Do you wonder what moms of children with special needs would find helpful from your church? Bev Roozeboom, author of Unlocking The Treasure: A Bible Study for Moms Entrusted with Special-Needs Children, is part of a support group for mothers of children of various ages with various disabilities. She asked these women how their churches had been helpful to their families, as well as where their churches had fallen short. Together they created a “wish list” of what they would find helpful for local churches to offer families who have children with special needs. The complete list is attached, and some highlights are below. Most importantly, if you are wondering about a specific family in your church, ask them, then listen carefully and non-judgmentally.
- Create a “welcoming environment” in your church. Let families who have children with special needs know they are important to the church family.
- Communication is extremely important. Families must be willing to communicate their needs to the church, and the leadership of the church must allow families to express their needs.
- When questioning whether a child will be able to participate in a program, always go with the assumption, “This will work. Somehow, we’ll make this work!”
- Feel free to ask appropriate questions about our children, but please don’t offer unsolicited advice. Most families have doctors, therapists, and other specialists whom they look to for advice.
- Ask us (parents) how we’re doing. One mom, whose adult son is physically and emotionally impaired, said, “If your child had cancer, others would ask how they could help, or how we were doing. I don’t think anyone knows how hard it is to be a caregiver except the people who are."
- Pair older, responsible teens in the church with children who have special needs. They could be special buddies for each other at church functions, programs, etc.
- Host an open forum in your church in which parents who have children with special needs can meet together with the church leadership.Purchase gift cards to restaurants, coffee shops, gas stations, or grocery stores for families who have children with special needs. When the family is in a crisis situation (i.e. child in hospital), make sure they receive some of these cards to help alleviate a stressful—and often costly—situation.
- Offer grace to parents whose children are unable to sit quietly. This is how one mom put it. “Sitting through a worship service with our son is very challenging for him and for us! I wish there was an “umbrella of mercy” for him, so that he could sit in the back row and play iPad with headphones on, without us feeling watched/judged.
In summary, Bev says, "Offer us grace—not judgment. Be patient with us and allow us to grieve—no matter how old our child is. Pray for us." That sounds like a good advice for a lot of situations. In fact, so much of what the mothers came up with in this list is just common sense. I wonder why, when ministering with people affected by disabilities, we have so much trouble applying our common sense to that area of ministry.