowns as a result of loud noises, unfamiliar people, fabrics, etc. Anything can overwhelm their senses. Some may have medical issues. Maybe they have life-threatening allergies and just being in a room where someone had peanut butter that morning can set their allergy off. Or they have medical maintenance that needs to happen during church hours. My son cannot attend mid-week church activities as they aren’t scheduled until 7 p.m. and medically, he needs to be in bed at that time every night.

The truth is, our families have specific and unique needs. Here are a few general suggestions to help make church attendance — or attendance at any function — easier for us to attend and help us feel more included and not so isolated.

1. Continuity of children’s class teachers.

Some of our children need routine and a break in that is anxiety producing. So when the expected teacher isn’t there, this can be upsetting. Having a teacher that changes every week or who is frequently absent creates difficulties for some kids and causes anxiety and stress.

2. Consider staffing classes at a higher ratio of adult per child when there are children with disabilities. 

Have one person teach and another person working one-on-one with the child with a disability to help with their inclusion or to help facilitate participation. Never set the child to the side and don’t forget to interact with them.

3. Don’t ask the parents to be the helpers unless we’re offering.

For some of us, that hour or two may be the only time we are not caring for our kids. We need that break as much as our kids do.

4. Do reach out and ask for ideas on how to best serve the person with a disability.

We would love to help you find ways to better include our kids. We are happy to train you and others in best practices so everyone can feel better prepared.

5. Do plan a lot of activities with lots of movement for children.

Children without disabilities often can’t sit for long periods of time. If a child has ADHD or another diagnosis, it might be physically impossible for them to “sit still.” Alternate movement activities with quiet activities.

6. Don’t assume the person with a disability cannot learn or does not want to participate. 

Keep giving them opportunities to join in, even if it looks like they aren’t interested or can’t. Respect their contributions.

7. Do reach out to the other members of the family and find out how they are doing.

Be their friend. Offer rides to church activities for family members. Invite the family over for meals and fellowship. We often get overlooked as people aren’t always sure how to interact with us, but we need that interaction just as much as you do — probably more.

8. Make sure your church is accessible.

Having areas that limit us, limits our participation and sometimes our attendance at church. For example, having microphones that can travel to the person so they can share their thoughts rather than having to come up to the front of the room is really helpful. Also make it a priority to have ramps, accessible parking and accessible restrooms.

These are just a few basic suggestions. It is my hope this will start conversations between church members and families so that all can be better served. Because people with disabilities and their families have a lot to share with you, too.

A version of this post first appeared on An Ordinary Mom.

Getty image by Sasiistock

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