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.
“ADD 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.” (Oren Mason M.D., Reaching for a New Potential, 2009, p. 171-172)
It’s important for churches to realize the reality of an individual with ADD/ADHD and their experience with faith. It’s likely that someone in your congregation has ADHD. (In the US, 5.4 million children aged 4-17 and about 4% of American adults are influenced by it.)
As a church, how can you best accommodate the needs of this individual?
- Start with getting to know them. Talk about their strengths & interests. And then dive into what they struggle with. (For help with this conversation, check out the G.L.U.E. Training Manual & DVD.)
- What are their strengths? Brainstorm ways to implement their God-given gifts and abilities into the body of the church.
- Understand medication issues. Medication is often taken in the morning and run out within 12 hours, making it difficult to sit attentively or focus during evening programs. Some persons with ADHD don’t take medication on the weekend so they might need different accommodations during the worship service and church programming.
- Empower them. Provide seating choices.
- Would they focus better in a 1:1 setting? Invite this person to sit in the front of the church.
- Do they need to move around during the service? Perhaps they’d enjoy sitting in the back of the church so they can rotate between sitting and walking.
- Is their chair restricting? Try a wiggle seat, an exercise ball or a Theraband on the chair legs. (Inclusion Tool Box)
- Interactive lessons that utilize images, analogies and fill-in-the-blank worksheets (or sermon notes) to engage visual learners. The more senses you involve, the more learning styles you accommodate.
- Visual references, like an order of activities, let both children and adults with little sense of urgency know what is coming up next. This list can help them know what to expect and when they need to wrap up a current activity. Find more tips for creating visual references here.
- Engage the mind while the hands fidget. These pencils are great for that!
- Maybe this person needs a buddy gifted with strengths that complement his or her weaknesses.
When welcoming any individual into the church, it’s important to remember that they have both strengths to contribute and areas of need. The church is not complete without this person, regardless of their level of ability or disability. Additional resources on ADHD and accommodating your church programs for those with disabilities are listed below. We’d love to hear your ideas and experiences with welcoming the entire Body into the church in the comment section below.
Including People with Disabilities in Faith Communities by Erik W. Carter
Kids in the Syndrome Mix by Martin L. Kutscher, MD
Inclusion Handbook: Everybody Belongs, Everybody Serves, Edited by Terry A. DeYoung and Mark Stephenson
Contributors: Doug Bouman, Director of Evaluation Services, and Barbara J. Newman, Director of Church Services, at CLC Network contributed to this article. Many of the above ideas were adapted from the G.L.U.E. Training Manual DVD.