My Weekly Reader…September 19, 2014

BPCOverwhelmed by all the information coming at you?In this week’s Weekly Reader, I’ll share some features that caught my eye over the last week. The Weekly Reader is meant to be a two-way feature! See something that our team at Key Ministry missed? Something we should read? Post it in the “Comments” section below for all of our readers to enjoy!

Science/Medicine:

Mental disorders are responsible for nearly a quarter of all years lived with disability worldwide. Despite the presence of cost-effective, evidence-based treatments, getting treatment to people who need it fails to be a high priority. A look at The Unconscionable Gap Between What We Know and What We Do

Disability Ministry:

Jeff Davidson from Rising Above Ministries has another excellent post…Top Ten Church Myths About Special Needs Ministry.

My colleague Barb Dittrich reminds us of the challenges faced by the families ministered to by churches we serve in 5 Ordinary Things That Aren’t So Ordinary for Families With Special Needs.

Ellen-casualI had the pleasure of brainstorming ministry ideas for a couple of hours in a videoconference earlier this week with Ellen Stumbo. I think all of us will want to meet Ellen’s daughter after reading My Daughter’s Disability Is Not a Tragedy.

Christianity:

The Adrian Peterson child abuse case has resulted in criticism of the church for encouraging corporal punishment. How should the church respond?

Culture:

There continue to be arguments about what constitutes “settled science,” but the evidence that children do better when they’re raised by their biological father and mother in a married family is so compelling, an argument can be made that persisting in denial of the obvious is cruel and abusive.

Black_Cara_smallWe had a great response to this past week’s training with Dr. Cara Daily on spiritual development in kids with autism. Jolene Philo joins us at our Front Door Online Church platform this coming Thursday (September 25th) at 12:00 PM Eastern to discuss PTSD in kids with special needs. Colleen Swindoll- Thompson will be with us for our first Parent Chat on Thursday at 8:30 PM Eastern. We have online worship  this week on Sunday, Monday and Wednesday evenings. Cara’s videos remains available on Front Door daily through October 4th.

Thanks to all who prayed for our Google Grant application! We were approved this week. The $10,000/month in free online advertising that accompanies the grant will be invaluable in expanding the number of churches able to discover our training and participate in November’s Inclusion Fusion Web Summit!

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Adrian Peterson, Christians and corporal punishment…

shutterstock_55828699It was only a matter of time…from the CNN Belief blog:

There’s one detail about the Adrian Peterson child abuse charges that no one seems to be noting: his alleged crimes didn’t happen simply under the guise of “parenting” but rather “Christian parenting.”

But the NFL star’s Christianity shouldn’t be missed or undervalued in the sharp debate about his actions. Those of us who grew up in conservative Christian churches know all too well the culture that shapes the parenting beliefs of people like Peterson.

Today, the most notable proponents of spanking are American evangelicals. They not only preach the gospel of corporal punishment, they also impart messages that lay the foundations for abuses against children and the protection of such abuse by our legal system.

We have books about spanking. Popular Christian talk shows promote the benefits of spanking. Pastors preach and theologize spanking. Organizations like Focus on the Family offer parents resources about how and when to spank.

The ties between Christianity and corporal punishment are so strong that a large number of conservative Christians parents simple deny studies that suggest spanking does more harm than good.

Now, I’m not saying that evangelical churches are to blame for what Peterson did to his son. But the church isn’t innocent in the matter, either.

Peterson TweetMuch was made in certain media circles about Adrian Peterson’s first tweet (pictured at right) following his recent indictment in Texas for child endangering. Peterson has publicly identified himself as a Christian in media interviews, albeit a Christian with a messy and complicated personal life.

Those with negative views of Christianity will undoubtedly seek to use this most recent incident and the media discussion around the data suggesting that “born-again” Christians are more likely than Religious Gap on SpankingAmericans in general to view spanking as an acceptable discipline strategy with children. (see right, from FiveThirtyEight).

Allow me to share three questions for your consideration from my perch as a physician specializing in child and adolescent psychiatry who also serves in a disability ministry organization…

Is this our “hill to die on?”

I’ve been wrestling with this topic from a Biblical standpoint and from a professional standpoint. I started by going back through the Bible, digging into Strong’s dictionary looking up the definitions of the relevant words in Hebrew. Proverbs 23:13-14 was especially challenging. My ultimate take (without sharing 5,000 words of Bible commentary) is that this is a disputable issue among faithful Christians, and the question of whether Christian parents are required to use physical punishment in disciplining their kids isn’t foundational to our faith. Every verse is equally inspired and equally true…but not every verse is equally important. The big idea I see throughout Scripture is the importance placed upon parents actively engaged in the loving discipline of their children.

I don’t consider all corporal punishment as inappropriate or abusive, although I don’t recall an incident of using spanking in our home when our kids were growing up. They’re good kids who generally make pretty good decisions. I don’t believe my wife and I are in violation of Scripture because we didn’t use that technique. At the same time, I don’t have a problem with a parent who, in their best judgment with forethought, planning and good emotional control uses brief spankings resulting in temporary discomfort with a child engaging in potentially harmful behavior when evidence exists that spankings are helpful for the child in question.

I heard a great analogy while discussing this topic with one of our child fellows who worked for many years with traumatized kids in which she compared spanking/corporal punishment with medication…her comment was that spanking is like a medicine that may be helpful in certain situations, but isn’t something we’d typically use as our first choice when we have other medicines that are equally helpful or more helpful that lack the potential for serious adverse effects associated with spanking if kids get too large a dose.

In terms of the “big picture” of how we publicly live out our faith, do we as a Christian community want to allow the issue of whether corporal punishment is required by Scripture to define us when the potential exists for the issue to become a stumbling block to others who might be considering the claims of Christ?

Are kids with disabilities more likely to experience corporal punishment?

We need to consider that kids with our most common disabilities are much more likely to experience difficulties with self-control, emotional self-regulation and delaying gratification compared to their same-age peers. Many struggle with a lack of cognitive flexibility to consider a variety of responses when problems occur. Others have issues with applying lessons learned in one situation in a slightly different situation. I’d hypothesize that kids with less obvious disabilities are often the recipients of more corporal punishment, especially here in America.

Corporal punishment is still permitted in public schools in nineteen U.S. states. Data collected by the U.S. Department of Education suggests that kids with disabilities are significantly more likely to experience corporal punishment in school when compared with “typical” peers…

Corporal Punishment Disability

Here’s a paper published in The Lancet examining the worldwide prevalence of violence against children with disabilities. Note: While I’m not characterizing spanking as constituting “violence,” I would hypothesize that a greater risk exists for spanking to increase in frequency and intensity when kids have more difficulty with self-control. This analysis of seventeen studies across different cultures suggested that kids with moderate to severe disabilities are 3.56 times more likely to experience physical violence compared to “typical” peers.

If kids with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by corporal punishment, do those of us who serve as disability ministry leaders need to influence this conversation within the church?

Are we increasing the number of kids impacted by disabilities when corporal punishment goes too far?

Here’s a study of 25,000+ adults in Canada looking at the association between child abuse and mental health. Adjusting for socioeconomic factors and other interview-identified mental disorders, adults exposed to physical abuse as children were 2.3 times more likely to meet criteria for one or more mental illnesses compared to non-abused peers. Here’s data from the Adverse Childhood Experiences study conducted in the U.S., outlining a myriad of mental and physical health conditions experienced by those exposed to traumatic experiences in childhood.

Given the barrage of attacks Christianity faces here in the U.S. by those seeking to secularize the culture, the level of support among Christians for corporal punishment in the aftermath of the Adrian Peterson case will be used as a club against the church. How important is this issue to the foundational truths of our faith? How should pastors and other ministry leaders speak into this issue?

We better be prepared with an answer…soon.

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KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry is pleased to make available our FREE consultation service to pastors, church leaders and ministry volunteers. Got questions about launching a ministry that you can’t answer…here we are! Have a kid you’re struggling to serve? Contact us! Want to kick around a problem with someone who’s “been there and done that?” Click here to submit a request!

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A child psychiatrist’s discomfort with the Adrian Peterson case

Adrian PetersonThe severity of the physical punishment Adrian Peterson administered to his four year old son is utterly unacceptable. If the photographs of Peterson’s son following the incident posted by TMZ Sports are accurate, he clearly crossed the line between acceptable corporal punishment and child abuse/endangerment. The seriousness of the incident is magnified because of what we’re learning about the enduring effects of trauma, and it would be my hope that the enhanced awareness of the impact of excessive physical punishment and multigenerational abuse would result in tens of thousands of children being spared the treatment experienced by the boy in this case.

With that said, there are several aspects to how the Adrian Peterson case is being handled that leave me feeling very unsettled…

TMZ abuseFrom time to time, situations occur involving kids in our practice we develop a suspicion of physical abuse that we’re required by law to report. I’ve NEVER had a parent lose their job because of physically abusing a child…presumably because it would be highly unusual for this type of information to become public. When we’re involved in cases similar to this one, the typical response is for Children’s Services to place the kids with another relative or family member, or in a short-term foster placement if no appropriate family member is available. A judge might issue a no-contact order against the offending parent if they live or work somewhere else, tied into a required plan the offending parent needs to complete to begin highly supervised visitation.

In the Peterson case, there are MANY different voices calling for his indefinite suspension or expulsion from the NFL. If we’re establishing a standard that parents implicated in situations like the Peterson case are going to be deprived of their livelihoods and due process rights, society will be creating a tremendous disincentive for those experiencing domestic violence to seek professional (or in many locations, spiritual) help, because all states have mandatory reporting requirements for professionals, and in 27 states, the legal mandate to report extends to clergy.

shutterstock_52640113The role that “mob rule” plays in situations like this one where the influence of social media on sponsors has resulted in great pressure on the NFL to overlook due process rights is very troubling. In a case like Peterson’s in which a child was clearly a victim of excessive physical force, society is appropriately angered and wants instantaneous justice. Corporations are easily influenced by angry consumers. But what happens when a group savvy to social media finds themselves offended by attitudes or beliefs associated with traditional Christian teaching? Had the Pharisees been in existence in the 21st century, I have little doubt that the #WeWantBarabbas hashtag would be trending on Twitter.

There are people in society who are going to use this incident to advance an agenda. Yesterday, a blogger for CNN associated Adrian Peterson’s actions with “Christian parenting.” The issue of corporal punishment is a topic that disproportionately impacts Christians from more conservative traditions and African-Americans. Here’s a very interesting interview conducted by Jim Rome with Charles Barkley about the Peterson case that illustrates the cultural divide on the issue…

Turning to the Peterson situation, Rome asked Barkley if it’s OK to hit a child.

“I’m from the South. I understand Boomer’s (Esiason) rage and anger … but he’s a white guy and I’m a black guy. I don’t know where he’s from , I’m from the South. Whipping — we do that all the time. Every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances.”

Rome: “It doesn’t matter where you’re from: Right is right and wrong is wrong.”

Barkley: “I don’t believe that because, listen, we spank kids in the South. I think the question about whether Adrian Peterson went overboard — Listen, Jim, we all grow up in different environments. Every black parent in my neighborhood in the South would be in trouble or in jail under those circumstances.”

Continuing…

Rome: “My thing is: I don’t want to tell anybody how to raise their kids and I really don’t want anybody telling me how to raise my kids. But let’s make a distinction between ‘child rearing’ and ‘child abuse.’ That was child abuse. There’s no fine line here.”

Barkley: “And I totally agree with that. But I think we have to really be careful trying to teach other parents how to discipline their kids. That’s a very fine line.”

The legal line between corporal punishment and physical abuse is a gray area…intentionally (and appropriately) so, because kids are different in how they perceive and experience such punishment. For example, a smack on the back of the hand or the buttock that would result in minor discomfort for some children could result in serious harm for a child with hemophilia. A child who has previously been a victim of neglect or abuse may also experience corporal punishment differently than a child who hasn’t been exposed to such treatment.

I fear incidents like this one will be used as a club by those in society who take issue with the traditional role of parents and the family unit and would seek a larger role for public institutions in establishing the value systems imparted to kids.

One final observation…In the midst of all the media coverage of what should and shouldn’t be done about the Adrian Peterson situation by all of the parties involved, it’s most concerning to me that I haven’t yet seen anyone in the national media (at least, no one I’m aware of) ask the question of what’s best for Adrian Peterson’s kids? Isn’t that really what’s important here?

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Key Ministry-NewKey Ministry developed a series of blog posts to educate pastors, ministry leaders volunteers and parents on the topic of Trauma and KidsClick here to discover links to the posts in the series, along with a list of recommended resources for pastors, church staff, volunteers and parents serving kids who have been victims of neglect and/or physical or sexual abuse.

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Updated…How are kids and teens with ADHD different?

shutterstock_172150682Editor’s note: Out of the 700+ blog posts featured here since the middle of 2010, the post I’ve printed out and shared most frequently with parents coming through our office is this post on the differences in kids with ADHD. Here’s an updated version taking into account research developments since the original was written in 2010… 

ADHD is among the most commonly identified mental disorders in children and teens in the U.S. According to a 2011 study, 11% of youth between the ages of 4-17 have received a diagnosis of ADHD, and over 6% are actively being treated for the condition with prescription medication. Given the sheer number of  kids affected by the disorder, the need for the local church to serve, welcome and include them (and their families) has become too great a problem to ignore.

We need to understand the nature of the disability associated with ADHD if we’re to appreciate the challenges the condition presents for the church and for parents invested in their child’s spiritual development.

According to the DSM-5 criteria, children, teens and adults with ADHD have a developmentally inappropriate degree of inattentiveness, poor impulse control and in some (but not all) instances, hyperactivity.

barkley_homeRussell Barkley, Ph.D. is one of the world’s foremost experts in researching brain mechanisms in children and adults associated with ADHD. I had the honor of being his co-presenter at a day-long symposium on ADHD a number of years ago and was surprised to discover that he’d co-authored a paper with Dr. William Hathaway from Regent University entitled Self-Regulation, ADHD and Child Religiousness (Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 2003; 22(2):101-114). Here’s a fascinating lecture on the nature, causes and treatment of ADHD that Dr. Barkley gave on February 13, 2008 at the U.C. Davis MIND Institute.

Dr. Barkley’s theories suggest that ADHD is a disorder not only of attention, but of executive functioning as well. Executive functioning describes a set of cognitive abilities involved in controlling and regulating other abilities and behaviors. Such functions are necessary in initiating goal-directed behavior, suppressing impulses arising from lower brain centers, and planning future behavior.

There are five key executive functions: Behavioral inhibition (critical to development of the other functions), non-verbal working memory, verbal working memory, emotional self-regulation and reconstitution. We’ll describe in more detail the consequences of delays in the development of these functions.

shutterstock_144843835Behavioral inhibition involves the ability to delay one’s response to an event (allowing time to think), interrupt a chain of responses to an event and the capacity to keep competing events from interfering with the initial response. Without this ability a person would be entirely focused on the immediate consequences of any action or behavior and would be unable to develop the capacity for self-control. Kids in whom the development of this capacity is delayed will be unable to suppress the publicly observable aspects of behavior.

Non-verbal working memory involves the capacity to maintain a picture of events in one’s mind. The ability to analyze situations for recurring patterns in order to predict future events is critical in anticipating consequences of behavior, managing relationships and planning complex, goal-directed behavior. Moral conduct and social cooperation are contingent upon this capacity as well the retention of events in sequence that allows one to estimate the time required to perform a task. Kids who experience delays in developing this capacity will have more difficulty remembering multi-step directions, more difficulty completing tasks (especially tasks that take a long time to complete), and will tend to underestimate the amount of time necessary to complete assigned tasks.

Verbal working memory involves the capacity to think in words. Internalization of speech allows kids to internalize social norms and rules, facilitating moral development. As kids develop this capacity, they’re able to hold a thought in their mind without having to actually say what they’re thinking. A classic example is the inability of little kids to pray silently. Kids with delays in development of verbal working memory would tend to talk excessively compared to peers, have more difficulty organizing and communicating thoughts, struggle more with use of proper grammar and experience more challenges in following rules and directions.

shutterstock_86980295Emotional self-regulation involves the ability to keep private one’s initial emotional response to an event or situation. This allows a child to modify their response to an event as well as the emotions that accompany the response. Capacity to sustain motivation for future-directed behavior is contingent on this ability. Kids who experience delays in acquiring this capacity will likely appear to overreact in response to minor provocation, have more difficulty appreciating the impact of their actions upon others, and have more difficulty summoning the drive or emotional states to overcome obstacles or complete goal-directed behaviors. Their response to initial frustration is usually to quit the activity or task.

Reconstitution involves the ability to use private visual imagery and language to represent language and actions. This allows us to mentally rehearse possible solutions to problems when attempting to overcome obstacles in order to complete a task or achieve a goal without physically having to carry out each and every solution. Kids with delays in acquiring this capacity will experience much more difficulty generating solutions to problems when they get frustrated or stuck.

The theory described above applies only to kids with the classic, combined type ADHD in which kids have difficulty with impulse control and hyperactivity. In general, they know what they should do, but lack the self control to do what they know is right. They also are challenged to generate work product, be it schoolwork or completion of chores at home. Kids with the inattentive subtype of ADHD have problems with focus, concentration and information retrieval. They are more likely to complete their work, but make careless mistakes in doing so.

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KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry is pleased to make available our FREE consultation service to pastors, church leaders and ministry volunteers. Got questions about launching a ministry that you can’t answer…here we are! Have a kid you’re struggling to serve? Contact us! Want to kick around a problem with someone who’s “been there and done that?” Click here to submit a request!

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Church: The Friendliest Place in Town? Mike Woods

Banquet at Levi's HouseTo this day, I can still recall the particular dreams and aspirations that I had for my boys when they were born. However, as I traveled the long and weary special needs journey, my hopes and dreams for my boys on the autism spectrum have had to undergo major revisions. One of those revisions has had to be in the area of friendships. Watching your child struggle to make friends can be difficult, but for parents of kids with autism, it can be devastating. Many of you who are reading this have been there, done that, and I’ll bet that it still breaks your heart that very few people in your child’s life have ever attempted to be their friend.

Many kids, teens, and adults on the autism spectrum are deprived of friendships. It is not unusual, especially for those on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum, for all of the relationships to be with people who are either family or those who are paid to be with them (i.e., therapists, para’s, respite providers, etc.).

It’s difficult for those of us who have friendships to imagine what it would do to us if we did not have any of them at all. Friendships help us to grow, develop, enjoy, laugh, relax, share, and participate meaningfully in our community. An absence of friends makes it difficult to develop self-respect and a sense of self-worth. An absence of friendships can lead to loneliness, despair, and depression.

Friendships with those who are like us are a normal part of life, but Christian friendship should reach out, in particular, to those who are different and those who are marginalized. The problem is that many churches do not do a good job at reaching out to those who are different. The problem of a lack of friendships with people with special needs is a very real one and is facilitated by two primary factors:

  1. Extractional Church

The church operates, in large part, as “extractional.” By extractional, I mean to say that churches, with all of their programs and events, have a tendency to remove believers from their non-church relationships. Alan Hirsch, author of The Shaping Of Things To Come, states that, “Within 3 to 5 years a new believer hardly has any meaningful friendships outside the church.”

The US Congregational Life Survey reveals that the longer people worship at a church, the more bonds they develop with other church members, and the less meaningful contact they have with non-church members (US Congregational Life Survey, December 6, 2011). Neil Cole, author of Church 3.0, agrees with this previous statement and adds:

Instead of connecting to the world, churches have a tendency to isolate people inside the church community. I have met countless Christians who have spent so much time in church that they no longer know any non–Christians.”

UnfriendlyChurchWhen the church cuts off the friendship ties of new followers in favor of building only safe Christian relationships, it has less impact in the community. The influence the church sacrifices by cutting off friendships outside of the church is that the community at large is robbed of God’s kingdom influence…to include the special needs community. As a result, the potential exists for the church to be considered by the special needs community as a group that is judgmental, fearful, and exclusive. As a result, it is often perceived as the un-friendliest place in town.

  1. “Same As Me” Friendships

Human beings are social creatures. We’re made in the image of a social God who is Trinity so it is only natural that creatures made in God’s image should desire friendships. For most of us, our friendships are based on the “same as me” principle. When many of us reflect on our own friendships, we find that the majority, if not all, of our friends are very much like us: socioeconomic status, common interests, age, culture, common activities, religious preferences, and so on. This process of developing friendships reflects the philosophy within our Western culture and, by implication, on the church that is embedded within that culture. The limitation of “same as me” friendships is obvious…friendships with those who are “different” are virtually nonexistent.

The type of friendship that is revealed in the Gospels in the life of Jesus differs radically from our Western cultural understandings of friendship. In the Gospels, Jesus presents us with a radically different perception of friendship. Jesus befriended those who were cast out by society— the tax collectors, the blind, lepers, the poor, the mentally ill, harlots, all those who were in many respects radically unlike himself.

Jesus modeled a form of friendship that was radical in that it transcended “same as me” relational boundaries and was extended towards those who were different. Pastor John Swinton, a former mental health nurse, stated “In the earthly life and ministry of Jesus one finds a continuing picture of a man entering into friendships not with social equals, but those whom society had downgraded and considered unworthy of friendship.

The Solution: Friendship As An Outreach Ministry Of The Church

BrokenFriendshipsIt is within the area of friendships, that the Christian community has a vital contribution that they can make to the care of people, and families, with special needs. Professionals and medical specialists often focus on the biological, psychological, medical, or neurological aspects of a disability in order to bring healing. It is a gift that God has given to some. However, the whole body of Christ can offer a distinctive contribution to the care process thru friendships. Nancy Eiesland, former professor of theology at Emory University, suggested that friendship is the distinctively Christian gift that the church has to offer marginalized people. She rightfully believed that, “Friendship is necessary for the church to be the church in any kind of meaningful sense because the authenticity of the gospel is always judged by the ability of Christians to live their lives in ways that reflect the truth of the message.”

I believe that the role of the church lies in creating a community of people that should be willing to develop and nurture friendships with people with special needs. These types of friendships, in and of themselves, would be the best way for the church to become the friendliest place in town. I can’t think of a better form of outreach ministry than friendship. Caring for people with autism in this way would not be an act of charity but an expression of the true nature of the church and the One we seek to image.

Friendship with those living on the autism spectrum or any other special need is not an option for the church; it is a primary mark of the identity and faithfulness of the church that is seeking to demonstrate Jesus every day, in every way, to every one.

The featured image is Christ in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese, referencing Luke 5:29-32.

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Mike-Woods-Joy-Prom-@-1024x615In addition to serving as a Church Consultant with Key Ministry, Mike Woods currently works as the Director for the Special Friends Ministry at First Baptist Orlando. Prior to joining First Baptist Orlando, Mike worked for nine years as the autism and inclusion specialist for a large school district in metropolitan St. Louis. Mike regularly blogs for Key Ministry on topics related to “missional” Special Needs Ministry…how churches can “leave the building” to share the love of Christ with families impacted by disabilities in their local communities.

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My Weekly Reader…September 12, 2014

Steve November 2013I’m starting a new feature this week that we’re going to call My Weekly Reader. I’ve had numerous conversations with leaders of other disability ministry leaders lamenting about the difficulty we have keeping up with all the great content being shared through social media. Each Friday, I’ll summarize articles and resources of special interest from my perspective as a physician serving kids and families impacted by mental illness, trauma and developmental disabilities who also inhabits the world of disability ministry.

My Weekly Reader is meant to be a two-way feature! See something that our team at Key Ministry should read? Something we missed? Post it in the “Comments” section below for all of our readers to enjoy!

Science/Medicine:

640px-Paroxetine_pillNearly 14% of women in the U.S. are on antidepressant medication while pregnant. This article in the New York Times summarizes recent research suggesting that the risks to the developing child are greater than once believed.

Thirty minutes of vigorous physical exercise prior to the start of school produced significant improvement in attention and mood in both kids at risk for ADHD as well as “neurotypical” kids in a large, randomized study reported in the Wall Street Journal.

Disability Ministry:

Jeff Davidson, blogging in Comfort in the Midst of Chaos, discusses his temporary experience with disability and how he was humbled by witnessing his son’s attitude coping on a daily basis with the impact of chronic disability. How Beautiful the Twisted Feet is a great read!

Not Just the Pretty Babies is a piece in The Federalist exploring the true meaning of being “pro-life” and explores the self-sacrifice required of families stepping forward to care for our most vulnerable children.

Seventeen year-old Alexandra Dittrich shares a teen’s view on invisible illness in this blog post in honor of National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week…

Colleen and TobinColleen Swindoll-Thompson shared how the ancient practice of lectio divina can bring peace and encouragement with the demands of life become overwhelming in 7 Staples: Soul Food for Stressful Seasons.

Christianity:

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week. Here’s an excellent article from Leadership Network for pastors and church leaders on how Christian leaders can be prepared to respond, along with an article from Jay Lowder calling for Christians to have an honest conversation about mental illness…Confessions of a Once Suicidal Evangelist.

Culture:

What are some of the unanticipated consequences of genetic testing? One reproductive biologist gave his parents a genetic analysis through 23andMe…and saw the results lead to their divorce. Here’s the article in Vox

Front Door LogoHope you can join us for worship (or invite families you know who are unable to attend worship this week at Front Door. We’re moving to our new “Main Campus” this Sunday. You’ll also be able to chat live with Dr. Cara Daily from Inner Health Ministries Child Center this coming Thursday, September 18th at 12:00 PM Eastern and check out training from Cara on communicating abstract spiritual concepts to kids with spectrum disorders and including kids with autism spectrum disorders at church. If you can’t join us next Thursday, Cara’s training will be available at 11:00 AM daily at Front Door through October 4th.

Anything we missed? Post away!

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Why are we shocked by the Bay Village “Ice Bucket Challenge?”

Bay Village ALS ChallengeOver the past week, the community in which my wife and I attend church has been the focus of national attention for all of the wrong reasons.

From the Cleveland Plain Dealer

The Bay Village schools will take disciplinary action against Bay High students who are accused of dumping urine and feces on a special-needs student, telling him it was part of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Fox 8 News posted a video of the incident on Wednesday. The station reported that the teens used the victim’s phone to record the incident and then posted the video to social media. (See video below.)

The Bay Village school district decried the incident, which took place off-campus and outside the school day. Superintendent Clint Keener said in a statement that school officials will take appropriate disciplinary action once police complete their investigation.

Given what I do for a living, I’m not sure why people are surprised when stories like this one come out. The kids who come through our practice experience this type of embarrassment and humiliation all the time.

Why do kids bully other kids? There are lots of reasons. In some instances, the kids doing the bullying have very well-developed social skills and engage in bullying behavior as a strategy for establishing their social dominance. They often demonstrate little empathy or respect for the rights of others and engage in other types of antisocial behavior as they get older. Much of the time, the kids who are perpetrators of bullying have their own issues to deal with. I’m not excusing any of their behavior, but here’s what the data suggests

Kids who bully are more likely to

  • Experience depression, mental illness, emotional, behavioral or developmental disabilities
  • Demonstrate low academic achievement
  • Abuse substances
  • Have been exposed to child abuse and/or domestic violence
  • Live in homes with poor parent-child communication
  • Have mothers with suboptimal mental health
  • Experience high levels of family conflict
  • Lack parental monitoring
  • Have poor relationships with peers
  • Have parents who report that their child “bothers them a lot”

shutterstock_132104966Kids who are victims of bullying are more likely to

  • Be physically weaker than their peers
  • Struggle with low self-worth and negative self-perceptions
  • Demonstrate low social competence, poor social skills and poor problem-solving abilities
  • Experience symptoms of depression or anxiety
  • Experience mothers who are overprotective
  • Demonstrate insecure maternal-child attachments
  • Have experienced child abuse

Allow me to share some observations from my 28+ years working in the mental health field, predominantly with kids and families…

The kids who are most likely to be the repeated targets of bullying are kids who struggle with emotional self-regulation (the ability to keep private one’s initial emotional response to an event or situation). Kids are cruel to one another on a daily basis…it’s the kids who react differently to the daily cruelty who are often singled out for torment by peers.

shutterstock_134142485While the behavior exhibited by bullies (in particular, the perpetrators of the “Ice Bucket Challenge” in Bay Village) is reprehensible, we need to temper our rush to judge the kids involved because they may be struggling with as many issues as their victims. Many bullies are victims themselves. In one study of bullying in kids with autism spectrum disorders, 20% of parents surveyed reported that their child with autism had bullied others.

The more subtle the disability, the more likely kids are to be victims of bullying. The study referenced in the paragraph above suggests that kids with milder presentations of autism (specifically, Asperger’s Disorder) were nearly twice as likely to be bullied than kids with other spectrum diagnoses. The message that bullying kids with obvious special needs is unacceptable seems to be getting traction. Unfortunately, kids with less obvious disabilities are very often the targets of bullies.

Kids aren’t inherently good. The behavior demonstrated by the perpetrators of the “Ice Bucket Challenge” reflects our human nature. Christianity teaches that none of us are righteous! What type of behavior should we expect to see, especially in a culture in which more and more of us reject God, and fail to recognize any absolute standards of right and wrong? Many of the risk factors associated with bullying are symptomatic of the breakdown of the family unit as the fundamental building block of society. This is just the beginning…

Sadly, incidents like this one seem to be addressed only when they result in the potential for immediate economic harm or the loss of social standing. This event is shocking because it took place in a community with an outstanding school system where families are perceived as healthy. What about the kids whose victimization fails to go viral on YouTube or doesn’t result in celebrities offering reward money to those who identify the perpetrators?

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Square Peg Round HoleKey Ministry has assembled a helpful resource on the topic of Asperger’s Disorder and Spiritual Development. This page includes the blog series Dr. Grcevich and Mike Woods developed for Key Ministry, links to lots of helpful resources from other like-minded organizations, and Dr. Grcevich’s presentation on the topic from the 2012 Children’s Ministry Web Summit. Click here to access the page!

Posted in Autism, Controversies, Families, Key Ministry | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What about the families without a church to welcome their child?

shutterstock_134233409This past Sunday, we shared some preliminary data from a survey we undertook of pastors, church staff and family members who are constituents of our ministry. I promised to follow up on the most frequent complaint we received…that churches we serve weren’t available locally to those who responded to our survey. Here’s how we plan to respond…

One of our former staff members contributed greatly to shaping our culture through her advocacy for training and resourcing small churches. An immediate reality for ministry organizations such as ours is that finances and the availability of skilled trainers place great limitations on our ability to be everywhere we would like to be. The internet radically increases our capacity to offer training, resources and relationship to churches everywhere.

Training platformThis month, we’ll start to experiment with offering online training during times when we’re not offering worship services through our online church platform. Every day from now through October 4th, we’re offering training videos from Dr. Cara Daily at 11:00 AM Eastern addressing ministry strategies for serving kids with autism spectrum disorders. Each day at 2:00 PM, we’ll have training videos from Jolene Philo on practical strategies for churches seeking to serve families of kids with special needs and help with understanding the signs of post-traumatic stress in children and teens. On Thursday, September 18th at 12:00 PM Eastern, Dr. Daily will be available for a live, interactive chat. On the following Thursday at 12:00 Eastern, Jolene will be available for a live chat. In the month of October, we’ll be sharing our first training from our core curriculum, discussing strategies churches might use to welcome kids and families impacted by anxiety.

We’ll also have resources for parents. Every evening at 10:00 PM Eastern through October 4th we’ll be featuring our interview with Colleen Swindoll-Thompson and her father, Chuck, along with an interview in which Colleen’s kids discuss their experience growing up with a brother with autism. Colleen will be joining us for a parent chat on Thursday, September 25th at 8:30 PM Eastern time.

shutterstock_24510829In the early days of our ministry, we committed to providing relationships as well as resources. Shannon Dingle and Mike Woods are available to consult with churches of any size looking for help in either taking the next step toward growing their ministry for kids with disabilities and their families, or assisting churches seeking to include one kid or one family.

Finally, a word about our Front Door online church experiment…while online church is a solution for folks who don’t have any alternative in their community, it’s not a substitute for worshiping in the physical presence of other Christ-followers. While this is very preliminary, we’re beginning to explore the possibility of helping families launch house churches if they don’t have a church to attend within a reasonable distance.

We’re looking forward to lots of new developments in the coming ministry year. Hope you’ll join us for the ride!

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Front Door LogoWe’re moving into our new online home! Beginning next Sunday, The Front Door Main Campus  will be offering unique worship experiences with prayer and music from generous artists desirous of sharing their gifts and talents with families impacted by disabilities. During the day, we’ll have opportunities for ministry training through video and interaction with recognized disability ministry leaders. After the kids are in bed, we’ll have resources for parents and opportunities to connect. Check out our videos throughout this coming week and church online beginning next Sunday, September 14th!

Posted in Key Ministry, Resources, Strategies, The Front Door-Online Church From Key Ministry, Training Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A look at who we serve…

Key Ministry DoorThis past July, our Key Ministry staff put together a decidedly unscientific survey of people who subscribe to our blogs, “liked” our Facebook page and registered for our resource kit through our website. I’ll share some of the more interesting findings…

  • 60% of respondents said they were PARENTS of children with special needs, while a combined 31% total represent CHURCH or MINISTRY LEADERS. Comment…It’s interesting that while 72% of our survey respondents understood that our core mission is to support churches in ministry to/with families of kids with mental illness, trauma and developmental disabilities, the majority of our followers are parents as opposed to church leaders. In the early days of our ministry, we’d conceptualized a three-pronged approach to promoting the expansion of more inclusive disability ministry…training churches, identifying champions in the professional community and disability awareness organizations and mobilizing parents as advocates. I wonder if all three will ultimately play an important role in advancing the mission. I also wonder if parents “default” to us when they don’t have access to a church prepared to welcome their family.
  • 82% of survey respondents had a family member with special needs.

X5mptqTAO3J7RK-gIALRUPvt8Ywqn7ovh6WrirT-oQoComment…I’d hypothesize that it’s very hard for a pastor, ministry leader or volunteer to appreciate the need for churches to become more effective in supporting families impacted by disability unless they’ve “been there and done that.” 

  • Having a family member with special needs affects church attendance in the following ways: 46% have troubles attending church; 28% don’t attend or have given up attending; 11% of families attend services separately, with one parent staying home to manage the child while the other heads to church; 15% said they had no troubles with church attendance. Comment…Here’s where folks need to be careful in interpreting data, because our sample isn’t scientific. We didn’t ask respondents about the nature of the disabilities impacting their families, the frequency with which church involvement is impacted or the availability of specific supports at the churches they’ve attempted to attend. It is a signal that many families impacted by disability have a very difficult time attending church and research examining who is most likely to be left out of church and what impediments are most problematic for families is clearly needed.
  • The greatest barriers to local church attendance were not having a special needs program at their church (55%); too difficult for my child (51%); not inclusive (48%); not welcoming to those with special needs (30%); too tired (28%); transportation challenges (3%).

XuQQ23qoOjkzpx_3ngiQNiJJIg6bMLR8ob5gQQWOuVoComment…Again, it would be important to know more about the specifics of our respondents prior to reading too much into the data. I’d hypothesize that special needs ministry programs become more important in relationship to the pervasiveness of a child’s disability and need for 1:1 support. Not every church needs to start a “special needs ministry program,” in the same way that not every hospital doesn’t need an advanced trauma center. But every church does need to do something to support families in their midst impacted by disability. 

  • 99% said “yes” or “maybe” to the notion of inviting a friend in the same position to church if they found a solution to their challenges. Comment…To quote Kevin Costner from the movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.”
  • The most frequent complaint about Key Ministry was that churches we serve are not available to the respondent locally.

In our next post, we’ll look at this last observation separately, because we’ve been laying the foundation for some very radical changes in how we serve churches that will quickly become apparent to those who follow our work as we launch into a new “ministry year” coinciding with the start of the school year.

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Front Door LogoWe’re moving into our new online home! Beginning next Sunday, The Front Door Main Campus  will be offering unique worship experiences with prayer and music from generous artists desirous of sharing their gifts and talents with families impacted by disabilities. During the day, we’ll have opportunities for ministry training through video and interaction with recognized disability ministry leaders. After the kids are in bed, we’ll have resources for parents and opportunities to connect. Check out our videos throughout this coming week and church online beginning next Sunday, September 14th!

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Back to school…Libby Peterson

libbypBack to school.

It’s quite a season in the life of a family. No matter where your kids attend school –in your home, your neighborhood or across town – there’s one common denominator in the “Back to School” season:

A lot of work!

School supplies, sign-ups, shoes, clothes, calendars and car pools – the job of a parent in this season can be overwhelming! But, lest we lose the forest for the trees, let me gently remind you – (even as I remind myself) that our main job may have less to do with getting all these “externals” in place and more to do with nurturing the “internals”….

Some of the best preparation we can give our kids for the new school year might be:

Not new clothes, but a renewed sense of self as we remind them that they are chosen by the God of the Universe to belong to HIM, clothed in righteousness, and that God loves them no matter what!

Not new school supplies, but a renewed recognition of what’s been supplied! In faith we can respond to our kid’s anxiety about the new school, or new friends as we say “Buddy, you’ve got what it takes! God is for you and with you and IN you – and we’re right here too!”

Not a growing list of things we will be doing FOR our kids this year, but a growing list of things they will be doing for themselves as we parent kids towards a growing maturity and the sense of personal responsibility that God intends.

And, as we prepare our children’s “insides” for the year ahead – let’s remember to prepare ours too. The world wants to define us as parents and people by how many sports our child plays or how many elite clubs or groups they are part of. But our Great God has a different definition. He has placed his seal on us – we are HIS children. The more secure we get in our identity in Christ – the more prepared we are to help our kids find their security in Him.

So – if the words “back to school” to you mean – A LOT of work – maybe that’s good! Maybe this IS our season to work, not for things that “moth and rust destroy” but for things that will last. Things internal and things eternal!

Libby Peterson serves as Director of Family Ministry at Bay Presbyterian Church and as Vice-President of Key Ministry’s Board of Directors. This blog was initially featured at The Family Tailor, where Libby regularly contributes, along with Hu Auburn of our Key Ministry staff.

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KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry is pleased to make available our FREE consultation service to pastors, church leaders and ministry volunteers. Got questions about launching a ministry that you can’t answer…here we are! Have a kid you’re struggling to serve? Contact us! Want to kick around a problem with someone who’s “been there and done that?” Click here to submit a request!

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