Parents Don’t Disclose – Reasons & First Steps
Question: “How do we communicate with parents who have not been forthright with information regarding their child’s disability or unique needs?”
Parents often do not disclose their child’s diagnosis or disability for a variety of reasons:
1) Fear of exclusion – By revealing an autism diagnosis or any one of a number of disorders, parents often worry that their child may be removed from certain environments or excluded in social settings. Repeatedly, mothers of children with special needs share of the grief they experience when seeing their child left out of typical activities, playgroups and even birthday parties.
2) Fear of a label – While a child may be allowed to remain in a setting or participate in an activity, parents don’t want to see their child treated differently or teased by other children.
3) Denial – Parents may not yet be at terms with the idea their child has a disability or possibly life-changing diagnosis.
In some cases, a children’s ministry can ascertain on their own the needs of the child and pad the volunteer count to a room by adding a discreetly tagged buddy. However, a sensitive conversation is often warranted between a children’s ministry staff member and the parents of a child exhibiting behaviors indicating a special need. Keep in mind that it is generally inappropriate to approach a parent to offer an opinion or advisement related to pursuing a diagnosis or obtaining treatment. The purpose of a conversation would be to address what is best for the child in terms of church accommodation. It is important to anticipate these situations before they happen and to create a protocol. Designate a staff member to receive the volunteer/teacher concerns and then determine the path forward. Policies and procedures and volunteer training are good opportunities to remind teachers and volunteers to consult designated staff members before they themselves approach a parent with any concern.
Ultimately, the conversation(s) between the children’s ministry team and the parents need to be bathed in prayer and approached with the utmost respect and sensitivity. And indeed such a conversation should occur before the children’s ministry team removes a child from a typical classroom and re-places them into a special needs designated environment.
– Jackie Mills-Fernald
Jackie Mills-Fernald is the Director of McLean Bible Church’s Access Disability Ministry (McLean, VA).