To Tell or Not to Tell: An Open Letter to Parents
Many parents struggle to tell the children’s ministry team of a suspected or confirmed special needs diagnosis. There are many reasons families do not openly share of their child’s neurological, developmental or cognitive challenges (which we discuss in other posts on this blog). Christine Hoover, the mother of a young son with autism, wrote this piece as an open letter to other parents wrestling with the idea of candidly sharing their child’s unique needs with the children’s pastor. Stay tuned for part 2 to this post where Christine will walk parents through the steps to conducting a successful parent-initiated meeting with the church’s children’s ministry team.
As parents of children with disabilities, do we disclose their diagnosis to the children’s ministry staff at our church? Too often we’ve been stung by either a hurtful response or a blank stare when we’ve shared about our child’s special needs with friends, acquaintances, and even family. Although vulnerability opens the door for receiving encouragement, support, and help, remaining quiet sometimes seems easier than an uncertain response. This is especially true in relation to the local church. Why are we most afraid to tell the children’s minister, Sunday school teachers, or preschool workers that serve our children? Perhaps, we think, they will send us away, exclude our children, thrust a label on them, or lack the wisdom and resources for appropriate ministry to our children.
As a mother of a child with autism who has disclosed my son’s diagnosis with our church staff, I encourage other parents to do the same. When my children are sick, I take them to the doctor and carefully list all their symptoms so the doctor can prescribe the most effective antidote. Leaving anything out would not be best for my child’s safety and health. Much the same, sharing my child’s specific needs and struggles with the children’s ministry staff enables them to most effectively meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of my child.
Other reasons for disclosing my child’s special needs include:
- As a parent of a child with autism, I need all the support I can get! Who better to offer spiritual and physical support then the children’s ministry staff?
- Even if I do not disclose, the children’s staff and classroom workers have most likely already observed indicating behaviors. My silence puts them in a difficult position because they risk offending me by initiating the conversation. By disclosing, misunderstandings are lessened and teachers can gain resources for interactions with my child.
- Once I accepted the opportunity, disclosing opened a needed branch of ministry within the church. There are other mothers in the church suffering in silence over a difficult diagnosis. We have an opportunity to live out 2 Corinthians 1:3: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
- By sharing, I am helping the staff develop the most well-rounded ministry. It’s good for my child, it’s helpful for the staff, and it refines the entire ministry.
Yes, disclosing the diagnosis is nerve wracking. Yes, it requires vulnerability. Yes, you might cry your way through it. But disclosing a difficult diagnosis is worth it and is a step forward for your child, your family, and your church. –Christine Hoover
See the next post, A Parent’s Prescription for Disclosure as the follow-up to this post.
Christine Hoover is a church pastor’s wife and mother of a son diagnosed with high-functioning autism. For more on Christine Hoover and her writing, see findinghopeinautism.blogspot.com