Should kids with ADHD take their medication for church?

shutterstock_216207223We’re going to plunge headfirst into a topic this week that I’ve never seen addressed anywhere in books, articles or seminars on working with families of kids with ADHD…the use of medication for the specific purpose of helping kids function better during church-based programs and activities.

There are several reasons why I referred to today’s discussion as a “taboo topic.” Parents of kids with ADHD who do make their way to church are often very uncomfortable sharing information about their child’s diagnosis or treatment. Church staff and volunteers should (appropriately) avoid speculation about a child’s diagnosis or  treatment needs. Physicians and other professionals involved with treating kids with ADHD are likely too uncomfortable broaching the need for medication at church or too oblivious to the reality that some parents would desire treatment in support of their child’s spiritual development.

First, my two cents: If your child’s experience at church is as important as their experience at school, the need for effective treatment at church is as great as their need for treatment at school.

Because medication is the single most effective stand-alone treatment for ADHD and the therapeutic effects of the medications used to treat ADHD are very short-lived, the child’s experience in church on a day to day or week to week basis may be highly contingent upon their medication status.

Why would a parent not give their child medication on the weekend that would help them have a better experience at church? Here’s data from a study I presented ten years ago at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry looking at prescription fill rates for children and adults with ADHD:

Bottom line: The “average” kid with ADHD who has been prescribed medication isn’t on their medication on any given day.  I suspect parents avoid medication whenever they can get away without it. Appetite suppression is common. Some kids have more difficulty sleeping on medication. Kids with ADHD who also have anxiety disorders (30%) often become moody or irritable on stimulants. Parents administer medicine because…

(A) Their child wouldn’t make it through school without it

(B) Without medication, their child’s behavior would be too disruptive to family life and peer relationships.

Parents haven’t been conditioned to think about the impact of ADHD on their child or family’s church participation because I suspect most clinicians don’t ask. In the last 25 years, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times a parent spontaneously volunteered concerns about their child’s ADHD at church before I raised the question. Talk about don’t ask, don’t tell!

shutterstock_65137348Scheduling of activities for children and youth can create challenges for medication administration. There’s a big pool of kids out there for whom their needs for support in church will vary from activity to activity. The parent who gives their kid his medicine two hours before leaving for church may not send medication along for a weekend retreat. If your church offers AWANA (or similar midweek programming) and has a high percentage of kids with ADHD, it’s important to keep in mind that the three most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD (Adderall XR, Concerta and Vyvanse) typically wear off around dinnertime when kids take medication before leaving for school.

The only time I’ve needed to have a parent sign a release of information so I could talk to my wife occurred when she was serving as AWANA group leader. A patient of mine with ADHD was in her group and got into a fight with another kid who probably should have also been a patient. Understanding this boy’s challenges in the evening led to a medication adjustment and a successful year in AWANA.

There’s a big pool of kids out there for whom their needs for support in church will vary from activity to activity. The parent who gives their kid his medicine two hours before leaving for church may not send medication along for a weekend retreat.

shutterstock_379214836The other side to this discussion involves the perspective of the child’s prescribing physician/clinician. Why wouldn’t the kid’s doctor instruct parents to use medication on Sundays or for evening church activities?

  • Maybe the physician felt uncomfortable asking about family religious practices? In our ultra-PC world, more and more physicians are likely to avoid any discussion of religious practices altogether for fear of offending parents.
  • The physician is so busy typing into an electronic record during the all too brief appointments the insurance companies pay for that they don’t have time to ask about church.
  • The physician may not have the cultural competency to understand the importance of church in the life of the child’s family.
  • The physician may recommend withholding medication on weekends to minimize the impact of side effects: It’s not uncommon for kids to have difficulty eating or fail to gain weight while taking medication for ADHD. Appetite and growth concerns are probably the most common reason physicians suggest to parents that they withhold medication on weekends.
  • The physician may not have the depth of understanding about ADHD that would lead them to individualize the child’s treatment for evening or weekend activities.  Some docs have a greater level of sophistication in understanding ADHD and the nuances of the medications used to treat it. Educated parents who have done their homework and make well-reasoned suggestions to their child’s physician often get what they want.

In a nutshell, it should be possible to find a solution for church for kids who benefit from medication at school. Short-acting versions of extended-release ADHD medications are readily available that may be very helpful when kids with ADHD can benefit from improved symptom control for several hours for a church activity with a minimal impact upon their side effect burden.

My hope would be that parents would become as comfortable addressing the need for medication at church with their child’s physician as they would discussing the impact of their child’s ADHD in school or at home, and physicians would routinely ask about the impact of ADHD on the child’s church participation and spiritual development. We’ve got a long way to go before those conversations become routine.


shutterstock_291556127Key Ministry encourages our readers to check out the resources we’ve developed to help pastors, church leaders, volunteers and families to better understand the nature of trauma in children and teens, Jolene Philo’s series on PTSD in children, and series on other mental health-related topics, including series on the impact of ADHD, anxiety and Asperger’s Disorder on spiritual development in kids, depression in children and teens, pediatric bipolar disorder, and ten strategies for promoting mental health inclusion at church.

Posted in ADHD, Controversies, Families, Hidden Disabilities, Inclusion, Key Ministry | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

How God is using our Psalm 139 video to change law…Ryan Wolfe

Ryan Post 41716Editor’s Note: Ryan Wolfe and Shannon Dingle are in suburban Washington D.C. this weekend presenting at the McLean Bible Church Accessibility Summit. Ryan’s had a busy week…we’re sharing a post from his ministry blog looking at the ways in which God has used a video from their Disability Sunday service on Palm Sunday. Here’s Ryan…

As we prepared for Disability Ministry Sunday 2016 at First Christian Church we had no idea what God had planned for us. Months of planning and preparations across all segements of our Disability Ministry went into getting ready for our services on Palm Sunday.

One of the most impactful elements of our service was the Psalm 139 video that was created by many of our friends at First Christian Day Services.

The week after Disability Ministry Sunday we posted the video on our Facebook page. To our surprise it instantly began having a local, national, and global impact. In just a few weeks the video reached over 2 million timelines and was viewed by over 700,000 people. We received phone calls from churches in several states, from media outlets, and even from an individual in the Philippians. He asked for permission to use the video to help him start a Disability Ministry in his country.

We were also contacted by Katie Franklin the Communications Director at Right to Life Ohio. She asked me if they could use the video at their Legislative Day and if I would be interested in speaking in support of the House Bill 135, Down Syndrome Non-Discrimination Act. I said, “Sure! When is it?” To my surprise she said, “Next week!” After clearing my calendar I made my way to Columbus on Tuesday April 12th.


I had the opportunity to meet in the offices of Senators and Representatives. I was able to share our Psalm 139 video with them. I was able to speak as to why they should pass the Down Syndrome Non-Discrimination Act making it illegal to abort a baby solely on the fact that it has been diagnosed with Down Syndrome. My words paled in comparison to the impact the video had as people watched it. God was moving in a special way through my friends in this video. Current statistics show that between 60-90 percent of babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted.


I also had the opportunity to show our video at Right to Life gathering to over 200 people. After showing the video I offered a short invocation. I talked about how God does not offer up any qualifiers in Psalm 139 or in Ephesians 2:10. He doesn’t say that you are “wonderfully made” and one of his “works of art” only if you have what has been deemed the appropriate number of chromosomes. God has made all of us “wonderfully.” God has made each of us a “work or art.” God has made each of us on purpose for a purpose.

Again I got to see God use our video to motivate and inspire many people at the luncheon. Following the luncheon we all marched to the House of Representatives where we meet with our Representatives advocating for them to pass House Bill 135, House Bill 117, and Senate Bill 127.

I stand amazed at how God could use a video that my friends created to potentially change the law. Praise God! There is nothing too big for the amazing God we serve.

In addition to serving as a consultant for Key Ministry, Ryan Wolfe serves as Disability Ministries Pastor at First Christian Church in Canton, OH.


shutterstock_24510829Key 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!

Posted in Advocacy, Culture of Life, Intellectual Disabilities, Key Ministry, Ryan Wolfe | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

5 things to do after someone you love receives a special needs diagnosis

shutterstock_373852987Gillian Marchenko’s new book, Still Life; A Memoir of Living Fully with Depression officially launched yesterday. While Gillian is busy doing media and interviews this week, we’re sharing a post she previously wrote for our companion blog, Not Alone.

I’ll never forget the moment I was told my baby had Down syndrome. I was sitting next to her incubator in a hospital, holding on to her heel. I remember being pleased because her eyes were open. She stared intently into mine. The doctor spoke and the words ‘Down syndrome’ crashed over me. Suddenly I was alone without a buoy, paddling like crazy in a sea of worry and grief.

When a parent first hears, ‘your child has a disability,’ it can be devastating. For friends and family, it can be a trying time too. Sometimes people end up doing nothing because they aren’t sure what they are supposed to do or how to help.

If someone you love has recently been told about a special needs diagnosis, read on.

5 things friends and family can do to support a loved one with a new special needs diagnosis

  • Show up: Sometimes friends and families stay away from loved ones with a new diagnosis because they don’t know what to do. Showing up and letting the family know you care makes a huge difference in their lives.
  • Research the diagnosis: If you don’t know anything about the disability, do a little research. If you look on-line, make sure the resource is-to-date.
  • Refrain from platitudes and pat advice: If a family is grieving a new diagnosis, the best thing to do is to let them know you care, and to listen. Don’t give them pat advice or minimize their situation with clichés or flippant memorized verses from the Bible.
  • Talk to your children: Once you learn about the disability, if they are at an appropriate age, explain the diagnosis to your children. Stigma is broken with educated minds. Explain disability in a way that isn’t scary, and that tells kids that we all are made differently, and that is OK.
  • Give tangible help: Bring a meal, watch other children, and visit them in the hospital. Offer gentle, tangible help.Everyone needs it, but especially families in crisis.

After our first special needs diagnosis, some of my friends and family didn’t know what to say or do. But one instance of incredible support stands out in my mind. I remember my brother calling me. I can’t remember exactly what he said to me, but it went something like this:

“I’m not going to pretend I know what you are going through right now, but I went online and found out some things I can do and say to help you.”

He told me that he loved me, and that he was there for me.

That phone call was one of the most precious moments of my life. He cared enough to show up however he could. He cared enough to learn about Down syndrome in order to better support our family. My prayer is that you love and support your loved ones like my brother supported me if you ever find yourself in that situation.


Posted in Gillian Marchenko, Key Ministry, Special Needs Ministry | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

What disability ministry is and isn’t…insights from my first Accessibility Summit

Emily Colson Accessibility Summit 2013

Editor’s note: Shannon Dingle and Ryan Wolfe are representing Key Ministry the 2016 Accessibility Summit this coming Friday and Saturday at McLean Bible Church in McLean, VA. Shannon shares today from her first experience at the Summit five years ago…

Ryan Wolfe and I are headed to McLean Bible Church this weekend to speak on behalf of Key Ministry. This upcoming trip has me thinking back to my first Accessibility Summit five years ago. That year, I attended a session titled Built to Last – Sustaining a Disability Ministry. It was a panel discussion featuring four directors for special needs ministry at different churches. While I gained several great takeaways from it, these points from Connie Hutchinson from First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, CA resonated with me then and still do now. (The points, bolded and italicized, are hers; the commentary on each comes from me.)

Disability ministry is…

  1. …not a numbers-driven ministry. Connie pointed out that it’s not about how many families with special needs come to your church. It’s about being a welcoming place, reaching out to your community, and serving those who come. Another way of wording this is found in my church’s core beliefs, the emphasis on faithfulness over fruitfulness. We’re called to be faithful; God is the one who brings forth the fruit.
  2. …not cost-effective. We’re not just talking about money here. The human cost in terms of volunteers needed is higher in special needs ministry than in other ministries.
  3. …long-lasting. It’s a lifetime commitment. A lot of churches only have special needs ministry programs for children, maybe even youth. But you know what? Those children and youth grow up. The adult special needs ministry at our church began at the result of one of our kids growing up and her family stepping forward to create a meaningful and welcoming place in our church for her and others. (And you don’t need to wait until the children with special needs at your church grow up; there are adults with disabilities in your community already!)
  4. …a mission field. People with disabilities are less likely to attend worship services, Bible studies, and other church activities than those without disabilities. People with autism are more likely to be atheists and more likely to reject organized religion. More statistics and their sources can be found here. If you want to share the good news of Christ with all people, then this is a good place to start!
  5. …relationship-driven rather than program-driven. This is true of any ministry. However, special needs ministry requires it more so than others, at least in my experience. When I was a youth ministry leader, it was possible to run all our weekly programming without getting to know students well. That wouldn’t be effective ministry, but I’ve seen it happen before. In special needs ministry, though, it’s about the individual not the disability or the program.

 And, finally, I would add one more: It’s worth it.


Dingles SpringCheck 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 Inclusion, Key Ministry, Shannon Dingle, Special Needs Ministry | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wildflower…a conversation starter for the church on trauma and mental illness

WF 40Editor’s note: Michael Leaser is our special guest blogger today. Michael is with Faith Street Films and served as the executive producer of Wildflower, a recent theatrical release that explores the topic of post-traumatic stress from a decidedly Christian perspective. We’re pleased to help introduce the film to a larger audience. Here’s Michael…

WF 02Last week, Faith Street Films and Cave Pictures released the film, Wildflower, a psychological thriller that also serves as a powerful conversation starter on mental health and trauma issues. It tells the story of college student Chloe Moray (Nathalia Ramos, House of Anubis), who finds solace from a difficult childhood in her extraordinary art. But when an alarming dream begins to recur nightly, she starts to believe it might be a suppressed memory and that she may have witnessed a terrible crime as a little girl. Her search for peace takes her on a journey that forces her to confront her past traumas and leads her to cross paths with Josh (Cody Longo, Nashville), a young man dealing with his own painful loss. Together they find in each other someone they can trust as they seek to unlock a decade-old cold case.

WF 31The film’s producers are partnering with Key Ministry and other mental health organizations to help bring awareness to these issues and to help lead individuals struggling with mental illness and trauma, along with their loved ones, to the resources and assistance they need to lead as full and healthy a life as possible. At, you can find a group discussion guide and links to resource partner websites, including Key Ministry. There is also a video of a Wildflower mental health panel discussion, led by Pastor Matthew Schlesinger of Grace Church in Oceanside, California, that includes representatives from the Mental Health Grace Alliance and the National Alliance on Mental Illness and covers the film’s mental health themes and how people can effectively address mental health concerns for themselves or for loved ones within their families, churches, and communities.

Wildflower is available to rent or purchase here, or at Walmart and all Lifeway and Family Christian stores.

WF 01


shutterstock_291556127Key Ministry encourages our readers to check out the resources we’ve developed to help pastors, church leaders, volunteers and families to better understand the nature of trauma in children and teens, Jolene Philo’s series on PTSD in children, and series on other mental health-related topics, including series on the impact of ADHD, anxiety and Asperger’s Disorder on spiritual development in kids, depression in children and teens, pediatric bipolar disorder, and ten strategies for promoting mental health inclusion at church.

Posted in Hidden Disabilities, Key Ministry, Mental Health, PTSD, Resources | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Five strategies for maintaining hope if you’re struggling with depression

Gillian Marchenko is serving as our guest blogger this Spring. Her new book, Still Life; A Memoir of Living Fully with Depression publishes in May and her work has appeared in numerous publications including Chicago Parent, Today’s Christian Woman, Literary Mama, Thriving Family, and MomSense Magazine. Her first book, Sun Shine Down, was published in 2013. She lives near St. Louis with her husband Sergei and their four daughters. Connect with her through her Facebook page

Depression has been defined as the loss of hope. For a lot of us battling this illness, hope simply doesn’t exist. The future can be daunting when another painfully numb day looms ahead. Through my years of therapy for depression, I’ve acquired some strategies that help me hope in the future more often.

  1. Break the future down into ten minute increments. Catastrophic thoughts are a cornerstone of depression. I don’t wonder how my child is doing walking home from school. I decide she has been hit by a car and that I will never see her again. Negative thoughts make the future a very scary place. A therapist once told me that instead of obsessing about the future, I should try to live my life ten minutes at a time. It isn’t healthy to think way down the road if it only contributes to paralyzing depressive symptoms. Ten minute increments is a starting point. It can help me use what little energy I have positively instead of worrying about how I’ll manage this coming summer when all four of my children will be home every day.
  1. shutterstock_360771362Go back to the basics. I am often preoccupied with battling negative thoughts in my head and attempting to live minute by minute with throbbing pain. How does one live ten minutes at a time? I had no idea, so I decided to go back to the basics of my life. Set a timer and take a shower. Make the bed and brush my teeth. Go outside and take a walk around the block even if I hate every second of it. For someone with depression, simple activities can be incredibly difficult. Doing something basic for a short time pushes us into the future whether we like it or not, and surprisingly, it may provide a little relief from our guilt of not doing anything at all.
  1. Don’t think. Just do. I used to wake up in the morning and try to decipher how I felt. What was I thinking when I opened my eyes? Did my body ache? How heavy was the darkness? My most recent therapist, a cognitive behavioral therapist, encouraged me (when able) not to fall into that trap. Don’t think right away. Just do. I try not to allow myself to think about how I feel before accomplishing a few small tasks. These tasks may last for five minutes or an hour, but doing is essential. Focusing on my environment instead of myself has proven to be a healthier way to start my day.
  1. shutterstock_339709205Make lists. If your brain (like mine) is often cloudy and you are stumped as to what you should do, make a list of options for the morning, or for ten minute increments, or for any other time of the day you might be able to tackle. Write down specific activities. I find it also helps to write down a few of my favorite Bible verses and other pieces of advice I’ve received from my therapist so if my anxiety rises too high before I can catch it, or if my depression trips me into a new pothole, I can pull out my lists and either read something over and over while doing some deep breathing or to attempt to do instead of think.
  1. Appreciate small victories. Shame is a huge part of my depression. My mind fixates on my failures. I’m ashamed of what I don’t do for my family. I’m ashamed when I seem to drop out of my own life. One of the ways I fight shame (trust me, I still struggle with it) is by attempting to notice and appreciate small victories. If I get some household chores completed, that’s a victory. If I push myself to do in the morning before thinking, that’s another victory. If I tuck my kids in at night and spend a little time talking to my husband, that’s a victory. Small victories matter. They become scaffolding on which we can begin to rebuild our lives. They can lure us to a future of hope and perhaps, just maybe, a desire to live the kind of life God wants us to live. Small victories, when strung together, can help eradicate the lie of shame that exists in our minds because of our illness.


Still LifeFor Gillian Marchenko, “dealing with depression” means learning to accept and treat it as a physical illness. In Still Life she describes her journey through various therapies and medications to find a way to live with depression. She faces down the guilt of a wife and mother of four, two with special needs. How can she care for her family when she can’t even get out of bed? Her story is real and raw, not one of quick fixes. But hope remains as she discovers that living with depression is still life.

Still Life is available here for pre-order from IVP Press. The electronic version will be released on April 11, followed by the paperback edition on May 1.

Posted in Depression, Gillian Marchenko, Mental Health, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Ron Sandison…She believed in the word “CAN”

1. Ron & Makayla

Editor’s note: Ron Sandison is a champion for increasing awareness and understanding in the church for persons with autism spectrum disorders. His book, A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom, is being published this week by Charisma House and is available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions. Here’s Ron’s story…

My experience with autism has been an amazing journey. My development began normally until eighteen months. At that time, I began to rapidly regress, losing my ability to communicate using words and ceasing to have eye contact.

When I was seven years old, the educational specialists and doctors informed my parents that I would probably never read beyond a seventh grade level, attend college, excel in athletics, or have meaningful relationships. They used the word “CAN’T.” My mom was determined to help me succeed in life by developing my unique gifts for independence, employment, and relationships.

She believed in the word “CAN.”

My mom believed that by having me interact with typical children my own age I would learn essential social skills, and by developing my talents I could gain independence and accomplish my dreams. She quit her job as an art teacher and worked full-time using pre-ABA art therapy methods to teach me writing and reading skills.

My mom found inspiration in Proverbs 22:29,

“Do you see a man skilled in his labor? He will serve before kings. He won’t serve before obscure men.”

In the 70’s and 80’s before the emphasis on inclusion in the classroom many children with autism and other disabilities only learned skills to equip him them for employment as a janitor, grocery bagger, stock-boy, dishwasher, or pumping gas—serving before obscure men. My mom was determined that would not be me.

By using art therapy, creative writing, and playtime she was able to help me develop my gifts and learn social skills. She also advocated for me to receive intense speech therapy. When I was five years old, my speech development was so delayed that my seven year old brother Chuck boasted to his friends, “My brother Ronnie sounds weird. I believe he speaks Norwegian.”

When I entered eighth grade she advocated for classroom inclusion and had me placed in all regular education classes. She instructed my teachers to use visual teaching methods since I am unable to learn phonetically due to autism.

My mom’s belief in the word “CAN” paid off.

I obtained bachelor degrees in theology and psychology (with a 3.90 GPA) and a Master of Divinity with a minor in Biblical Greek from Oral Roberts University with a perfect 4.0 GPA. I received an athletic scholarship for track and cross-country my freshman year of college. I am happily married going on three years and my wife and I have a newborn daughter (Makayla Marie), born on March 20th. Charisma House, a national publisher, has just published my book A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom.

A Parents Guide to AutismMy mom has been the inspiration behind my book. My book is unique by being the first book on autism published by a traditional Christian publisher written by an author and ordained minister on the autism spectrum. I wrote my book to offer hope and encouragement to parents with a child of autism that through faith, love, therapy and developing their gifts—children with autism can experience independence and freedom.

In writing my book I interviewed over 40 parents who have a child or children with autism who also believed in the power of the word “CAN.” I had Kristine Barnett, author of the best seller, The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing, Genius, and Autism, write the foreword for my book because her determination and hope for her son, Jacob, reminded me of my own mom. I also interviewed over 40 of the top experts from the autism community to gain their wisdom.

I share my personal struggles with autism and the practical insights I learned from my mom as well as the parents I interviewed. Autism is not something you cure but refine. When you walk on the hot pavement to the beach and your bare foot steps on a sharp, jagged piece of glass…that is what autism unrefined is like – jagged autistic quirks, unfiltered inappropriate comments, out of control stimming, and relentless head banging, screaming, meltdowns. Autism refined, on the other hand, is like walking on the warm sandy beach with the bright blue ocean waves and discovering a smooth piece of glass that has been refined by the power of the ocean. A display of God’s glory. Through the book, parents will learn how to refine their child’s special interests into amazing gifts.


SandisonRon Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of America. Ron has published articles in Autism Speaks, Autism Society of America, Autism File Magazine, Autism Parenting Magazine, Not Alone, the Mighty, the Detroit News, the Oakland Press, and many more. He is frequently invited to speak at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches.

Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with their newborn daughter. Contact Ron at his website or email him at

Posted in Autism, Hidden Disabilities, Inclusion, Parents, Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment