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Going to Church with a Special Needs Child

Going to Church with a Special Needs Child

I was having a rough morning.

Despite my best intentions to be on time, a last minute diaper change had me running late for church. I picked up my baby boy from the changing table and moved quickly through the house, grabbing the baby bag, my purse and coat, and my oldest son. I loaded the boys and our belongings into the family vehicle and headed off to church with the sincere hope that we would get there before Pastor started his sermon.

We arrived at our destination after about a ten minute drive. I walked into the church completely frazzled, pushing a stroller and holding my oldest son’s hand.  It was a cloudy spring day and my husband was deployed with several more months to go. I was left to hold down the fort with our six year old autistic son and a plump baby boy that was still waking up in the middle of the night.  More than anything, I needed to hear an on time word that would help me get through the week to come.  Sounds of the choir greeted us as we headed to the nursery to drop off the little one.

As I handed my bundle of joy over to the nursery worker, my oldest son saw all of the toys in the nursery. I turned around for us to leave, but Big Brother started crying.  He had no desire to go to children’s church.  Not when there were cool toys in the nursery that he could play with! His crying soon turned into a mini-meltdown. I did all I could to calm him.  I explained to him that he had to go to his “Big Boy Class,” but that didn’t seem to help much.

After what seemed like an eternity, we made it up to the Children’s Church drop off point. Big Brother started to calm down a little and I picked up the pen to sign him in to class. The front desk attendant looked at me and said:

“There’s no children’s church this morning.”

My heart sank and dread immediately rose up within me. I would have to take Big Brother into the sanctuary with me for the morning service!

The sanctuary was a place that sent my son into massive sensory overload. Thoughts of meltdowns and loud outbursts emanating from him terrorized my mind. Just the week before, he screamed out, “POTTY,” multiple times during the communion service to avoid being in there.  To say that I was mortified would be an understatement!

I sighed and looked at the front desk attendant. Before my brain could think, I said out loud, “If I would have known that, I would have stayed at home!”  And I meant it.  I was on the verge of my own meltdown.

One of the Children’s Church coordinators overheard the exasperation in my voice and told me that she would keep my son with her during the morning service.  Big Brother didn’t seem to mind, so I breathed a sigh of relief and hurried into the sanctuary.  The sermon blessed me immensely that Sunday, but if Big Brother was with me, I would have heard next to none of it for trying to keep him from yelling out the Pastor’s name or melting down because the sound system was too loud.

Not surprisingly, stories like mine play themselves out every Sunday in churches all across America.  Week after week, parents of special needs children make the effort to attend church, but struggle to have a quality worship experience because many churches have yet to address the need for a special needs children’s ministry.  Over the span of 5 years, Dear Hubby and I went from being very active church attenders, to only attending services that had children’s church.  It wasn’t our desire for it to be this way, but we accepted this as part of the cross we had to bear as special needs parents. Thankfully, God had plans to send help our way…

A few weeks after Big Brother and I melted down, the Children’s Church Coordinator told me that she was going to start a Special Needs Ministry at the church. She wanted my son to be a part of it.  I was pleasantly surprised! As a military family, we’ve been to MANY churches and we’ve NEVER been to a church that had a special needs ministry.

Over the summer, the Coordinator asked me detailed questions about my son’s preferences, sensory issues, and intellectual abilities.  She worked hard to develop a bible-based lesson plan for him that would meet his needs.  The coordinator reached out to several teachers that were members of the church and received guidance from them on how to develop the program. She also invited the teachers to become a part of the new ministry.

All of this talk about starting a Special Needs Ministry made me very excited!  I had no problem with a ministry that would help my son spiritually, academically, and socially.

As the summer was coming close to an end, Dear Hubby returned home from deployment and Big Brother started back to school.  The ending of 2013 was certainly looking brighter for us than the beginning!  Our family was reunited again and going to church was about to have a completely different meaning for our family.

On Tuesday, I’ll be posting Part 2 of this 4 part series.  Be sure to come back and see how Special Needs Ministry became a blessing out of this world for us!

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  • http://timijdyen.sosblogs.com August 11, 2014, 5:28 AM

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  • Susan @ Oh My! Creative March 20, 2014, 8:44 PM

    I found you today from the SITS group. I take my special needs son to church once a year to the Christmas Eve service…we are lucky to make it through and many years ago, we were ask to leave. I am glad that things have worked out for you and your son. Nothing is better than when you can find piece in your family. I just wrote about my son recently… http://www.ohmy-creative.com/personal/celebrating-sons-18th-birthday-personal-story/

    I wish you and your family happiness and joy in your journey!

  • Elizabeth March 20, 2014, 2:22 PM

    I can so understand the frustration that you felt, and the near despair when faced with what to other people would seem a minor roadblock, but to a parent with Autism it was a mountiain!

    I am so impressed that someone at your church recognized your need and outreached to you to get your feedback on how to fill it. That is an amazing gift – would that others would do this in all areas of our lives.

  • WendysHat February 15, 2014, 3:29 AM

    Good for you. Accepting all children is very important. I was lucky to attend a church that was very children friendly when my children were young.

  • Tonia L. Clark February 14, 2014, 12:44 PM

    It’s wonderful that you were blessed with an opportunity such as this within your church. I don’t doubt that attending church is an issue for most parents with special needs children. I had to skip the first meeting every Sunday for months because it involved sitting and being still for an hour showing reverence while listening to the speakers. It was truly a challenge for my youngest son who is now 5 and we are just barely getting him to go again but not without issues. My hubby drives truck long haul and hasn’t been to church in several months due to his hectic schedule. Taking 3 kids by myself under the age of 9 has proven to be quite an exhausting task some days.

  • Suzanne Stavert February 12, 2014, 6:55 PM

    Please let me compliment you on your courage and your kind heart. I was so inspired by your story. You described the scene so carefully and I could picture everything. I think your idea is brilliant and it sounds like others do too. Best of luck to you and thank you for the inspiration. Visiting from SITS and I am so glad I did!

  • Ashley February 3, 2014, 2:12 PM

    Children’s church is such a blessing to me and I always worry about embarrassing outbursts when my children are in “big” church with me. Glad your son is finally getting the attention he needs at your church!

    • Tonya February 4, 2014, 7:26 PM

      Thanks Ashley! Special Needs Ministry is definitely making a big difference for him. I’m truly thankful! 🙂

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