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5 Things to Know about the Mother of a Child with Autism – Part 5

April 6, 2011

This post is the fourth in a 5-part series in honor of World Autism Awareness Day.  The series introduction is included in Part 1 (see link below).  To see previous posts in this series, see:

Part 1: She may feel relief upon the receipt of an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis for her child.

Part 2:  She may experience the conflicting emotions of grief and hope.

Part 3:  She fears exclusion.

Part 4:  She needs your respect, not your opinion or advice.

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Part 5:  She values action over empathy.

In my experience, some of the most capable and competent individuals are parents of children with a special needs, and particularly autism.  I have been surprised just how much I have enjoyed the fellowship and life-approach of the mothers I have interviewed for all of my special needs writing.  These women have often answered the call to create a specially tailored parenting plan for their unusual and often high-demand child.  Countless mothers have given up careers to advocate full time for their child with special needs.  Other women have taken on new jobs in order to pay for the costs associated with their child’s enhanced educational needs.   Most impressive, a number of these women have abandoned a victim mentality in order to make the most of life for their child and their family.

Not coincidentally, I have discovered that this same group appreciates “can-do” life-helpers who are solution driven.  Moms of children with special needs largely value action over empathy.  And this is especially true when these parents engage their church staff and children’s ministry team.  Interviews have revealed frustration and even anger for instances when a church staff member said all the right things in terms of understanding the family’s plight, but failed to follow through on an action step.  If a request for accommodation is not legitimately attempted or explained, unparalleled frustration may emerge.

The most appreciated interactions between the church and parents involve a visible effort to collect information for the purpose of devising a plan forward.  Parents frequently shared of setbacks in their experience inside the children’s ministry.  But generally speaking, when reasonable efforts were being made and the overall direction was positive, they were forgiving of the missteps along the way.  If the parents felt they had a healthy line of communication with the children’s ministry team, they tended to reflect on the setbacks less negatively.  Parents were more likely to continue their involvement in the church if they perceived the children’s minister was honest, compassionate, and visibly striving for improvement for special needs accommodations.

Want to show support through action?

Tap into the knowledge resources of families affected by special needs. Ask parents to refer names of special education professionals and pediatric therapists who could lend their expertise to the church.  Work with these experts to equip ministry volunteers to better engage different types of learners in typical environments and special needs settings. Many professionals will offer occasional assistance for free in order to build referrals to their business.

Add sensory, visual, auditory, and gross motor skill components to every children’s ministry experience. Children who lack the ability to self regulate will remain better engaged while children of all learning preferences will benefit from the enhanced lessons.

Add a section on disability etiquette to the student ministry handbook or worker training event.

Create a protocol for helping children who struggle with transitions. When preparing for a first-time church visit or moving a child to a new environment (i.e. promotion Sunday), plan an advance walk through or teacher meeting for the child.  Barbara Newman’s $10 book, Church Welcome Story (published by CLC Network), is an outstanding tool for assisting a child through a church transition.  This book provides detailed instructions and access to a website where personalized stories can be created so that the parents or the church can prepare the child for a new setting.  I highly recommend any book or resource authored by Barbara Newman of CLC Network!

Include parents affected by autism on the advisory board for the children’s or student ministry. Few things create a sense of community or parent ownership inside a ministry like a parent advisory board!

Reserve marked special needs parking spaces nearest the children’s ministry entrance. Enlist a host team to help families affected by special needs move from the parking lot to the children’s ministry area.

Consider allowing families of children with special needs to use a back door entry to the children’s ministry area. Participants with sensory issues will start their church experience on a more peaceful note if they have avoided crowded or noisy areas.

Recruit a volunteer nurse to serve at the preschool check-in desk for the duration of childcare.

Keep Gluten Free Casein Free products on hand.

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Some of the content in this post and the rest of this series are protected by copyright.

Thank you! – Amy Fenton Lee


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