Church transitions and kids with disabilities

DSC_0657With the beginning of a new school year in Northeast Ohio, we can look forward soon to the beginning of a new year to for kids and families in our church programming, even if we can’t look forward to four months of winning football.

Transitions are highly anticipated by most kids and families. At the church we attend, preschoolers entering kindergarten start to attend elementary school large group worship next Sunday. Kids entering sixth grade begin middle school programming and small groups. Ninth graders have their own Sunday evening worship and start “house groups” the following week.

Kids with “hidden disabilities” and their families may not look forward to these transitions with the same anticipation as their peers at church. Transition times all too often result in kids and families falling away from church programming. With a little understanding of how transitions may impact kids with specific disabilities and some advance planning, church staff, volunteers and parents can help most have positive experiences as they progress into their age-appropriate ministry environments at the start of the new program year.

shutterstock_173700593Some kids may have more difficulty transitioning into environments with more sensory stimulation than they’ve been accustomed to. Kids with sensory processing difficulties (common in kids with autism and ADHD) may experience distress when exposed to very bright lights, loud music and more noise than they’re accustomed to. Ministry leaders aware of kids with sensory issues may consider adjusting lighting and sound amplification in advance of the child’s transition to a new ministry environment. If such adjustments aren’t practical, alternative arrangements can be made for kids during times of excessive sensory stimulation…offering opportunities to serve elsewhere in the church, use of videos or prerecorded worship music or other alternative worship activities.

Kids with anxiety may have more difficulty transitioning into large groups with many older kids with established peer groups and friendships. Imagine being a shy, reserved sixth grader walking into a room with lots of older (and more physically mature) kids hanging out with friends in pre-existing groups, or a high school freshman walking in on a group of 16 and 17 year-olds who drove to church. Designating leaders to personally welcome kids who appear to be alone can be helpful. Planning in advance for friends or acquaintances to join kids who are more shy or withdrawn until they’ve made solid connections with peers and group leaders is another useful strategy. Another approach involves having trusted group leaders “loop” for two year commitments…following kids through the transition from elementary to middle school or middle school to high school ministry.

shutterstock_47556007Kids of middle and high school age with less well developed social skills may have difficulty transitioning into small group environments with more sophisticated peers. Transitions become easier when ministry leaders and parents can create a peer culture accepting of kids with differences.

Be on the lookout during the transitions at the beginning of the program year for kids who have regularly participated in your church’s programming for children and youth but are suddenly missing from their age-appropriate activities. They may be kids with “hidden disabilities” struggling as a result of change from familiar (and comfortable) ministry environments.

Updated August 16, 2014

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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.

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, www.church4everychild.org was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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3 Responses to Church transitions and kids with disabilities

  1. Pingback: KidTrek Sunday Plus: Church Transitions and Kids With Disabilities | KidTrek: Sunday Plus

  2. What a great reminder – thank you for this.

    I’ve reposted and sent people to your site.

    Like

  3. Pingback: Trending: What the Teen Choice Awards tell us about youth culture & more… - Your The Man Jesus

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