Help Your Family Get Ready for Church

Because October is both ADHD and Down syndrome Awareness Month, Making Us Whole will focus on addressing concerns and raising awareness of both of these disabilities. Regardless of your connection with ADHD or Down syndrome, our hope is that these posts will leave you more informed about the unique joys and struggles families touched by either of these disabilities encounter.      

I invite you to take a walk with me in this parent’s shoes for a moment:

Sunday morning is the most stressful part of your week. You dread having to hassle your 3 young kids into getting up, dressed and into the car for church. This is the first feat of the day, never mind getting them to sit still at church. Young Boy PhotoIt’s particularly difficult for your son, Benny, to get ready in the morning. While you can tell your other two children they need to be ready by 9 AM, Benny, who has ADHD, needs constant reminding. He would rather play with his Legos than get dressed – he is in no rush. By the time you arrive at church, you feel frazzled, rushed and not prepared to worship God, as Dr. Stephen Grcevich, at Key Ministry points out. You also feel ashamed because your pre-worship experience wasn’t full of gentleness and peace, two Fruits of the Spirit you feel expected to demonstrate at church.

If this situation describes you, you may be like other families with young children with ADHD. Doug Bouman, director of evaluation services at CLC Network, has some tips for helping your Sunday mornings go smoother:

1)      Display the morning routine in pictures with words. Have your child remove each picture after completing the task to give them a sense of accomplishment. Presenting a visual cue is a great reference for children who struggle to hold information internally.

2)      Use a time timer to visually display how much time your son or daughter has to get ready. This will help children with ADHD who struggle to understand the passage of time.

Image of Time TImer

Time Timer

3)      Provide incremental warnings for when you’re leaving (“we’re leaving in 5 minutes”).

4)      At the beginning of each week, go over the week’s schedule on a family whiteboard. Again, another helpful visual reference.

5)      Use short moments of competition to fuel a sense of urgency and bridge the connection between current performance and future outcomes.

6)      Provide concrete evidence and affirmation for small successes.

Stay tuned later this week for suggestions to help your child with ADHD engage in church.

Doug Bouman PhotoDoug Bouman is Director of Evaluation Services at CLC Network, a Nationally Certified School Psychologist and Licensed Masters Social Worker

 

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Let’s Share a Journey

Friends Walking on Path

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Gleason Coaching

Let’s share a journey, the way it should be,

I’ll include you, if you include me.

Let’s share a journey and teach the ways.

God’s love can endure, all of our days.

Let’s share a journey, show us how,

To accept all people, right here and now.

Let’s share a journey, together we’ll sing,

Thanks be to God, our Lord and King.

Let’s share a journey, like should be expected,

Compassion and love and always respected.

Let’s share a journey, and we all will see,

That a journey together, is the way it should be.

In the past five years, one lesson I have learned as Founder and Director of Faith Inclusion Network (FIN) of Hampton Roads is that this journey we are on is one that is meant to be traveled together.  Not only that, our life’s journey is not really about the destination, but about the people we meet along the way, which should include all different kinds of people who can understand, inspire and encourage us.

How did I get started in faith and disability advocacy?  Well, as mom to Samantha, who has autism, I began advocating for inclusion in religious education classes for her at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Norfolk, Virginia.  (You can read more about our story on the FIN website) I also began a Christian support group for parents raising children with special needs at my church and began to hear stories; heartbreaking stories of exclusion or just “not fitting in” at church.  Soon, the idea of creating an interfaith, community networking organization began to form.  I wanted to connect with even more people in our community.

Today, Faith Inclusion Network is an official non-profit organization that is comprised of individuals, faith communities, service providers and businesses interested in helping to make our places of worship more welcoming and accommodating for people with disabilities and their families.  FIN hosts seminars, networking luncheons, workshops and conferences throughout the Hampton Roads area. We have also developed presentations on issues of inclusion to bring to area faith communities, and consult with those beginning to develop disability ministries. It is fascinating work and I learn more about acceptance and inclusion every day.

Has God touched your heart to be involved in some kind of inclusion work in your faith community? Are you already active in disability ministry and have ideas to share?  Are you interested in starting a network like FIN in your community?  Wherever you are on your journey, I hope you will take the time to get connected with CLC Network, Faith Inclusion Network or any of the other faith and disability organizations around the country.  It really is about sharing our lives, experiences and our journeys.  “Let’s share a journey and you will see, that a journey together is the way it should be”.

Karen Jackson, FIN Director photoKaren Jackson is the Director of Faith Inclusion Network. She can be reached at kjackson@faithinclusionnetwork.org or by phone at 757-282-8000.

Incomplete without Sean

“Making Us Whole” serves not only as the title of this blog, but as an important concept behind the mission and vision of CLC Network. To define this phrase, “making us whole”, CLC Network marketing communications manager, Katie Barkley, wrote the following letter to her brother Sean, a young man with a disability.  

Dear Sean,

You were uniquely designed and created by God. You reflect His image in your laugh, your loyalty, your attention to detail, and your eagerness to forgive. I am proud to be your sister.

Sean, our family would not be complete without you. You offer unique gifts that neither I nor anyone else could contribute; gifts like your detailed memory, optimistic perspective, and your skill for card games. We need you in our family.

But it’s not just our family that needs you. Your school needs you – as does your church and community.  Though you may have limitations, this does not define you or your contributions. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul uses the metaphor of the human body to describe the type of community the Christian Church is to be. Though each part of the body serves a different purpose, all parts work together to carry out the functions of the body. Paul states, “…if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?” (1 Corinthians 12:16-17)

I am glad we are each made differently and uniquely. If we each were the same, we would not need each other. One of the reasons God created us with different personalities and gifts to contribute is because He wants us to lean on each other. Sean, if you were not gifted with an attention to detail, how would we have survived on road trips without you as our navigator? Or the many times when I forget birthdays and other important events, how would I keep track of them without you? Paul says, “But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.”  (1 Cor 12:18) Just as the human body is made complete by each part, so too is the Body of Christ made whole when each piece – each person – contributes their strengths and gifts, while also leaning on others for their areas of weakness.

Sean, it’s important that you are included in all aspects of the life of your school, church & family communities. Just as you benefit from time spent with people without disabilities, they have lessons to learn and gifts to receive from you.

I am grateful for your presence in my life. You are another piece in the Body of Christ that makes us whole.

Love,

Katie

Katie Barkley Image Katie Barkley is the marketing communications manager at CLC Network and the curator of this blog. She is a graduate of Calvin College and is deeply interested in how faith intersects with all aspects of life. 

Include Others – Jesus Did

Inclusiveness is a popular word with CLC Network and in our affiliated schools.  It is such an important part of what we do and what we stand for. What do we mean by the word “inclusiveness”? In its simplest terms it means nobody gets left out, or in more positive terms, everyone is included.

All Kids IncludedAs Christian parents, we very consciously teach our children certain truths and standards that we expect them to live by, right now and as they mature into adults. We directly teach them to tell the truth, not to steal, to show honor to God and to others, and so much more. But, do we really teach them directly about including others? Probably not as much as we should.  And our society is rife with examples of exclusion. Consider how poorly-integrated most of our cities are. Look at the disparity that exists between the rich and poor, and how little the two interact. Or, there is the social gap that exists between the well-educated and those with little education.  The examples of exclusion are countless and can even be seen in our churches, of all places.

Jesus gave us the perfect example of inclusivity.  Jesus never excluded anyone. In fact, he went out of his way to include the very ones that were excluded by most of society. He was frequently accused of hanging with the wrong people. He makes it very clear to us that we, as his followers, are always to keep his example, and that by ignoring or rejecting those we consider “below” us, we are rejecting him. “Insomuch as you have done it unto the least of these, my brothers, you have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)

So how do we help our children learn this important life lesson? First of all, we should lead by example. Think about who you invite to join you at your family dinner table. How is your family involved with minority families? How inclusive is your church? You can also help children overlook perceived differences in others by the language you use. Remind your children that although we are all different, we are much more alike. Help them to look past the “flaws” in others and recognize the hidden gifts others possess. Remind them that we are all made in God’s image.

You can probably already identify those children who are not fully accepted in your child’s class. Help your child to understand why they are not and together try to discover the strengths these children do have. Discuss with your child how it feels to be left out. Encourage your child to ask these children over for playtime or for dinner or, include one of these children in a family outing.

Many of our network schools form what we call “Circles of Friends” for children with unique learning needs or those who may have trouble adapting to the classroom. Children who participate in such circles find that the experience can be life changing.  This is not an exaggeration; I know many of these children who, as adults today, are working in a field related to that experience.  If you would like to help your child’s school learn more about how to create and run these circles, check out the “Circle of Friends” manual.

Greg Yoder photoGreg Yoder graduated from Calvin College with a BA in education in 1972 and has since attained a masters in special education from Michigan State University with an endorsement in learning disabilities from Grand Valley State University. He has been an employee of CLC Network since 1981 working as a special ed teacher and as a teacher consultant.

Misunderstanding My Misunderstanding

Dear Mom and Dad,

I think the reason I struggle in school is I have no motivation, no goal, nothing that tells me to keep going.  Some kids have legitimate reasons for their school struggles – not me.  I am just lazy and it is 100% my responsibility to dig myself out of this academic hole I have created.  If I don’t improve you should pull me out of sports and eliminate all the things that mean a lot to me because I don’t deserve them.  

I love you

-7th grader, March 2010

Photo courtesy of MumblingMommy.com

When students misunderstand in school and are misunderstood by adults, things frequently get tense –inside the student and also between the student and parents and/or teachers. Inside them it can feel confusing, frustrating, or discouraging. Eventually, these feelings often lead to self-prosecution (e.g. I’m so stupid, I just can’t do it, etc.) Between the adults and students tensions may quickly increase as “nothing seems to work” and parents and teachers display ever-increasing frustration and discouragement.

How does this happen? Why? Reasons for student misunderstanding and adult misunderstanding of their misunderstanding are multiple. One possibility to consider is that the adults play out their autobiography into the life of the child. What does that mean? Without realizing it, we adults assume the student is us. So the automatic, default reason we lean on to explain the student’s misunderstanding or struggle in school is often the reason we (adults) might have struggled ourselves. This autobiography mindset often misses the mark, leading to misinterpretation. For example, if a parent had no trouble in school, they may interpret their child’s struggle as laziness. So what might this misunderstanding sound like around the home front? How about – “I know you are smart… I know you can do this,” or “You need to try harder – get motivated.” Yikes.

This process can heighten and tighten leading to a “triple whammy” for the student.

Whammy #1 – The student is struggling in school, knows it, and recognizes that they are disappointing the very people s/he is trying to please.

Whammy #2 – If the adults cannot identify a reason based on their own experience for why their student is struggling, they will often ask the student (i.e. “why can’t you just do this?”). The average child does not know why they are struggling, and the fact that the adults in their life do not have an explanation can be bewildering or increase their shame and anxiety.  In a sense, they have the right to ask, “Why are you asking ME? I’m the twelve year old here!”

Whammy #3 – The default reason everyone else is giving for a students’ misunderstanding or struggles in school is because they “don’t care… aren’t trying… aren’t motivated.” After a while, the student may even believe the misunderstandings of the adults in their life.

So, what to do? A few things to consider:

  1. Parents can remain open to a variety of explanations/interpretations for the student’s struggles. One particularly helpful book is A Mind at a Time  by Mel Levine, M.D.
  2. Parents can help their student by emotionally “shock absorbing” the situation. Amidst their struggle of misunderstanding, the student really needs the adults in their lives to really behave as adults — to  absorb some of the emotion flying around by remaining calm — easy to say, not so easy to do.
  3. Adults can help the student change their thinking or talking from “I can’t understand/do __________” to “I haven’t understood/done ___________yet.”
  4. Seek further comprehensive evaluation from CLC Network as a foundation for accurately understanding their misunderstanding, getting adults and the student on the same page and putting a specific plan in place which includes steps for parents, teachers and the student.

Ultimately, misunderstanding a student’s misunderstanding is understandable. And once we realize this, we can move forward to understanding our students’ struggles, to using that understanding to equip rather than guilt, and to making education meaningful and achievable for our kids.

Doug BoumanDoug Bouman is Director of Evaluation Services at CLC Network, a Nationally Certified School Psychologist and Licensed Masters Social Worker