Resources to Include New Church Member Who Has Down Syndrome

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Hi! I'm interested in some resources for a family that has recently started attending our church. They have an 18 year old daughter who has Down syndrome. Her father asked if she could go in the nursery and color, but we aren't sure if that is the best place for her. I haven't personally met the family, so I'm not sure where she is developmentally. I just need a place to start. Thanks for your input!

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I'd love to offer a few ideas from CLC Network, if that's ok! And, today I see a great post on CRCNA about some creativity in using the gifts of a person with Down syndrome -see it here

At CLC, we LOVE Disability Concern's slogan: Everybody belongs, everbody serves. And I wonder if the individual whom you are thinking about, at 18 years old, has a place to belong and to serve, not just to sit in a corner and color --though coloring can be an expression of worship, so that's not to be ignored either! 

We believe the inclusion of persons with their peers is always advantageous. Both to the individual and to the group: we grow as we learn and interact together. Is there a young adults group in your church? She could join that group, and build relationships with church members her age and/or older, whom she may grow to know and love for years to come as others in her life come and go with college plans, etc. Adapting Bible Study content for her learning needs is an option. Together Curriculum from Friendship Ministries has loads of great content, as well as resources and ideas for adapting for individuals (no matter what curriculum or content you are using). See more at togethersmallgroups.org, particularly the page on "adapting to the needs of your group".

Like Zach, in the story posted on CRCNA Network today, might this young lady have a place to serve? The first questions we always ask when thinking about an individualized plan for participation in worship is "what does the person love to do?" and "what does this person do well?" because the truth is, she is bringing her gifts to your congregation, just as you or anyone else brings gifts and talents to the body. What might God be doing as he arranges each part of the body as He sees fit, here in your community? (See 1 Corinthians 12:18). 

If you'd like a place to start brainstorming, or some resources, have a look at our free resources and ideas at CLC Network. You may be inspired and find some starting points in our list of ideas for each role within the church to think about how to better include persons with varied abilities. Email us with questions, or if you'd like to consider some training, consulting, or ongoing support! Blessings! (I would love to hear how this story unfolds!)

Sorry! The link to Zach's story, posted today is at https://network.crcna.org/disability-concerns/everybody-serves-creative-welcome-time, if the one I listed in my earlier reply did not go through correctly! 

Participant

Maybe she would like to color Bible story pictures to decorate a classroom/bulletin board OR give away. Can she design a bulletin cover? Or pass out bulletins?

Participant

As a parent of a young adult with Down Syndrome who loves to colour I can understand to some degree where the dad is coming from. Personally I wouldn't recommend the nursery as that isn't age appropriate. I wouldn't have a problem with having someone colour during the service, but if that makes others uncomfortable, maybe a space off to the side would be an option. As much as possible, I think it's best to keep her with the worshipping community. There are lots of religious colouring books available for instance if that helps keep her settled.

Participant

You may want to get a few (no more than three) volunteers to be with or mentor this person during service time. This would enable her to stay in the service as long as she is able (especially during the singing) with a mentor beside her to explain things or to accompany her elsewhere in the building if she needs to move around more or be more active or sit an colour.

Having a job for her to do, with a mentor coaching is a great way for her to feel a part of the church. Depending on her personality, jobs like greeting, handing out bulletins, collecting coffee mugs, sorting things in the resource room, etc. can be tried out. Once she finds a job she can and likes to do she will probably count on doing the same job every week.

I am the mom of two men with Down Syndrome, both in their thirties. I have to continuously (it seems) remind people that they are men, not boys. I would encourage having the young woman included in an age-appropriate group, if possible. If there are a few young women who are willing to befriend her, that would be awesome, as long as they don't treat her like a pet instead of as an equal. My two men are accepted in the church as members, which they are, but from my point of view, they do most of the hard work of making and keeping friends. They are generally not seen as capable of volunteering, except when they are helping me. (sigh)

If the young woman likes to colour, she could bring what she needs with her and colour in the pew with her parents or new friends. If she wants to be in the nursery, she could be a nursery helper, and with the expectation of actually helping. Please do treat her with respect and as an adult, not as a child. That is most important. Talk to her, not about her in front of her. Bear in mind that she will live up to, or down to, expectations, no matter what her IQ suggests. People with Down Syndrome can be amazing! And they all have strengths and weaknesses, just like the rest of us!

Thank you all for your wonderful suggestions and insights. I have shared them with our pastor and our Fellowship Team. We are working to find a place for this young woman and others who may come into our church in the future. We also have a young girl with Pitt-Hopkins syndrome, so your advice and comments will give us ways to help her belong and serve as well.