Ruth Jackson from Childrenswork Magazine has done a great interview with actress Sally Philips on parenting a child with additional needs in church. Sally and her husband have three sons and Olly, their eldest (aged 11) has Down’s syndrome.
RJ: Not every church has the necessary resources and manpower to serve children with special educational needs (SEN). Do you have any advice for churches and children’s workers?
SP: Good will is a good start but it’s often not enough. Generally, children’s workers are not prepared enough and the activities not differentiated enough so that kids with SEN can access them. There’s also a lack of volunteers. In school, Olly has one-to-one support. In church, he doesn’t, even though he still needs it. In school, his lessons are adapted, in church, he has to do the same as the others. If you prepare the lesson with multi-sensory options, all of the children will benefit, as there are many typically developing kids who prefer different ways of learning.
Incidentally, more traditional forms of church are much easier for SEN adults to access than ‘as the Spirit leads’ churches. The ritual and physicalisation of worship and prayer, the prayer book that they can follow, the same pattern every week, the weekly Eucharist etc are very helpful for people whose primary mode of communication may not be verbal.
Sally goes on to give some really helpful practical ideas that churches can use to be more inclusive to children with additional needs – it’s well worth taking the time to read this.