I and many others are busy raising awareness about children with additional needs in our churches - there's a growing army of us!
But in all the forums, conferences, chats with families and focus groups what I'm finding is, there are still two groups of young people who are being forgotten.
There are lots of discussions about autism, dyspraxia, ADHD and other similar additional needs. That's great. The fact there is so much discussion (and sometimes heat) means these children are actually in our churches. Awesome!
But where is the discussion on proper inclusion of children with physical disabilities? Hang on - where ARE the children with physical disabilities?? Have you noticed that on the whole, the only children we have with physical disabilities are those born to families already in the church?
There is no discussion, because there are no children to discuss.
And what about those children with hidden physical disabilities? I'm sure there are house bound young people with ME out there that would love contact with the church!
On chatting to a young lady in her teens recently, a girl who has a life limiting disease, she said that although she can't get out, she used to like getting invitations to church events, just because it meant she wasn't forgotten. Sadly, she no longer gets the invitations..... And she no longer feels included. No one from the youth team visits. How sad is that.
There is no discussion on these children/young people because they have quietly wheeled, limped or crawled their way out of the church for good - and that's if they managed to get in to start with. Many see the church as uncaring and uninterested and therefore don't even bother trying to come in.
We've fought the issues of physical access....... And many churches feel as though they've got that one ticked off their list. But they haven't.
Here's some things I bet many churches haven't thought through:
- For a baptist type church, how do you baptise a young person who can't access the baptistry?
- If a young person who does not take food orally wants to take communion, what do you do? And what about young people with poor swallowing reflexes who choke/splutter when taking communion - how do you react?
- What do you do for the young person who is blind and can't see the amazing visual aids you've produced?
- Is it obvious how to access your church in a wheel chair with out having to ask?
- Do you have an accessible parking space with enough room to open the car door wide so parents can transfer their child to a wheelchair more easily?
I think we need to look at our accessibility in our children's work, and if it is truly accessible..... We need to say on our publicity, on our websites an on our notice boards that our children's work is 'fully accessible' displaying the international signs for accessibility.
We also need to be intentional in our support of those children who are housebound due to disabilities, and also in our support of their families.
There are many children out there with life limiting diseases, their time for hearing the gospel is short, but it appears no one is reaching out to them. Why? The urgency is huge!
How about getting into the local specialist schools, or running carer's support groups.
Use your imagination!
Don't wait for them to come to you, reach out to them.