Mark Arnold shares two stories to inspire you to ‘go and do likewise’
When thinking about how to support children and young people with additional needs, it is helpful to read stories where adversity has been turned into acceptance, exclusion has become inclusion, and barriers have been broken down to create belonging.
First of all, let’s hear from a young person and his mum as they share a little of their experience. Listen out for the important challenge Kieran gives us at the end, a challenge that the subsequent two stories help to meet:
Kayden*, aged 9, and his mum, arrived at our mid-week youth club for the 9-13 year olds. She shared that Kayden is Autistic and has ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), and that they had tried to get him into other clubs but they had always said “no”. Kayden and his mum had been given these reasons for Kayden not being included:
1. A club said they didn’t have enough volunteers so couldn’t take anyone else on (surely no children’s or youth teams have enough volunteers!)
2. A club said they had enough volunteers, but they weren’t trained in how to support children with ‘special needs’ (but they weren’t rushing to get that training!)
3. A club suggested that Kayden “might be a health and safety risk to the other young people and leaders” (my heart breaks, I’m sure yours does too…)
While 90% of my attention was gripped by the awful stories Kayden’s mum was sharing, the other 10% of me was being horribly distracted by the chaos going on in the room behind me! Talk about not having enough volunteers! As one blood curdling scream erupted, I looked to see what had happened, and in that moment, Kayden’s mum asked me the key question: “Would Kayden be able to come here?” No pressure then, having heard those stories! As I looked at the other young people, many of whom had additional needs like Kayden too, I was able to turn back to Kayden and his mum and say “We would love for Kayden to join our group… (cue another blood curdling scream)… and as you can see, he’ll fit right in!” She laughed, and the light came back into her eyes and the weight lifted from her shoulders. Someone had finally accepted her son. Saying “yes” matters, it’s transforming! We journeyed with Kayden, his mum, sister, and others family members, over the following years, and never regretted the decision to include Kayden.
*Kayden is not his real name.
Keira* is aged ten and is Autistic. She goes to a big inner-city church with her parents. On Sunday mornings, before their 10am service, they serve food and refreshments to everyone, so the entrance lobby is always packed with people just before 10am when Keira and her family arrive.
Keira would walk into a wall of people, noise, smells, bright lights, and it would begin to overwhelm her. Then everyone would be rushing into the worship area as the band started playing, and Keira would be jostled and bumped as she and her family were swept along in the tide. Keira is sensitive to touch and needs her personal space, so she would find this difficult, and sometimes painful, too. On arriving in the worship area, the noise would hit Keira like a wall, and she would massively struggle, unable to cope. Her family would be looking for somewhere to sit, always somewhere different, no regularity or consistency for Keira which she craves, and when they did find somewhere Keira would have no idea what was happening, when she would be going to the children’s session, or what they would be doing when she got there. Brain overload would often follow, in the form of a meltdown; hard for Keira and her family.
The Inclusion Champion at Keira’s church spotted all of this and got alongside Keira and her family to work out a better way for them to arrive at church. They agreed together to arrive just after 10am, when the entrance lobby is clearer; there would still be people there to greet them and they could still get their refreshments before heading down an emptier walkway to the worship area. Keira would pick up some ear defenders on the way.
When they reached the worship area, they headed for the reserved seating that they helped to pick out, Keira’s favourite place to sit. Waiting there for Keira is a visual timetable, so that she knows what is happening now, next, and when she will be going out to the children’s session. She also finds some resources left for her that she can look at to get a head start in learning what they will be exploring in the children’s group. Maybe a word search or a colouring, both firm favourites for Keira. Brain overloads are now a thing of the past at church, no more meltdowns at church for Keira!
Getting it right
When we get this right, creating a place of true belonging for every child and young person with additional needs, church becomes better for us all. Kayden was accepted and included and as a result his family joined the church. Keira was supported and helped to avoid meltdowns, making church a safe place for her and her family. There are 2.5 million children and young people with additional needs across the UK waiting for us to reach out to them to create belonging for them and their families too. I hope these stories encourage you to start your own inclusion journey with the children and young people you meet.
If you would like me to join you on the journey, please contact me at email@example.com, I would love to walk alongside you and help you.
*names have been changed