Adolescence is a challenging time for many young people, and with today’s complexities – in part due to rapid technological advancement and 24/7 connectivity – it has only become an increasingly tricky season of life to navigate. Add to this the potential social stigma, barriers, and support needs that come with visible and invisible disabilities and mental health challenges, and it is no wonder that youth pastors and practitioners are hungry for relevant training and resources in this area. …
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
~Psalm 139:13-16 (NIV)
I have a physical disability and as a child I spent some time wishing that I could be just like everyone else because I did not fully understand the value of diversity and differences. I did however understand the popular children’s TV show Sesame Street. It taught me many things including colors, counting, directions and even computer skills. I also remember being thrilled when a child in a wheelchair made a guest appearance on the TV show.
As increasing numbers of children are affected by autism, I am especially thankful that Sesame Street is now incorporating Julia, a character with autism. The sentiment that Julia likes to play, she just may play a little differently underscores the biblical truth that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made, regardless of ability or “disability.” through the character of Julia and her friend Elmo, Sesame Street will help many children to understand some mannerisms of many people who have autism and offer communication strategies. It is hoped that this will diminish bullying of children with exceptional needs. I think it will also promote the biblical value of embracing differences and foster a greater variety of peer relationships.
For now, Julia is an online-only character featured in the storybook “We’re Amazing, 1, 2, 3” but that doesn’t prevent her and the numerous resources posted at the site “Sesame Street and Autism” (autism.sesamestreet.org) from being in a kid’s ministry setting! “Being a Friend” “Explaining Autism to Young Children” and “What to Say to A Parent of a Child with Autism” provide key tips, and a number of videos like “Nasaiah’s Day,” “A Parent’s Role” or “A Sibling Story” can help children’s ministry volunteers become familiar with the experiences of families of kids with autism.
Thanks, Sesame Street for striving to “see amazing in all children,” and helping to contextualize such an important biblical truth, that is, the value of embracing differences. As people of faith, may we be reminded that God sees amazing in all children as well as in all people. Further, may this be cause for the church to celebrate the different gifts of every person.
For more information, read the Atlantic article, “Sesame Street’s New Brand of Autism Education” or watch the following video (this may be useful in a Sunday School setting as well!):
This is the fourth in a series of posts written by a mother of a son with autism, reflecting on her experience with her church community. Some of her observations serve as challenges to the way we do church, while others should be encouraging to the people who have made a difference in the lives of her and her family. The names in this story are fictional, but their experiences are not.
On the Joni and Friends Web Site I listened to an MP3 by Will and Arlyn Kantz and they really understand our needs. Our family can relate to almost every behavioral situation they spoke about, the challenges families face and even the fears of future challenges like puberty, programming, the workers, the sensory issues, congregational reactions, etc.
I would love to have a local church like the ones the Kantz’s help with inclusion programming.
Even one church like this in the area would be great.
I realize this particular couple (Will and Arlyn) not only have an autistic son but have great qualifications. They have done the work required and have put immense energy into the transformation. Their staged strategies for inclusion are thought through in a professional way.
Would a church body ever rise to this challenge on their own?
Most parents of children with disabilities do not have the qualifications, experience, energy, time or resources to instigate or even help implement something like this. Even as I write this, feelings of guilt resurface about not trying harder and doing more to figure something out for Michael. To be honest, though, we have so many things in his daily life that we have not figured out. It’s overwhelming to think of the energy and time required to figure out programming for Church as well.
There have always been people who have invested the energy and time to work out the programming for Nursery School, ABA and school. If a church really wants to work for inclusion or foster belonging for people with disabilities and their families a great first step would be listening to the Kantz’s MP3. Really, they have it right. Everyone in the congregation needs to be educated and not just immediate workers or teachers.
To the rest of the congregation this may look like an immense undertaking and adjustment, but think of how many more members would be able to join in fellowship and be ministered to!