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Thread: Church and children with special needs - WWYD (long)

  1. #1
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    Default Church and children with special needs - WWYD (long)

    Background first ... We have stopped going to our church a few months ago because it is not child friendly in certain aspects. The Sunday school is staffed by volunteers and there is a large number of people that take turns. For some reason the only rooms with stable volunteers are the nursery (up to 2 yo) and the 3 yo Sunday class. We attended while DS was there because the caregivers/teachers knew him. When he moved up to the 4 yo class, there was a different volunteer each Sunday. I tried to mitigate the situation by volunteering 1 Sunday a month in the 4 yo class, but DH was not happy with that. He would not go to church by himself (frankly, I enjoy it much more when we go together too) while I was with the kids. We never went the other Sundays because we did not feel comfortable leaving DS in his class. For other reasons (that's a long story) we did not feel comfortable bringing DS to service with us (even though he would behave well). We have not looked for a new church because we will be moving to another state this month.

    I go to MOPS (same church) because the caregivers there have known DS since he was 6 months old and I do not have to explain his quirks. They love him. The only health issue I ever approached them with was when he developed tics. I wanted them to know what it was and that he could not control it. I was concerned that his vocal tics may be misconstrued as misbehavior during quiet activities (he would hum or make a clicking noise with his mouth). If they know what it is, they would know to respond properly rather than discipline him.

    I do not feel comfortable discussing DS's health issues with the random volunteers that are there on Sundays. But during my volunteering, I have witnessed some pretty bad responses to other special needs kids (different age group than DS, I used to help in their class when DS was younger) out of plain ignorance. For example, one boy with sensory processing disorder (and possibly other neurological health challenges) carried a set of head phones with him to block the noise out if he was getting overwhelmed. He was using them especially during the large group activity where several classes joined to sing and dance. One volunteer took the head phones from him (rather forcibly because he was resisting) and reprimanded him for bringing them to the music room. The boy bolted out the door screaming. And that is just one example and it just about broke my heart and all I could think was "this could be my boy". Of course, I realize that most people who are not familiar with these types of neurological health issues cannot recognize them and that it is not reasonable to expect churches to provide educated caregivers. I am just providing this example to illustrate the environment on Sundays. I also feel completely comfortable leaving DD in the class even with a different volunteer each time but, of course, she is a neurotypical child.

    Now my challenge ... once we move, we will be looking for a new church. It is very important to us that we start attending church again. If we were not in the "transition", we would have been looking locally. If it is a church that expects all kids to go to service, then it's a non-issue. But I think kid-only Sunday school is great and I simply do not know how much to share. Most of the time, the caregiver would not even notice anything different about DS. For example, the other day both kids were with a baby-sitter for a day. Everything was great until she gave the kids bananas. She sliced the banana and DS had a melt-down. I realize that at 5 yo kids do not have melt downs anymore so I know this is not "normal" behavior but it is what it is. The reason for the meltdown? He is used to eat it whole, holding it in the peel. So the melt down was part his OCD (that's not how I eat a banana) and part sensory (he does not like to touch the banana without peel). The baby sitter resolved it by giving him a fork to eat it with so he would not have to touch it.

    This was one incident in 8 hours. The odds of DS exhibiting any non-typical behaviors in 1 - 1 1/2 hours while we are attending service are slim, but obviously not impossible. We also have not told DS his diagnosis and I do not want someone referring to him as the "autistic kid" or something like that. When we go to Drs, I speak to the Dr privately and it is noted in the chart that we do not wish to tell him. But that is a contained situation. In the church we used to go to, this information could easily be shared with 15-20 people. I doubt they would treat it with the same level of confidentiality that a Dr's office does.

    So if you made it this far ... what would you do? Just find a church that does not have a separate Sunday program for kids?

    I appreciate any input but I would especially love to hear from those of you who help with Sunday school (or other children's programs at your church) and have cared for special needs children. How has the situation been handled in your church?

    TIA

  2. #2
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    I have served extensively in children's ministry. We've had a few children that have special needs of some sort. I much preferred when I was able to serve every single Sunday at the same service and did so for a few years. This obviously helped greatly as I knew the children well and they knew me. However, then I started having children and could no longer serve at such a frequency. Anyway...for those children often the parent would simply say if such and such happens with my child or he is too disruptive just page me. I was never told a diagnosis and just learned what worked best with each child. Recently there was a child with fairly severe downs syndrome and his parents took turns staying with him in the classroom. Any children that were regularly very disruptive were brought to the attention of the children's ministry director who worked out solutions with the parents.

    As long as your child won't be super disruptive, I'd just say at drop off "He struggles with being quiet/doing whatever type of task/etc. If he is too disruptive call/page me or have him do another activity." It would also be helpful for you to serve/observe the class routine so you could specifically state what he might have difficulty doing.

    Our current church has volunteers serve a whole month at a time. I'm not sure as to the frequency (how many months off before one serves again). If a church did that, you and your son would then have more continuity in volunteers which would help.
    Jessica (33) and Ryan (33). Madelyn born August 5, 2009; Malachi born December 23, 2010 and Nathaniel born July 19, 2013. Lost a loved baby 02/29/12, 05/14/12 and 07/05/12 all due a serious allergic reaction to fabric softener.
    My Ovulation Chart , My blog about MCAD

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    Our church has a regular person to do the Sunday school but other mothers cover the time during the church service. That would be a different person each week. DS has ADHD and until recently his behaviour was a challenge. The regular teacher struggled with him sometimes and he was brought to me at least one time. He is 4.5 yrs. all of the weekly teachers are elementary school teachers so they have experience with children with some issues. I was happy to leave him for Sunday school.
    I never go to the actual service any more because his behaviour just wasn't good enough for a volunteer to handle. I never talked about his diagnosis with the volunteers.
    Good luck in your search for a new church. We will be looking for another church soon too.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by JJorn View Post
    As long as your child won't be super disruptive, I'd just say at drop off "He struggles with being quiet/doing whatever type of task/etc. If he is too disruptive call/page me or have him do another activity." It would also be helpful for you to serve/observe the class routine so you could specifically state what he might have difficulty doing.
    Ladies, thank you both for responding. I appreciate your insights. DS would likely not be disruptive (unless something like the banana issue happens but that is super unlikely in that setting, he brings his own snacks to church anyway). He is more likely to refuse to participate in activities he does not like. The caregivers that know him just let him be but if someone was really pushy to get him to continue, he will probably react with inappropriate behavior (yelling "no, never" instead of saying something polite and it could escalate into a crying fit). For example, at our church the kids color at the table each time at the beginning of the lesson. Most kids I have seen will sit there and color their little hearts out. DS will draw a couple of little things and he is done. Trying to convince him to color more would be fruitless. He just does not like to do that. But if left alone and not pushed to color more, he will sit at the table and talk to the other kids. I guess I could explain that and request a call before if anything happens.

    I guess what I am trying to get to is that with DS there is a really fine line between what he can and cannot do because of autism and DH and I have learned to see the line. We know when it is right time to discipline and when to help him calm down. The caregivers at MOPS that have seen him every week since he was 6 months old can figure it out too (at least to the point that I feel comfortable leaving him with them). But to someone new, it just looks as misbehavior. And at what point is he mature enough to be left in the care of an adult who may discipline him for things out of his control. We have a similar issue with the family but it's easy since DH and I are around and we can just tell them to back off, no, he does not need spanking, he needs a quiet space to calm down.

    Thanks again for your replies

    Janben, I hope you find a church where your whole family is comfortable soon.

  5. #5
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    At our church we didn't do any discipline and were not allowed to do so for good reason. Honestly, many of the boys in his age range color a bit at coloring time and are very done. I actually think it is impressive that he will still sit there and just talk. So, yes, just tell them that he really doesn't like to color but will happily sit and talk while everyone else does so.
    Jessica (33) and Ryan (33). Madelyn born August 5, 2009; Malachi born December 23, 2010 and Nathaniel born July 19, 2013. Lost a loved baby 02/29/12, 05/14/12 and 07/05/12 all due a serious allergic reaction to fabric softener.
    My Ovulation Chart , My blog about MCAD

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