Millions of people in our country have disabilities. My friend and fellow church member, Jennifer Holt, writes about the three A’s of churches providing care for families affected by special needs. Those of us in kids ministry must lead the way in opening doors for the church to serve these families. –Jana Magruder
36 million — that’s the number of Americans, as of May 2011, with disabilities. Five percent of all children, ages 5 to 17, and ten percent of American adults, ages 18-64, struggle with a disability. Twenty one percent of the population of disabled people, age 16 and over, are below the poverty level. One in 68 children have been diagnosed with autism. The families affected by both physical and intellectual disabilities are at startling highs in our country and around the world. Divorce rates among families with special needs or acute health problems soar to between 80 and 90 percent, depending on the diagnosis. Stress levels are climbing. Their hearts are hurting, and they need to be rescued.
They are looking for Assurance, Acceptance, and Accessibility. If we as the body of Christ can provide these three A’s, we can be a lifeline for these families.
I will never forget the overwhelming fear I felt that dreadful afternoon when leaving my pediatrician’s office. The word ‘autism’ reverberated in my head and washed over me like a flood. It was almost an out of body experience. I was gasping for air, feeling as if I were suffocating from the weight of that single word. I needed some assurance from my God and the people who knew me best that this was part of His plan. The church must rise up and show families that God is in control, He loves them, and they are not alone.
Special needs families feel the awkward glances and holes stared right through them whenever they try to do everyday things like go to a restaurant, buy groceries, and especially attending church. Church members are inconvenienced by the accommodations that have to be made in order for people with disabilities to be included. Our outreach efforts to families who are struggling to find a place where they belong have to become more deliberate. Church members must learn that worship may not always look the same for all types of people.
Think beyond handicapped parking spaces and ramps. Are there places that families can go to “cool down” like a sensory break room? Do you provide or allow for “fidget toys” during worship? What about hearing devices to amplify sound for hearing impaired or headphones to reduce noise for those who are sensitive? Just as the friends of the paralytic had to do in Mark 2, sometimes we have to cut a hole in the roof and lower a friend down. Whatever it takes, we have to be willing to provide access to a worship experience for special needs individuals and their families.
Jennifer J. Holt is committed to sharing the love of Christ with special needs families like hers who need Him so desperately. She is thankful for the Sapphire Ministry of Forest Hills Baptist Church, Nashville, TN where she and her family are loved and supported.