Clinging to Faith while Parenting Children with PTSD

shutterstock_214319938This post is the thirteenth and final article in Jolene Philo’s series about children with PTSD. The entire series can be accessed here. Though the first ten articles in this series focused exclusively on PTSD in children, the final three address issues common to parents raising traumatized kids. Today’s post looks at six truths that can help parents cling to their faith when the challenges of raising children with PTSD seem overwhelming.

Truth #1: Christians’ understanding mental health lags far behind their understanding of physical health.

Before the age of modern medicine, physical illnesses were often viewed by the church as evidence of a lack of faith, the consequence of sin, or as punishment from God. In all those cases, the best remedy was confession and prayer. Medical advances have changed that thinking in regards to physical health. But not so much for mental health matters. The general public, as well as the Christian public, is woefully unaware of the many brain-imaging and stress hormone studies that show how trauma changes both the brains and bodies of children. They are also unaware of the many effective treatments for PTSD in children. As parents we can advocate for our kids by educating others about advances in mental health.

Truth #2: PTSD in children is not punishment for their sins or yours.

Children do not cause their own PTSD by sinning. And unless parents have neglected or abused their children, their sin does not cause PTSD in children either. But families can easily lose sight of this truth when parenting kids with PTSD. Parents begin blaming themselves or their kids. Blame can snowball into self-guilt for parents and casting guilt on children. We must continually remind ourselves, our spouses, and our kids that childhood PTSD is the result of trauma they did not seek or cause.

Truth #3: People may not understand PTSD, but God does.

Philippians 2:8 says that because Jesus, the Son of God came to earth and put on flesh, he understands fully what it means to be human: And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross. (ESV) Can you think of anything more traumatic than being innocent of any wrongdoing and still being crucified on a cross? Whatever your child with PTSD is enduring, Jesus knows. Whatever you are feeling as the parent of a child who has experienced trauma, God the Father knows.

Truth #4: PTSD is rooted in deception and banished by truth.

The brains of children and adults with PTSD are stuck in their trauma. When triggered, the traumatic event replays inside the brain as if it never ended. Effective PTSD treatment helps process the memory so it gets unstuck. Good therapy also helps people create a narrative of the traumatic event that has a beginning, middle, and end. Then the brain can believe the truth and be free of fear. The original trauma is over, and I am safe. As Jesus said in John 8:32, “…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Truth #5: Never underestimate the power of persistent prayer.

Effective PTSD therapy depends on two things: finding the right treatment and a cooperative client. Sometimes parents work long and hard before the two components intersect. Sometimes, despite their best efforts, the two components never meet…at least not in a parent’s lifetime. But parents who pray consistently and persistently to the God who promises to hear and answer petitions that are in accordance with his will should take heart. God hears our petitions for the physical, mental, and spiritual healing of our children. We can trust him to answer them, if not in this world, then surely in the world to come.

Truth #6: God is always in control.

Just as God is in control of the lives of those with physical illnesses and disabilities, so he is in control over mental illness. What Jesus said in John 9:3 about the man blind from birth is true about traumatized children, too: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Though we may not see it, God has a plan for the lives of our children. His plan is to display His works in them in his perfect time. The journey my husband and I have been on as parents of a child with PTSD often feels like we’re moving one step forward and two steps back. Even so, we have seen the work of God displayed over and over since we became parents in 1982. We expect to see it displayed over and over in years to come. Because our God specializes in taking difficult circumstances and using them to accomplish great good. God was in control when his Son hung on the cross. Surely he is in control of the lives of our traumatized children, too.


JoleneGreenSweater.jpgDoes My Child Have PTSD? is designed for readers looking for answers about the puzzling, disturbing behaviors of childen in their care. With years of research and personal expererience, Jolene Philo provides critical information to help people understand causes, symptoms, prevention, and effective diagnosis, treatment, and care for any child struggling with PTSD. Available for order at Amazon.

Posted in Hidden Disabilities, Jolene Philo, PTSD, Resources, Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

4 Reasons Traumatized Kids Need Mentally Healthy Parents

shutterstock_7210075Thank you for stopping in to read the twelfth article in Jolene Philo’s series about PTSD in children. The first ten posts in this series focused exclusively on PTSD children. However last week’s post was about what parents can do to advocate effectively for traumatized children. This post continues in the same vein by examining why kids with PTSD need mentally healthy parents–a reality I first began to deal with after our son’s PTSD treatment in 2006.

One day, I was sitting in the waiting room of the clinic where our son was being treated for PTSD waiting to take him to lunch. One of the therapists strolled in and stood in front of me.

“Are things going okay?” I asked.

“Very well.” He nodded and held my gaze. “But what about you, Mom? How are you doing with all this?”

The question caught me off guard. Our son had been the one the surgeons, doctors, nurses, and x-ray techs wanted to know about since the day of his birth No one had ever asked about me. Or my husband.

“Me?” I stammered. “I’m fine. You’ve done so much for our son this week. I’ve never been better.”

“Really?” the therapist mused. “That’s interesting.”

Just then, our son came into the waiting room and the conversation ended. In the years since our encounter, I have mulled over that unexpected question many times. The mere asking of it somehow gave me permission to admit I’d experienced trauma as a mom. The more I thought about it, the more my tendency to avoid visiting people in the hospital made sense. I came to understood why my pulse quickened and my stomach knotted for years when my now-stable and responsible son called and said, “Hi, Mom.”

Eventually, through treatment and practice, I eventually learned to confront and process my experiences. As it turns out, recent research proves highlights several reasons why traumatized children need mentally healthy parents. Here are just a few.

Reason #1: Children of mothers with PTSD are at higher risk of developing PTSD. After the 2013 missile attacks in Israel, researchers found that the children of mothers who developed PTSD after the attacks were at much higher risk of developing PTSD than other children.

Reason #2: Parents diagnosed with depression are more likely to abuse their children. Another 2013 study asked mothers to complete a questionnaire about how often they abused their children, either physically or emotionally. Mothers diagnosed with both depression and PTSD were most likely to report abuse. But mothers diagnosed with only PTSD reported more abuse than those with only depression. Moms with any sort of mental illness reported abuse more often than did mentally healthy moms.

Reason #3: Children of depressed parents have a higher risk of developing PTSD. A 2014 Journal of Pediatrics study examined family members who had been in serious accidents together. In some cases, only the parent was injured, in others only the child, and sometimes both the parent and the child were injured. The study found that children whose parents were depressed after suffering severe injuries were at risk of developing PTSD even when the children weren’t injured.

Reason #4: Parents of Medically Fragile Kids Have a Higher Risk of Developing PTSD. In 2005, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found that parents of kids with cancer exhibited many symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. In a New York Times online story, Laurie Tarkan summarized the results of several studies. Her review revealed that parents of NICU infants are at a higher risk of PTSD than parents of babies never in the NICU.

If you are raising a child with PTSD or other mental issues, you are probably dealing with your own trauma, too. You need to tend to your own mental health by practicing self-care. If your child is receiving mental health treatment, ask the therapist to include you in some of the sessions or to set up a separate appointment for you. If that won’t work, ask your child’s therapist, trusted friends, or your pastor for recommendations. You can also go to Psychology Today’s therapist locator and type in your city or zip code to get a listing of therapists near you. Go to their websites to learn more about them. Call and ask questions. Find out if the therapists are in your insurance network. Then call and make an appointment with one of them. If you go to the first appointment and the therapist doesn’t feel right, try someone else. And remember, you’re not seeking treatment just for yourself. Your kids need mentally healthy parents. You’re doing this for your kids.


JoleneGreenSweater.jpgDoes My Child Have PTSD? is designed for readers looking for answers about the puzzling, disturbing behaviors of childen in their care. With years of research and personal expererience, Jolene Philo provides critical information to help people understand causes, symptoms, prevention, and effective diagnosis, treatment, and care for any child struggling with PTSD. Available for order at Amazon.

Posted in Depression, Families, Jolene Philo, Mental Health, Parents, PTSD | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Disability and abortion: How should the church respond?

shutterstock_12866266In Hebrews 10:32-35, we find two groups within the church. One is suffering abuse and affliction in prison, and another is showing compassion as they identify with the first group and visit them in prison. Elsewhere, in Luke 10, we see the Good Samaritan showing that same kind of practical, messy, sacrificial compassion. Online, I see Christians with varied viewpoints spiritedly debating the best way to love Syrian refugees.

These are good stories of the body of Christ living out the gospel. We are indeed called to compassionately come alongside those who are suffering injustice. That includes children yet to – and possibly never to – be born on earth, as well as the children who are born and their parents.

But can we, as the church, ask others to choose and value life if we are not willing to do so with our prayers and support and actions? How can we respond to the realities I’ve shared in previous posts in this series on abortion and disability?

  1. Pray earnestly and regularly for awakening in churches.
  2. Increase awareness through relationship with others, in person and via social media.
  3. Support alternatives to abortion with money and time and prayers. Specific to people with disabilities, advocating for life means more than opposing abortion, though that’s a start. It also means educating yourself about and advocating for private and public sector efforts supporting those affected by disability in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.
  4. In the US, we have democratic privileges of free speech and representation and demonstration. Use them to advocate for legal protection for the unborn, including those with disabilities, and for reasonable supports for the already born.
  5. Pastors and teachers, do not shy away from the topics of disability and abortion. When I first started exploring these topics years ago, I found rich treasures in John Piper’s sermons and John Knight’s blog, both out of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minnesota. Why? Before Piper retired from his role as senior pastor there, he preached once a year specifically on abortion and did not avoid that topic or the subjects of disability and suffering on other Sundays in the year. Knight – as the dad of a son with multiple, severe disabilities and a wife with breast cancer – regularly writes about the topic as he loves and lives with a family whose lives are difficult but presently and eternally valuable to him and to God. I am thankful for both of those men, and I am thankful for other pastors, priests, and teachers of the Word who are not silent on this matter and who are willing, in the words of Ephesians 5:11, to “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” with boldness and with humility.
  6. Show the love and grace we received from Christ with others, including those who have had abortions and those who are experiencing difficulties as parents of children with disabilities. Preach the gospel faithfully to those who did and those who didn’t choose life.
  7. And, finally, support and serve in disability ministry. Develop special needs ministries so that churches are known as welcoming places for all affected by disability. We see in 1 Corinthians 12 that the church is meant to include members who the world does not esteem or value – indeed, that those members are indispensable to the body of Christ that is the church – so we as the church ought to practice that. Furthermore, as I shared in my previous post about abortion statistics for families receiving a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, we have to realize the implication that some faithful members and regular attendees of churches are among those numbers, sitting in congregations like yours on the weekend and aborting their unborn baby with Down syndrome on a weekday. Could it be that they look around most churches and see no one like their child welcomed or embraced or loved, or perhaps they see those members there but treated like burdens, if not to their faces then in conversations among other parents or leaders? Make your congregation a safe place for those parents to choose life for their unborn child, as well as a safe place to receive support if and when they face difficult times after the birth of that child. You don’t have to have an elegant or even formalized program; you just need to get willing to recall the love and grace that God showed you and extend that to those who come to your church with a disability and to their families.

After all, we are called to teach “…the glorious deeds of the Lord… that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God…” (Psalm 78:4-7). I don’t see any disclaimer in those verses stating *except for those who don’t look or think or interact or behave or move or learn like you do. How can we be faithful to heed God’s word here if we don’t show care for the children yet unborn, including those with disabilities?

In addition to serving as a Key Ministry Church Consultant, Shannon Dingle is a co-founder of the Access Ministry at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC.


© 2014 Rebecca Keller PhotographyCheck out Shannon Dingle’s blog series on adoption, disability and the church. In the series, Shannon looked at the four different kinds of special needs in adoptive and foster families and shared five ways churches can love their adoptive and foster families. Shannon’s series is a must-read for any church considering adoption or foster care initiatives. Shannon’s series is available here.

Posted in Abortion, Advocacy, Controversies, Culture of Life, Key Ministry, Shannon Dingle | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rethinking “disability” in the church

shutterstock_331750436Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (MSG)

The apostle Paul was incredibly passionate about wanting to share the Gospel with everyone he encountered. He was willing to do whatever it took to tell people about Jesus…including repeat visits to cities where the people attempted to kill him. We’ll come back to Paul’s example later…

I came across an interesting article on the Forbes Magazine website illustrating a shift in the way many in society are understanding the concept of disability. The article is largely taken from an interview with Dan O’Connor of the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University following a U.S. Department of Justice ruling that a Massachusetts university is required under the Americans With Disabilities Act to provide gluten-free meals to students with celiac disease who have no choice in purchasing the university’s meal plan. Here are two quotes from Dr. O’Connor that help illustrate the paradigm shift in how some are viewing disability…and the opportunities and challenges the new thinking presents to those serving in the disability ministry movement.

“One school of thought,” he says, “is that it’s your body that’s disabled you. If you can’t walk and use a wheelchair, it’s your legs that disable you, for example. But the newer thinking is that it’s not your body that disables you, it’s the environment around you.” For example, an environment full of stairs is actually what disables a person in a wheelchair. “That’s a much more interesting way to look at disability,” he adds. “So the onus isn’t on the ‘disabled’ person, it’s on the environment and on all of us.”

On behalf of our team at Key Ministry, I’ve made the argument on many occasions that the greatest barrier to inclusion of kids with emotional, behavioral and developmental disorders (what we’ve referred to as “hidden disabilities”) and their families at church involves the challenges presented by the environments in which we do ministry. Some common examples would include…

  • The child with sensory processing issues expected to participate in high-energy children’s ministry large group worship with bright lights and loud music.
  • The child with ADHD expected to sit still for an extended period of time in uncomfortable clothes and seating through worship services designed for adults.
  • The self-conscious teen who struggles to pick up on social cues who becomes resistant to attending large group worship or participate in small groups in the homes of unfamiliar peers and adults.
  • The middle schooler with separation anxiety who misses out on all the overnight retreats and mission trips.

The church has an opportunity to rethink our paradigm of how we minister to kids and families with disabilities. We can consider how we might create ministry environments where kids with “neurodiversity” can thrive as they learn about Jesus, come to faith in Him and grow in faith in Him.

This doesn’t mean we turn our back on the proven methods and strategies for supporting families impacted by disabilities. Our movement is incomplete without both the traditional and evolving service paradigms for “doing” inclusive disability ministry. In this way, we can avoid one of the challenges Dr. O’Connor identified for the disability community…

“What you may find is an interesting division between people ‘traditionally disabled’ – who are blind, or in wheelchairs, for instance, who’ve fought long and hard for these rights, and whose disabilities interact with them every day – and those who are ‘disabled in other, ‘newer’ ways. They may become vexed with people trying to get particular part of their life made easier. Who’s really disabled? The traditionally disabled may worry that political gains they’ve made will be left behind.”

It’s not an either-or for the church…it’s both. Just as the church has many members with unique gifts and talents and abilities, individual churches will have programs and environments that will be more appealing to some families than others. Allow me to share two general principles that would help us collectively as a movement to become like Paul in “becoming a servant to any and all”…

No church will be able to develop a special needs/disability ministry or create ministry environments that will be ideal for every child and every family with every imaginable disability.

Every church can and should be intentional about doing something to become more welcoming and inclusive to families of kids with disabilities.

Accomplishing this goal will not be easy. Every congregation has a contingent of people who are adamant about doing church “the way we’ve always done it.” Any attempt to change ministry environments will be met with resistance (think about how worked up folks get about the music at church!) and has to be done in a way that our environments continue to appeal to kids and families who are “neurotypical.” Most importantly, our ministry environments need to fulfill their primary purpose… helping kids and parents to come to know Christ and to grow in Christ.

I’m encouraged that God is at work here…because we clearly can’t do this in our limited wisdom and strength. But we can look forward to God working through the circumstances to hasten the day when there will truly be a church for every child.

Revised and updated from an article originally published on January 31, 2013


shutterstock_118324816Key Ministry has put together a resource page for pastors, church staff, volunteers and parents with interest in the subject of depression and teens. Available on the resource page are…

  • Links to all the posts from our recent blog series on depression
  • Links to other outstanding blog posts on the topic from leaders in the disability ministry community
  • Links to educational resources on the web, including excellent resources from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), a parent medication guide, and excellent information from Mental Health Grace Alliance.
Posted in Hidden Disabilities, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How Parents Can Advocate Effectively for Traumatized Children

shutterstock_285107951This article is the eleventh in a series from Jolene Philo about PTSD in children. Previously, children have been the focus of each post. In this article and the next, the parents of traumatized children will be front and center. Why? Because children with PTSD can’t advocate for themselves. They need us to be their voice when they are too small and too broken to advocate on their own behalf. This post discusses three skills parents must cultivate to be effective advocates for traumatized kids.

How to Become an Organized Advocate for Traumatized Children

Parenting children with unresolved trauma can be a challenge at home. And because their worlds extend beyond their family circles they can encounter trauma triggers at school, athletic events, church, and in the community that send them into a behavioral tailspin. Therefore, parents must become effective advocates in all those places. To do so they must be organized.

Advocacy generates a mountain of information and paperwork. Here are a few simple ways to make that mountain scaleable.

  • Use a spiral or composition notebook to write down questions and log observations about how your child responds to triggers and stressful situations and to track behavior patterns at home, school, and social events. Take the notebook with you to all medical appointments, therapy sessions, and school meetings. With your observations in good order, you will be able to add to any discussion.
  • Use a three-ring binder and file folder system for hard copies of paperwork related to your child’s school career, therapies, and medical interventions.
  • Create and label electronic folders for emails and documents if you prefer computerized records. You can also use Google Docs to create your own forms and integrated calendars and schedules.
  • Use your smartphone to take pictures of hard copy forms or calendars that you use for scheduling and email them to yourself. Then create email folders for storing them.

Several prepared tools are available if you don’t have the time or inclination to create your own. Here are a few of my favorites:

Whatever method you choose, remember organization is always a work in progress. So use what helps you at the time and ignore the rest.

How to Become an Educated Advocate for Traumatized Children

Effective parent advocates need to be educated as well as organized. You need to know as much about your child’s diagnoses and conditions as possible. Read books and articles about childhood trauma. Check out the resources they mention. Create Google alerts to keep abreast of information on the web. Use keywords like “childhood developmental trauma,” “complex trauma,” and “PTSD in children” to create alerts and have the results sent to your email inbox daily.

How to Be an Effective Advocate for Traumatized Children at School

Most of your advocacy efforts will be focused in two places: at school and in the medical community. To advocate effectively at school, you need to educate teachers, school administrators, and other school personnel about childhood trauma. Why? Because educators don’t yet understand trauma and PTSD. You also need to keep track of paperwork, attend every parent-teacher conference, and touch base with teachers weekly. Stay up-to-date with school rules and regulations and consider how they will affect your child. Be a team player and use open communication and teamwork to advocate effectively. If your child qualifies for special education services, learn all you can about special education law. WrightsLaw is a good place to start.

How to Be an Effective Advocate for Traumatized Children in the Medical Community

In the medical community, as in the educational system, advocacy begins with raising awareness about childhood trauma. You should look for professionals who take childhood trauma seriously. Before hospital stays or medical procedures, prepare your child ahead of time for what will happen. Talk to everyone so they are on board to prevent traumatic medical experience. Insist upon accompanying your children wherever they go in the hospital, as long as the child is conscious. Insist on being in the recovery room before they wake up. Take nothing for granted. Be ready to advocate from the moment your child enters the hospital until the moment your family goes home together.

Becoming an effective advocate for traumatized children requires persistence and patience. It also requires parents who recognize and deal with the stress that is part an parcel of parenting children struggling with PTSD. The next post in this series will offer parents ideas about how to manage their own mental health care.

Jolene_Blue_dressCongratulations to Jolene Philo for receiving a “starred” review in Publisher’s Weekly (the top review publication in the U.S.) for Does My Child Have PTSD? A starred review means the book should get a second look from libraries, book stores, and other entities that can get it into the hands of families who need it. This is a truly special honor…this is the first such honor ever received by her publisher (Familius). Available  at Amazon.

Posted in Advocacy, Hidden Disabilities, Jolene Philo, Mental Health, PTSD, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Should adoption be the church’s response to abortion?

shutterstock_235901956Should adoption be the church’s response to abortion? No.

Perhaps you’re surprised by my answer, but hear me out. Adoption is not the opposite of abortion. Birth is. After a child is born, a variety of outcomes are possible, and adoption is only one. One, for example, is parenting.

If a woman is considering abortion, our response as a church shouldn’t be simply to take her child. Yes, it is helpful for some of us to be willing to adopt so that expectant mothers can have that option if they desire placement of their child in another family. But our first response should be to care for the mother. A genuinely biblical pro-life stance values all life because of the Life Giver. Doesn’t that extend to the mother and not just the fetus? Doesn’t loving our neighbor as we love ourselves mean we don’t decide a woman’s only value is to be an incubator for an unborn child?

Let’s start by admitting that the reasons women choose abortion are many. We’re being reductive if we act as if every abortion would have ended in adoption if the child had been born. Some women choose abortion for children they would have otherwise raised, but health concerns making pregnancy painful or poverty or lack of other supports lead them to terminate. If job training were provided or medical access guaranteed or the loving support of the local church met those needs, some of those moms would not only give birth but also raise their own children instead of relinquishing them to another family. Or in the case of abortions chosen because of a prenatal diagnosis of a non-fatal disability, disability awareness and support can help present life as a more viable option (and thankfully research indicates Down syndrome abortion rates are dropping because of such cultural changes).

Can adoption be a valid response to abortion? Yes and no. Yes, because being pro-life means more than just being pro-fetus, and adoption shows a concern for children after birth. No, because adoption isn’t simply a political or moral statement but rather a lifelong commitment to parenting.

My pro-life beliefs did influence our decision to adopt, but my children’s first parents weren’t a means to an end but rather image bearers of God who we love dearly. And my children aren’t protest symbols or principled statements. They’re my children.

Adoption should be our response to a child in need of a family. Meanwhile, support in a variety of forms should be our response to a pregnant woman in need. Let’s not confuse the two.

In addition to serving as a Key Ministry Church Consultant, Shannon Dingle is a co-founder of the Access Ministry at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC.


© 2014 Rebecca Keller PhotographyCheck out Shannon Dingle’s blog series on adoption, disability and the church. In the series, Shannon looked at the four different kinds of special needs in adoptive and foster families and shared five ways churches can love their adoptive and foster families. Shannon’s series is a must-read for any church considering adoption or foster care initiatives. Shannon’s series is available here.

Posted in Abortion, Adoption, Controversies, Culture of Life, Key Ministry, Shannon Dingle | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Creating a more supportive church culture…one congregation’s journey…

Calvary Chapel KidEditor’s note: Bonnie Lyn Smith contacted us for assistance in starting a once-monthly FOCUS group at her church for parents of children with special education needs, mental health issues, and physical disabilities. In Bonnie’s words, “the main idea is to have parents connect and inform them of resources (keeping a notebook) in the community from everything from therapies to good books and online sites (yours!) to good talks in our area (Boston). We will have speakers 3-4 times a year from within our church in various specialties around these needs. And it’s a place to network so parents with similar struggles can both meet up outside the church, and we can brainstorm ideas of how to best support their children within the church. We will also have some time set aside for prayer support.”

Bonnie asked us what our experience was with groups like hers and I had to acknowledge that we didn’t really have any and the culture she and the leadership of her church are seeking to create is very unique. I invited Bonnie to share her church’s story, and invite our readers to share their comments and experiences with the team at her church, as their support community is definitely a “work in process.” Here’s Bonnie…

When my youngest son was three years old, we were told that fine motor coordination was an area of weakness for him and focus was difficult. Depression and anxiety showed tiny pieces of themselves, but we didn’t really recognize them at the time. Through a process many years long, we added several specialists to our intervention and slowly put together the pieces of the complex puzzle of disability within my son. We began to recognize the presence of sensory integration issues, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), mood disorders, as well as other hidden disabilities.

Calvary ChapelAs a Christian family, we found it difficult to find a church home that would provide the extra support we needed to participate in worship. Our value was to worship together and find ways to communicate love and God’s truth to our own children and to the others we had been meeting through community-based support groups. We searched and found a church, Calvary Chapel Chelmsford, whose leadership was proactive in meeting the needs of families like my own.

As my husband and I started teaching junior high Sunday School, we discovered an increasing number of parents with children with various disabilities (physical, social-emotional, mental, and educational) within our congregation. As a church body, we were clearly doing something to create an environment of compassion because these families would stay! A few of them had run through several churches before they came to us, having had negative, hurtful experiences and feeling great shame and embarrassment about how their children were handled. Some had to stay with their children almost every week in those churches because nobody was equipped to manage children with disabilities. Church became another place where they could not count on rest, relief or spiritual nourishment; they felt they needed to be their child’s aide during the Sunday School hour because nobody else was doing it.

Seeing the great need as well as the positive experience these families were having in our church, I started to consider starting a focus/support group but wondered what it might look like?

Calvary Chapel EntranceHow on earth would we do this? Would anyone come? Are the needs so great we can’t meet them? Can we be honest about what we are/are not offering? How do we nurture and minister while acknowledging our own limitations? Where should we stretch ourselves? What is reasonable to offer, and how do we protect hearts from more disappointment?

I felt strongly that, whatever we did, we needed to clearly define our offering from the very beginning. These families had already absorbed plenty of hurt and I didn’t want to promise anything that wasn’t within the scope of what we were able to do.

In the meantime, I attended a monthly support group in my town for parents of children with mental health challenges. I observed the way it was run: part speaker/topic and sometimes just a question-and-answer, support group-style. Parents could come unburden themselves and receive not only a listening ear and a hug, but other parents walking similar paths could encourage each other, share resources, and network outside the group.

When I discovered Key Ministry and Church4EveryChild, I read every article I could. The mission here coincided beautifully with all of the questions inside my head. I prayed for close to a year and approached my children’s ministry team and pastor. Not only were they supportive, but they expressed they had long been sensing this need but weren’t sure where to go with it. The heart was already there.

In August of this year, our church started announcing the new focus group, and in September we met for the first time. We call ourselves: “Supporting Parents with Special Needs Children”—A networking and support group for parents of students with educational needs, physical disabilities, and/or mental health challenges.

We meet once a month on a Sunday night to accomplish the following:

  • Network with other parents on similar journeys, with the potential to continue in supportive relationships outside the group
  • Share resources and specialists
  • Receive printouts and web site links for helpful resources (and book references)
  • Brief prayer time to cover the overall concerns in the group (and keep a group prayer journal going to pray on our own)
  • (As needed) discuss any ways children’s ministry could better serve children in these categories

Our families represent public education, charter schools, and homeschooling.

One of the biggest hurdles was the understandable concern for privacy. Every time we meet, I briefly review how important confidentiality is. We reassure parents that their child’s name and disability will not be on any papers or electronic messages coming from us.

Some parents are not on Facebook or other social media, so they elected for a private Google group email where outside the meeting times, parents can send questions to the group about anything from special education law to the best place to pursue a neuropsychological evaluation or social skills coaching.

After consulting with Key Ministry, our church is now taking steps to put a tab on our website to communicate that we are a church that cares about families with special needs and disabilities.

We plan to bring in people from our church in fields such as occupational therapy, family therapy and developmental disabilities along with local agencies, sports therapy, and home health aides with the idea that every third time we meet, we will have a specialist (or a fellow parent who has walked ahead of us) field a few questions they were given in advance. We voted to function as an open-forum support group on the other occasions we meet.

While I am also a parent in the group, my role is mostly facilitator and administrator. My hope is that as we offer a place where families can experience more dialogue, they will feel more comfortable within the church for worship services, family Bible studies, and special events, include their kids in children’s ministry, and feel more free to share how we can better accommodate their children. We also intend for the group to create a more understanding culture within the church, gradually educating other parents without children with special needs as well as volunteers within the children’s ministry department.

We currently have a buddy system in place where mature teens and/or adults float to assist in classes where children need to have a power walk or sensory break. This enables the teacher to continue the lesson, is less disruptive, and offers the child an understanding buddy to bring them out of the classroom when they are dysregulated. These “floaters” participate with all children in class so those with needs do not feel singled out.

We are in the beginning stages, but perhaps the most beautiful firstfruits have been watching the healing that goes both ways when parents who have been on the journey longer come alongside those who are just beginning to deal with these struggles. The support brings a sense of greater purpose to parents sharing what they have learned with others.

Our driving verses are from Hebrews and 1 Thessalonians. It’s not about solving everyone’s problems. It’s about coming alongside as a church, encouraging, keeping the hope of Christ ever before us, being prayerful, strengthening each other, letting the Body use its different giftings, and watching the faithfulness of God in the deepest places of our hearts for our children.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:23-25 (ESV)

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing.

1 Thessalonians 5:11,16-17 (ESV)


pose12_njos_jacketAuthor and Columnist Bonnie Lyn Smith writes about parenting, marriage, mental health advocacy, special education, faith in the valleys of life, the healing cloak of Jesus, drawing healthy boundaries, relational healing, renewing our minds, walking with a Holy God, and much ado about grace at Espressos of Faith and Your Tewksbury Today. Her book, Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day, offers anecdotes on all of these subjects and Scripture for each situation as well as Book Discussion Questions for deeper exploration. Bonnie’s book is available at Amazon as well as Barnes and Noble.

Posted in Advocacy, Families, Hidden Disabilities, Key Ministry, Parents, Stories, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Prevent PTSD in Traumatized Children

shutterstock_289045826Welcome to the tenth post in Jolene Philo’s series about PTSD in children. The previous post in this series summarized several effective therapy methods for children with PTSD. The new treatment methods provide hope that children can be healed of PTSD and learn to manage the vestiges that remain after effective therapy. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if adults took measures to prevent PTSD in children, so treatment would be required less often? This post reviews some of the techniques parents and other adults can use to lower the risk of PTSD developing in our kids after they experience a traumatic event.

Prevent PTSD by Encouraging Resilience

Resilience is the elusive quality attributed those children who experience trauma and are able to overcome it. For decades, child psychiatrists and psychologists have been asking the question that may be buzzing in your brain right now: What makes some kids so resilient? Dr. Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz asked that question in their book Born for Love. They profiled a young woman who is the daughter of heroin addicts. Her seven younger siblings have all had run-ins with the law and struggle with addictive behaviors. But this young woman is married, has two children, and holds a good job. She and the authors attribute her resilience to several factors:

  • First she has an innate, empathetic awareness that allows her to tune into and focus on loving moments.
  • Second the constant state of high alert, or hyperarousal, she developed in childhood while caring for her siblings, has made her aware of the feelings of others so she knows how to avoid or defuse potentially dangerous situations.
  • Third she is intelligent enough to see cause and effect clearly and solve problems creatively.
  • Fourth her intelligence attracted the attention of caring teachers and other people outside the home who supported and encouraged her.

Dr. Perry and Szalavitz said, “the most important fact in Trinity’s success was her ability to see the good in others and find caring people outside of her family to help. . . .The ability to find and connect with nurturing people outside an abusive family is another factor frequently linked with resilience in the research.”

If what Perry and Szalavitz observations are true, and I believe they are, the single most important thing adults can do to create resilient children is to develop strong relationships with and support systems for all children.

Prevent PTSD by Trauma-Proofing Your Kids

In Trauma-Proofing Your Kids, Dr. Peter Levine and Maggie Kline delineate a step-by-step process they call “first aid for trauma prevention.” They suggest parents follow these steps after a child has experienced a traumatic event.

  • Check your own body sensations first. Make sure you are calm before comforting a child after a traumatic event because children are very sensitive to the emotional states of adults.
  • Assess the situation. Look for signs of emotional shock in the child. f you see them, sit quietly with the child until the shock wears off.
  • Guide the child’s attention to his body sensations when the shock wears off. Ask questions that are increasingly specific about how the child feels to guide him back to the present.
  • Slow down and follow your child’s pace. Carefully observe for any physical or emotional changes in your child. Let the child to resolve each cycle of emotions before asking more questions.
  • Validate your child’s physical responses. Put a hand on his shoulder if he’s trembling or crying. Tell him it’s okay to let the scary stuff out.
  • Trust in your child’s innate ability to heal. Don’t rush the process. Give your child the necessary time to process excess energy and expel it.
  • Encourage your child to rest, even if he doesn’t want to. Sleep helps a child process the event and discharge energy. A calm, quiet environment helps your child complete the healing.
  • Attend to your child’s emotional responses and help make sense of what happened. Initiate this step after the child is calm and rested. Make time to ask what happened. Assure your child that it’s okay to feel scared, sad, guilty, or embarrassed. Share a story about when you felt like your child feels. Remind your child of your unconditional love, and provide opportunity for your child to retell the story using drawing, clay, or play.

Examples of how to implement these steps can be found in Trauma-Proofing Your Kids, and in my new book. Information about how to prevent trauma-related to pediatric medical and dental procedures, as well as hospital stays, can also be found in my book.

Practicing trauma prevention and seeking early treatment are two crucial components for parents who want to advocate for traumatized kids. The next installment in this series will look at two specific traits parents must cultivate to become the best advocates they can be for their kids, See you then!


JoleneGreenSweater.jpgDoes My Child Have PTSD? is designed for readers looking for answers about the puzzling, disturbing behaviors of childen in their care. With years of research and personal expererience, Jolene Philo provides critical information to help people understand causes, symptoms, prevention, and effective diagnosis, treatment, and care for any child struggling with PTSD. Available for pre-order at Amazon.

Posted in Jolene Philo, Mental Health, PTSD, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The obligation of church leaders who promote adoption

Is 1:17On November 8, Orphan Sunday will be recognized and celebrated in thousands of churches, large and small, here in the U.S. and beyond. It’s incredibly cool to see the church “being the church” through encouraging and supporting faithful families as they offer the world’s most vulnerable kids the opportunity to experience the love of Christ on a daily basis.

One of our priorities for Key Ministry going forward is to better resource churches responding to the need for adoptive homes. Our ministry developed as a byproduct of a large church’s attempt to meet the needs of families who were struggling to maintain their involvement at church in the aftermath of adopting kids from Eastern European orphanages. Shannon did a fabulous series on adoption and the church last fall, and is speaking this weekend at the Together for Adoption Summit in Durham, NC.

My clinician’s perch affords me a unique perspective on the commitment and faithfulness of families called to serve as foster care providers or led to adopt kids who wouldn’t otherwise have a home. My “day job” has also led me to anticipate the challenges families often face in their adoption or foster care ministry…challenges that far too many families and churches are oblivious to when they commit to an adoption or orphan care ministry. In our practice, our adopted kids are among our most challenging to treat, and the most likely to need an out-of-home placement. In reality, the church hasn’t exactly distinguished itself by its’ depth of understanding of kids or adults with complex mental health concerns.

Shannon has been discussing how churches can love their adoptive and foster families. I’d like to challenge church leaders to assume responsibility for supporting their families when they pursue adoption ministry.

1. Church leaders have a responsibility to be forthright with the families about the challenges they’ll potentially face when adopting. According to this paper in Pediatrics, adopted children are more likely than biological children to:

  • Have difficulties with emotions, concentration, behavior, or getting along with others.
  • Have a learning disability, developmental delay, or physical impairment
  • More than twice as likely as biological children to have special health care needs
  • More likely to have repeated a school grade
  • Less likely to have a very close relationship with the parent
  • Parents of adopted children are more likely than parents of biological children to have felt that the child is harder to care for than most children

Too many parents go into foster care or adoption assuming their love will be sufficient for overcoming the damage resulting from a child’s experiences or upbringing. Love isn’t always enough.

2. Church leaders have a responsibility to ensure that staff and leadership become trauma-informed. Shannon said what needed to be said on the subject here.

3. Church leaders have a responsibility to provide tangible supports for families who pursue a calling in adoption or foster care.  Will you help families access the mental health services they’re more likely to need for an adoptive or foster child? What about the medical services they may require if adopting a child with special medical needs. What about tutoring or advocates who might help families access special education or support services from schools? What about child care or respite care when families can’t find or can’t afford someone when they need a break?

4. Church leaders have a responsibility to put in place the supports to allow the family to maintain no less than their preexisting level of engagement in the church. In my mind this one is MOST important. Are you prepared to welcome their kids into your children’s ministry or youth ministry? What if the parents adopt a child who is HIV-positive? What will the parents need to continue to attend their small group every week? What will they need to continue to serve in the ministries where they’ve grown and matured in their faith?

Are we as church called to care for orphans? You bet. Are we expected to use the gifts and talents entrusted to us to support families who respond to such a noble calling? They should expect nothing less!

Here’s a little video inspiration…

Editor’s note: A version of this post was originally featured on November 2, 2014.


© 2014 Rebecca Keller PhotographyCheck out Shannon Dingle’s blog series on adoption, disability and the church. In the series, Shannon looked at the four different kinds of special needs in adoptive and foster families and shared five ways churches can love their adoptive and foster families. Shannon’s series is a must-read for any church considering adoption or foster care initiatives. Shannon’s series is available here.

Posted in Adoption, Advocacy, Culture of Life, Key Ministry, Leadership, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Why disability history strengthens my pro-life beliefs

shutterstock_44503450Many Christians were aghast at the Planned Parenthood videos. (Edited or not, they are still disturbing. Here are my friend Kristen’s words explaining why.) But I wasn’t.

I wasn’t because I know how little value a life has. We say we’re pro-life but our history concerning people with disabilities – both in the church and outside – says that maybe we aren’t. Maybe we value lives differently depending on what quantifiable contribution the person can make to society. Maybe we don’t want to talk about this because it hurts to acknowledge our hypocrisy. Maybe it’s easier for us to shout about the indignities against life seen in those videos than to admit the indignities against life when we use ability and disability as a measure of who is welcome and accommodated in our places of worship.

I also wasn’t surprised because I know history. Let’s start with wrongful birth cases. Each of these lawsuits claims medical malpractice against doctors or other medical professionals whose actions or inactions withheld information from the parents, information that might have led them to terminate the pregnancy. A recent case ruled against wrongful birth claims based on race. Disability, though? That’s still fair game.

The first case I heard about – but certainly not the first case of its kind – was in 2011. Parents of a little boy named Bryan who was born with one leg and no arms sued their OB doctor and ultrasound technicians for not diagnosing the disability before birth so that they could have aborted him. From the stand, the mother – Ana Mejia – said, about her now three-year-old son – “”He sees kids running and playing. He looks like he wants to do the same, but he just can’t,” and added later, and I quote, “Definitely, I would have had an abortion.” The court ruled in their favor, awarding Ana and her husband 4.5 million dollars in damages from the doctor and ultrasound technicians because they – in not diagnosing his physical disabilities – denied Ana the opportunity to abort Bryan. This scene shows the mom and her lawyer rejoicing at the verdict. Bryan will grow up and will likely learn one day that his parents paid for his care with money received by saying that they wished they could have prevent his life.

We’re still making and reinforcing this history today. Just a few months ago, a ruling of $50 million was upheld for the Wuth family claiming wrongful birth and life for their child. Like Bryan Mejia, young Oliver Wuth was born with disabilities that should have been identified during lab tests but weren’t due to human error. Currently, one case is pending in Pennsylvania, waiting to be heard by the state Supreme Court. Another is pending in Washington state.

Around the same time the courts agreed with the Mr. and Mrs. Mejia that their child shouldn’t have lived, a Christian was making news for his views on life and disability. This leader publically stated that a man could and should divorce his wife who had Alzheimer’s because she was “not there” anymore. The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, in his opinion, made her less of a person and therefore granted her husband permission to abandon her. Her life, in other words, no longer counted as much as it had when her intellect was unaffected by disease.

A year prior in 2010, a doctor in Sarasota, Florida, lost his license for aborting the wrong baby. A woman was pregnant with twins. One was diagnosed with Down syndrome, and other wasn’t. The selective abortion was meant to abort the baby with Down syndrome, and instead – by accident – the doctor aborted the other twin. He subsequently lost his license. If he had aborted the child with Down syndrome, though, it would have been completely acceptable. In other words, it is okay to treat babies like consumer products and “return” ones that don’t meet our expectations.

Lest you think this is a new phenomenon, consider this story from 30 years ago. A child, known to the world as Baby Doe, was born in Bloomington, Indiana, on April 9, 1982, with Down syndrome and an incomplete esophagus. A successful surgery could be performed to remedy the problem with his esophagus and allow him to eat and drink without problem. However, no surgery or treatment would remove his Down syndrome or ensure that he would have no intellectual disability. Against their doctor’s and hospital’s recommendation, they chose to withhold treatment, and courts upheld the parents’ right to choose treatment for their child. Baby Doe starved to death on April 15th. This case did bring about outrage from local doctors all the way to the White House. Laws were changed. But in this case, the “right to choice” was applied not to a pre-born child but a newborn one. While the image of Baby Doe starving to death when treatment could have allowed nourishment is heartbreaking and the story appeared in Time magazine and other outlets, this is no different from the generation of babies with Down syndrome who are denied life before birth. I wrote about those rates here. The difference is only the location in which the parents choose death for their child, in the hospital for Baby Doe or in the womb for aborted babies with Down syndrome and other disabilities.

Even further back than 1982, consider the year 1939. The child in question, Gerhard Herbert Kretschmar, was born blind, missing both arms, and missing either one or both legs. His story is His parents wanted him to be killed, but the doctor said that would be against the law. So the parents petitioned someone else, a political leader named Adolph Hilter, to allow them to have their five-month-old son, in their words, “put to sleep.” Five-month-old Gerhard was the first person killed by official order of Adolph Hitler, and more than 200,000 physically or cognitively disabled people would be killed after that from 1939 to 1945 in Nazi Germany. These stories can be found in Ulf Schmidt’s biography of Karl Brandt: The Nazi Doctor.

Centuries earlier, Martin Luther suggested that a child with complex disabilities should be drowned. He also said the child was a changeling and from the devil. Even church leaders throughout history have flubbed issues of disability and life.

This history matters. It matters because those outside of the church are the ones who are awarding money to parents who didn’t get the chance to abort their son and allowing parents to starve their baby with Down syndrome to death. And it matters because even one who is a noted Christian leader is publically condemning people with Alzheimer’s. If those of us who know and love God’s word and Jesus Christ don’t say something different, how will the world know any different? And when we are silent and our members get a prenatal diagnosis of a disability, if they have only gotten messages from the world about that child’s worth and haven’t heard anything but silence from the church, what might happen? For those parents, choosing to value the sanctity of that child’s life could be difficult. But, praise God, his Word is not silent on this topic.

Disability history strengthens my pro-life stance because it reminds me that being in favor of life doesn’t end at birth. A pro-life stance isn’t – or shouldn’t be – simply pro-fetus. If we are truly pro-life, then we actively and assertively value life at every stage of development. How might the world respond if they saw us as not just anti-abortion but truly pro-life from the womb to the tomb?

In addition to serving as a Key Ministry Church Consultant, Shannon Dingle is a co-founder of the Access Ministry at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC.


Evangelicals for LifeInterested in conferences and events where members of the Key Ministry team are presenting? Our website provides an up-to-date list of training events, including Shannon’s scheduled appearance at Evangelicals for Life in Washington, D.C., preceding the 2016 March for Life. We hope to see you in coming months at events in Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky and Washington, DC. Interested in having someone from Key Ministry present at your next conference? Send us some information through our Contact Us link and expect to hear from us soon!

Posted in Abortion, Controversies, Culture of Life, Shannon Dingle | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments