How Churches Can Support Families of Children With Disabilities
We were the “lucky” ones. When our daughter was diagnosed with a laundry list of acronyms and labels, we had the support of a mature and thriving disabilities ministry. We found programs that were tailor-made for our child and allowed us the opportunity as a family to attend church regularly. As a matter of fact, I believe God used her diagnosis to bring us back to him. With a volunteer that showed up every Sunday to be our daughter’s “buddy,” we suddenly felt accountable and were determined to show up regularly. Showing up regularly is what ultimately led me to be baptized again as an adult and for us to create a nonprofit that helps parents, pastors, and teachers find the resources to help children with disabilities be their best.
I am steadfast in believing that the church is a huge factor in helping children and families that are impacted by disabilities reach their full potential, and I have listed just a few of those reasons.
Isolation is a real thing. So many families feel they can no longer attend church, ball games, recitals, plays, festivals, or other community events because they have a child that may act out, elope, cause a distraction, or possibly harm themselves. It is true that this role as the parent of a child with a disability can be isolating at times, which is even more reason for a church to create a program of support for these families to have time with the community where they can interact, and their child can be cared for. The beauty of social settings allows us to understand that we are not alone and there are others who are on this journey too. It also creates an atmosphere where our kids (who may be lacking social skills) can learn healthy engagement behaviors.
We often find ourselves seeking other families that understand. The church is uniquely positioned to bring families together and create friendship opportunities for children who may struggle to engage in traditional friendships. Many of our kids may not converse or play as we did when we were children, but there are benefits to them participating in “parallel play” and simply sharing space with someone else. These moments allow for growth with the other child and in the knowledge of God.
Respite for Parents
One of the most common practices for families with children who have a disability is to either alternate who stays home with the child while the other attends church, or for them both to skip it entirely. This is devastating. Parents need the ability to focus on themselves, take a break from being the constant caregiver, and replenish their mental and physical capacity. When a church offers a ministry that cares for the child, the parent can relax. They can practice “self-care,” even if it is only for an hour or so on Sunday. If parents can take time together, it can impact the dynamic in the home, create stronger marriages and ultimately help them be a better caregiver to their child.
Love and Encouragement
Who doesn’t need love and encouragement? It is a daily struggle to manage medical care, therapy options, educational support, along with the emotional toll of worry for their future. Even the best parents will confess that they can keep focused on the positive and still have hard days. When a church family comes together, the love and encouragement are a tangible product. There is safety to say your worries out loud and to have others come to your aid. Knowing someone is praying for you and that they care has a power all its own. The church may not understand or fully appreciate your daily tasks, but they can sympathize and show you they care. On hard days, that is a lifeline!
Deeper Relationship With God
Ultimately, the real “lifeline” is a relationship with God. The one that does understand, that does care and fully loves you. The church can provide some of the benefits of knowing God, but the reality is that once you have the time, and capability of knowing your child is cared for, then you can focus on learning about God, deepen your relationship, and start understanding a new perspective. You have a purpose, you matter, and you were created with intention — so was your child. Find the time, find a church that can support you, or encourage your church to build a program. You are worth it. Your family is worth it, and you have the potential to help others in ways you can’t imagine.
I say all of this to you because these are ways, we personally benefited from a strong Access Ministry program. After countless conversations with other parents – I have found these truths are found in their lives too. I wish you the peace and joy that can be found in a church program and a better relationship with God.
Getty image by Fat Camera.