Maybe It’s All in the Attitude

Every Christian is on a Journey of Disability Attitudes

Four years ago, I was at a restaurant with other members of our team from Elim Christian Services, an organization in the Chicago area that provides resources for hundreds of people with developmental disabilities and for the people who serve them. Our server came over and went around the table asking each of us our names. When she came across two of our friends with disabilities, her tone changed from peer-to-peer to adult-to-child. I thought she was just being nice, until she used the same tone on me because I have a speech impediment. I sound like (and I am) a person with a developmental disability.

I was annoyed, offended, and later I got angry. For the entire 37 years of my life I had avoided being categorized with people who had disabilities, not being treated like them.

My experience with the restaurant server made me realize that the very attitudes I hated about other people were the same attitudes I myself had towards people with disabilities. I realized it was all about my attitude, and that perhaps if I tried to make sense of my own journey I might be able to help others. That night, I started working on a self-assessment tool called “The 5 Stages: The Journey of Disability Attitudes,” and I’m excited to share it with you today. I hope it will help you encourage others to change their attitudes as well.

Where are You on the Journey?

Working with many others, I have identified 5 stages that we all (yes, you too) have the opportunity to go through as our attitudes toward people with disabilities change. Here they are:

5 Stages Chart



Weaknesses and disabilities are a sign that God either does not care or is not able to fix the situation. In fact, disability may be a result of sin or a lack of faith. I have no interest in getting to know them or to know more about their lives.


I feel sorry for people with disabilities. It’s too bad, really. I am blessed by God and I can help others. I am grateful that my children are not disabled. I really don’t see any meaning or purpose to their lives.


Like me, people with disabilities were created in God’s image. By that virtue alone they have value. I hope that someone will take the time to show them God’s love, and I will happily support such an effort. In fact, I think we need to find ways to help those people.


I have a friend who has a disability.  This person has value in God’s sight, but also in mine, and I know that my life is better for having known this person, and as much as I have helped her, she has also blessed me.


If God has called each of us to serve and praise Him with every fiber of our beings, then He has done the same for our brothers and sisters in Christ with disabilities. I think ministry should not just be to people with disabilities, but with or alongside people who have disabilities. We can all give and we can all receive.

If It’s All in the Attitude, What Will You Do to Change It?

So, with these 5 Stages in your hand, I hope that you will do the following:

  1. Assess your own disability attitude and identify one step you can take to change that attitude for the better. (I’d love to hear what that step is – let me know by commenting below.)
  2. Familiarize yourself with the spectrum of attitudes (you can even use the diagram provided here) so that you can share it easily with others.
  3. Commit to simply showing the diagram to two other people and asking them for their thoughts. You’ll be amazed at the conversations you’ll have!

Learn more about the 5 Stages in this video from Dan and his friends at Elim Christian Services.


 Dan Vander Plaats ImageDan Vander Plaats is the Director of Stewardship at Elim Christian Services in Palos Heights, IL, a ministry that provides resources to children and adults with special needs, and training resources to those who serve them. He is also a member of the advisory committee for Disability Concerns for the Christian Reformed Church. In 2009 he compiled “5 Stages: The Journey of Disability Attitudes,” a document that helps churches and individuals assess their attitudes toward people with disabilities. He is married to Denise (Hiemstra), and is father to Ben and Emma. They are members of Orland Park Christian Reformed Church.

Practical Thoughts on Faith & ADHD

The following is the final piece in a 3 part series on faith & ADHD by Oren Mason, M.D. Read part 1 and 2 at these links: “How Treating ADHD Helped Heal My Faith” and “How My Faith Brought Healing to My ADHD

If you are disillusioned regarding spiritual matters, ADHD treatment might give you a new opportunity to re-experience your faith. Disillusionment may represent frustration over how ADHD degraded the practice of your faith. Maybe you are a discouraged believer, not an unbeliever. If you have left a church or the practice of a faith because you did not “fit in”, that might not mean you have lost your faith. Maybe it means that you feel left out or disconnected.

Consider that some changes may help you find a more “ADHD-friendly” worship experience. Several years ago, my family began attending a non-traditional church. It is multi-racial, located in a struggling inner-city neighborhood. There are many mixed-race couples in the church along with residents from a drug-rehab house, college students, immigrant families, suburban families and everybody else in between.

Nobody is “normal”, so anybody and everybody fits in. The music is lively and varied, the sermons are brief and thought-provoking, and the worship sequence changes every week, so that it is not predictable. This novelty factor is tremendously helpful for me, and, I suspect, would be for most people with ADHD.

Forgiveness is a central theme in most religions, and I believe it should be a central theme in our healing as well. We blame ourselves constantly; life is better when we learn to forgive ourselves. We blame others quickly; we need to learn to forgive them more easily. The practice of communion has been a wonderful part of my faith. The message of the service is: “God forgives you, so follow his example by forgiving yourself and others.” It’s been revolutionary for me.

To everyone who does believe in God, even if it only seems a tiny and inconsequential part of you, I encourage you to return to your roots and re-examine your spirituality. Life is hard, even after ADHD is well-treated. By the time he was nine, my son, Ben (who also has ADHD), could already tell you how harsh this world can be, and how much we need an anchor.

Anchors are pretty small things compared to the boats they secure. The question is not how big our anchors are. The question is rather how solid is the rock to which they are affixed.

“May the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace. Amen” 

This piece is an excerpt from “Reaching for a New Potential: A Life Guide for Adults with ADD from a Fellow Traveler” by Oren Mason, M.D.

Oren Mason IMGOren Mason, M.D. is a father, husband, ADHD patient, and physician at Attention MD. He wrote “Reaching for a New Potential” in 2009 after being diagnosed with adult ADHD. He hopes this book can serve as a source of encouragement and hope for those traveling a similar path. 

How My Faith Brought Healing to My ADHD

The following is part 2 in a 3 part series on faith & ADHD. To read part 1, “How Treating ADHD Helped Heal My Faith” click this link

There are several themes in my Christian faith that have been especially helpful to me in dealing with ADHD (even during the 40 years before I knew I had it). Christianity begins with the notion that God has high standards for how we should live, and that we have all failed his expectations. It’s called “sin” in theological circles.

Some of us have pretty high defenses and hate to admit we’re ever wrong, but in honest moments, most people with ADHD feel right at home with the notion that we are error-prone and fall short of what we should be.The real magic of the Christian faith for me begins with the notion that God still loves me, despite my failures. This is where the healing effect of my faith on my ADHD really begins.

Self-esteem is a tough issue for most everyone with ADHD. Many of us are social misfits. Even those of us that are the “life of the party” find that there is a limit to how much of our levity other people want in their lives. Many are divorced—literally rejected by people who once promised they would love us until we died. The sense of loneliness that is so common for people with ADHD arises from the failure to maintain close relationships over the years.

There is little I find more affirming than to be desired. It is an antidote to the expectation of rejection experienced by many of us with ADHD. I am fortunate to have had parents who did a great job of instilling a healthy sense of self-worth in me from an early age, so I’ve suffered less than others. The basis of their attitude was their firm belief that God made me uniquely for His own purpose. Despite my flaws, they always helped me feel I was someone special—not just special to them, but special to God as well.

Now, think what it would be like if your favorite current or recent president knew you by name. Imagine you’re at a political gathering, and he spots you in the crowd of a thousand people and waves you to come over. He smiles broadly and introduces you to the other dignitaries.

Hey, everybody, I want you to meet [insert your name] from [insert your hometown], one of my favorite friends. I’m so glad you’re here. This really makes my day.

It’s hard to imagine just how good that would feel.

But this isn’t merely the president we’re talking about; this is the God of the universe, the One who is so powerful that He knows seven billion people by name and cares immensely for each one. I grew up hearing that He knew my name and smiled when He thought of me. Imagine what it does for me to think that God is happy to see me. He could be done with me. My behavior is not up to His standards. I’m not His type. However, for reasons that must have more to do with love than fairness, He wants me to come home in the end and live with Him forever.

This piece is an excerpt from “Reaching for a New Potential: A Life Guide for Adults with ADD from a Fellow Traveler” by Oren Mason, M.D.

Oren Mason IMGOren Mason, M.D. is a father, husband, ADHD patient, and physician at Attention MD. He wrote “Reaching for a New Potential” in 2009 after being diagnosed with adult ADHD. He hopes this book can serve as a source of encouragement and hope for those traveling a similar path. 

How Treating ADHD Helped Heal My Faith

Earlier this month, we shared a piece of this post from Oren Mason’s book, “Reaching for a New Potential” on the church experience for a child or adult with ADHD. This week we will hear more of Oren’s story as he shares how ADHD treatment impacted his faith and vice versa. This post is part 1 in a 3 part series on faith & ADHD. 

ADHD can make it tough to be a Christian. Two major components of a typical worship service are the sermon and the prayers. Participation in either takes major concentration. Most of the Christians with ADD with whom I have talked feel guilty about how little they participate in traditional worship. Many have abandoned the regular practice of their faith, not because of disbelief, but because of a sense of being ‘out of place’ in a worship service.

Before I was diagnosed with ADHD, I thought that some patterns in my life represented sinfulness, and they caused a perpetual sense of shame in my life. Christians are called to be patient, and I am often impulsive. We are called to pray and read the Scriptures, and I almost always have trouble focusing on God. We are called to think of others and I am often self-centered. Christians are instructed to live in communities and love each other, but I am not very good at the friendship, intimacy and commitment that requires.

But something remarkable happened when I began medication for ADHD. My patience improved, my prayer life got better and I could listen to sermons and remember them later in the week. I found myself more able to think about others and able to act in their interest with less regard for myself. It was hard to understand and characterize what was going on. Had a pill actually improved my morality, my spirituality?

C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, wrote about the difference between mental health and morality. A person’s morality has to do with the efforts made to do what is right. While mental health problems may hinder those efforts, God knows how much ability we possess to be good and expects us to exercise improvement beginning with what we are given. Improved mental health is simply more “raw material” available to do what is right. In other words, someone who is born with very little patience and who displays “all of it” is probably more morally advanced than someone who is born with much patience and exercises only some of it. (Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity, p. 71, 1943, Scribner)

So there is no morality in a pill. Medications only give us a stronger foundation upon which to base our efforts to become better people—IF being better people is what we were seeking even before the pills came along. I suppose they will give you a stronger foundation upon which to become more cruel or dishonest, if that is what you hope for, too.

This piece is an excerpt from “Reaching for a New Potential: A Life Guide for Adults with ADD from a Fellow Traveler” by Oren Mason, M.D. Later this week, Oren will share how his faith brought healing to his ADHD.
Oren Mason IMGOren Mason, M.D. is a father, husband, ADD patient, and physician at Attention MD. He wrote “Reaching for a New Potential” in 2009 after being diagnosed with adult ADD. He hopes this book can serve as a source of encouragement and hope for those traveling a similar path. 

Understanding the Human Mind

Elephant Illusion

Image courtesy of AR Miller

How many legs does this elephant have? 5, 6, maybe 7?  How developed are your visual-spatial skills?  What role does your experience with elephants have in your answer?

I’m guessing you’ve seen other optical illusions as I have.  I personally find them fascinating.  At times, I get a bit angered by the designer as I sense my mind is being “played with”.  Do you know what I mean?

The human mind is truly amazing.  Only a divine creator could create the human mind.  Even more amazing, is the reality that no two minds are the same. As a facilitator, teacher consultant and educator, I continue to marvel at the various ways students learn.  Some learn well through a verbal approach, others through a visual approach and many of us, through a combined visual/auditory approach.  I’ve seen some students increase their memory skills and processing ability when they are moving.  Try learning math facts with students while bouncing a ball or doing laps.  If a student has weak receptive language processing, what can you as a teacher do to increase the student’s opportunities for success?  How do you even begin to know that this is a problem for some?

AKOM logo

Image Courtesy of All Kinds of Minds

All Kinds of Minds (AKOM) has a great framework composed of 8 neurodevelopment systems to understand how students learn.  These systems are like a set of “file folders” or constructs that explain how the brain functions and how this affects student learning and performance.

As an educator and AKOM facilitator, I use this framework to determine a student’s profile of strengths and challenges.  I then adjust my instruction and/or expectations to better match their profiles.

 Understanding Attention 

For example, one of the 8 systems is Attention. AKOM defines attention as:

Maintaining mental energy for learning and work, absorbing and filtering incoming information, and overseeing the quality of academic output and behavior

Attention is to learning as a pilot is to the cockpit or a conductor is to an orchestra. Your attention directs where your focus must be. The main components of attention are mental energy, process controls and production controls.  For some individuals, a breakdown in attention can lie in either one of these primary components, a combination of two or of all three.

What may appear as an attentional weakness for a student may actually be a struggle with language components or memory components.  It’s important to understand where a student’s strengths and weaknesses lie within a student’s neurodevelopmental profile – once you do, you can implement strategies that will help them be successful.


This framework allowed one previous AKOM participant to think about her students in a way that provided depth, rather than lumping the challenging students together.

She learned how to reach these students through decreasing her amount of words and allowing additional time to process oral language. Her increased sense of confidence transformed her classroom:

I used to think I could never reach my most challenging student, now I think I have tools to understand and reach that student.

What’s your learning style? Visit the All Kinds of Minds website and use the free Learner’s Sketch to find out. I also highly recommend the book Schools for All Kinds of Minds.

Do you have a challenging student? I’d invite you to participate in an AKOM training – to find one in your area, click here. I offer a one-day and three-day AKOM training session, email me to find out more.

Pam Maat ImagePam Maat received her BS from Calvin College and her MA in Learning Disabilities from Grand Valley State University. She also holds endorsements from GVSU in Cognitive Impairments and Emotional Impairments. Pam currently is a Teacher Consultant and Professional Development instructor for CLC Network, Director of Educational Support Services for the Holland Christian Schools, and is a Field Coordinator for Hope College and GVSU.