Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Invisible Ones

There is a group of people that sometimes get left out of the church. Some people call this group the "invisible ones", we know this group as the people with special needs. There are many stories from Special Needs families similar to the one shared by a Pastor in North Carolina: “I remember meeting a single mom and her two sons after a church service one weekend. The eldest did not have a disability but the younger son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder with Psychomotor Retardation at the age of three. As I grew to know this mom, she shared that they had been asked to leave many churches because of her youngest son. The churches didn’t know how to care for him and instead of learning how to serve these families, they excluded them.” Statistics show that incidences of Special Needs children are on the rise. A study from the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities show that incidences of special needs children have risen. Data from the study showed that developmental disabilities (DDs) are common: about 1 in 6 children in the U.S. had a DD in 2006–2008. These data also showed that prevalence of parent-reported DDs has increased 17.1% from 1997 to 2008. This study underscores the increasing need for health, education and social services, and more specialized health services for people with DDs. Here are a few statistics regarding Developmental Disabilities (DD) from 1997 - 2008. Prevalence of any DD in 1997-2008 was 13.8% Prevalence of learning disabilities was 7.66%; Prevalence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was 6.69%; Prevalence of other developmental delay was 3.65%; and, Prevalence of autism was 0.47%. Over the last 12 years the prevalence of DDs has increased : 17.1%—that’s about 1.8 million more children with DDs in 2006–2008 compared to a decade earlier; Autism increased 289.5%; ADHD increased 33.0%; Hearing loss decreased 30.9%. Males had twice the prevalence of any DD than females and more specifically had higher prevalence of ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, stuttering/stammering and other DDs; Statistics today show that about 1 in 6 children in the U.S. had a developmental disability in 2006-2008, ranging from mild disabilities such as speech and language impairments to serious developmental disabilities, such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and autism. Other studies show this rate to be as much as 1 in 5 people having any type of disability. With the statistics going up like this the church needs to find away to become more inclusive. We cannot let the families of the special needs children fall away from church because we lack the help in a children's church situation. There is a simple way to meet the needs in a children's church situation and that is through the buddy system! A lot of these parents judge our churches by the question "Can they meet my child's need?" In a special needs situation it is "Are they going to pull me out of service for my child?". As a former pastor implementing the buddy system may appear to be difficult. But with a little forethought it is not as difficult as it appears. First, let's take a look at what a buddy system is. The buddy system uses one person to assist the special-needs child. You use this person as an assistant to the special-needs child in times of children's church or Sunday school. They can be used to help explain principles taught in those classes. Or they may be able to assist the child, when the child begins to get agitated or out of control. They are to be considered part of the children's staff. But are not assigned specific assignments, like music, storytime, or games. They are assigned to one specific special needs child. These helpers actually are an extension of the child. They help the child process the information that is coming in, they also help the child with any situation they face. They in effect become like a wheelchair or assistive device which allow the child to be themselves, but not a distraction to the service or class they are participating in. When assigning a buddy to a child it must be a one to one ratio. The buddy may be a teenager aged 16 or older or any adult willing to assist the special-needs child. The full purpose of this article is to show there is a need for special needs children out there. A lot of special needs children desire to be in church, and we need to give them opportunity with a buddy system. They need the opportunity to hear the gospel at their level and come to Christ. There is also a need for special needs families to be able to participate in the church that you pastor. They have spiritual needs just like anyone else in your church. The article also emphasizes that setting up a buddy system does not have to be difficult. It can be accomplished with relative ease. It takes two people in your church to run. Can be used as a tool to reach the special needs children for Christ. For further information on setting up the buddy system please contact: Shepherd's Staff ministries at