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Special needs children in the Church


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#1 Father Anthony

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 12:00 AM

Christ is Risen!

Hopefully, I am putting this thread in the right section, if not I asked the moderator to relocate it to the right section/forum.

I have been asked to prepare a presentation on Special Needs Children in the Family of the Orthodox Churchin the latter part of May. I have googled the topic in various ways and then checked also the databases of the various official church websites. Unfortunately, only a few articles on the topic exist. That leads me to ask, as a church have we been ignoring this segment of our faithful and their families?

Are there any ways that local parishes, dioceses, or churches have effected to reach out to them. If so I would be interested in hearing of any parish outreach or formalized ways of reaching this segment of our church population and their families.

In IC XC,
Father Anthony+

#2 Paul Cowan

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 02:09 AM

Fr. Anthony bless:

One of my priests daughters is autistic. She is loved and watched over by the entire congregation when she is around. It was this way even before he was our priest.

Our Sr. priest has a son with extreme speech challenges. He also is loved and watched over by the parish.

I don't know that the church does not take care of its challenged children. The fact not much is written about may point to the fact there is not much of a problem with it. I have never witnessed any child being neglected by any member of the church. On the contrary. Adults go out of their way to pay great attention to the little ones and their families.

Paul

#3 Trudy

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 02:26 AM

Christ is Risen!
Are there any ways that local parishes, dioceses, or churches have effected to reach out to them. If so I would be interested in hearing of any parish outreach or formalized ways of reaching this segment of our church population and their families.

In IC XC,
Father Anthony+


Dear Fr. Anthony, bless:

Indeed He is Risen!!

We have a special needs young lady in our parish. She is 26 years of age but according to her Mother has reached only the age of 6 in mental development. As I am the Sunday school teacher, she asked if her daughter could attend since repetition and participation are the things that help her learn. Of course, I gave a resounding, "YES!" along with our priest!

What a delight she is! Loving (her hugs are wonderful!), devoted to God, and participates with great enthusiasm. Our class is a "one room school-house" so I try to work both ends against the middle. Thus I may ask challenging questions but accept "easy" answers. More often than not, Mary's hand is up with the answer before her "older" compadres! And more often than not, her answer is spot on and spurs some good dialogue with the rest of the students. The students are more than happy to help Mary with drawing or scissors if she is struggling. It is heartening to see.

To be honest Father Anthony, every segment of the parish population needs loving care. Our priests are overburdened and I believe the laity needs to be engaged in caring for each other. This goes for ALL persons there.

When I suggested that some of the people at church provide a week's worth of meals for our priest who was recovering from surgery, you would have thought I'd sprouted wings! It was something that they had never considered! Several people embraced the idea but I could tell it hadn't been done before in recent years.

I find that people are hungry for someone to listen to them and love them through their problems, fears, or whatever. This includes Mary. If she's had a rough week for whatever reason, a hug and compassion help her along. By demonstrating acceptance and love to Mary, her Mom's heart is deeply touched and she has expressed great gratitude for Mary's acceptance by the kids and me without a backward glance.

As I've witnessed in another church (not Orthodox), if there is a welcome place for people with special needs and they are treated like the person God created them to be, in His image, they will flock to the church.

Hope this helps.
Athanasia

#4 Father Anthony

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 02:58 AM

Dear Paul and Anthanasia, Christ is Risen!

Thank you for your posts. I am especially appreciative of Athanasia's post. Statistically 1 in 10 children falls into the classification of "special needs". That is they have some sort of severe behavioral or learning disability, physical, mental, or emotional disorders. Autism comes to mind along with mental retardation as examples that are most noticed, but there are others that are burdened out there also. Both Paul and Athanasia touch upon there parish's approach and "ministry" to these children of God. Any others?

In IC XC,
Father Anthony+

#5 Trudy

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 09:23 PM

Dear Paul and Anthanasia, Christ is Risen!

Thank you for your posts. I am especially appreciative of Athanasia's post. Statistically 1 in 10 children falls into the classification of "special needs". That is they have some sort of severe behavioral or learning disability, physical, mental, or emotional disorders. Autism comes to mind along with mental retardation as examples that are most noticed, but there are others that are burdened out there also. Both Paul and Athanasia touch upon there parish's approach and "ministry" to these children of God. Any others?

In IC XC,
Father Anthony+


Fr. Anthony,

I thought of one more thing that may be helpful. My best friend's son is autistic. When he speaks to you, he never looks at you but looks past you. It is easy to think he is not paying any attention, but that is not true. He is hanging on every word.

Curiously, my son who is not autistic, but has a genius level I.Q., used to do the same thing. He would look past you, or be playing with something in his hand when we were speaking (even correcting) him. Most irritating.

My best friend explained to me why her son does that, which in turn helped me understand why my son used to do the same thing.

All this to say, educating the parishioners and especially the teachers is an absolute must if they (and we) are to integrate a special needs student into programming. And special needs covers a very large span. A child that is exceptionally bright has jsut as many special needs, as does a child who is at the other end of the spectrum, though the needs are different.

Kissing your right hand,
Athanasia

#6 Shelley Platt

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Posted 27 April 2009 - 01:31 AM

I've been wondering about prayer for a severely disabled child. She is 11 yo, just began to walk, but does not speak. I would like to pray to a specific saint for help in teaching her, and for her to learn.
Shelley

#7 Vasiliki D.

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Posted 27 April 2009 - 01:59 AM

I've been wondering about prayer for a severely disabled child. She is 11 yo, just began to walk, but does not speak. I would like to pray to a specific saint for help in teaching her, and for her to learn.
Shelley


Dear Shelly, my brother is a special needs child (he is now an adult). Anyway, I have been told my brother is a living angel by sooooo many fathers of the church. In 1984, my father visited Elder Paisios of the mountain who called my brother an "angel" of heaven.

This said ..if my brother is an "angel" of heaven (special needs children are angels) is it not appropriate to pray to the Archangel Michael or the Taxiarhes Angels who are the "leaders" of the angels for the protection of one of their own?

Perhaps I can share a miracle story? Three years ago my brother went and stood in front of the icon of the Archangel Michael and had a 30 minute conversation with him (no one knows what they were saying we were just observing the behaviour) ... my brother was laughing and giggling and having a great time and was staring directly at the icon ...

I dont like sharing many of our family stories unless they offer some sort of help to others ... I hope you find some peace in my recommendation - I sincerely believe that the Archangel Michael will look after this little angel.

Also, Saint Stylianos is the protector of children ...and we must NEVER go past the Mother of us all ... the Akathist Hymn to the Mother of God for children is also a recommended must have prayer service.

#8 Shelley Platt

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Posted 27 April 2009 - 04:32 AM

[quote name='Vasiliki D.'] is it not appropriate to pray to the Archangel Michael?

Thank you SO much for your reply, and for sharing your personal story which meant a lot to me. When I was Baptized last year I took the name Mikhaila for Archangel Michael so it will be very special to me to ask his aid! I only began working with this little girl some weeks ago, but have been encouraged by new things I see her do. This has to be the best job in the world!
Shelley

#9 Vasiliki D.

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Posted 27 April 2009 - 04:45 AM

Thank you SO much for your reply, and for sharing your personal story which meant a lot to me. When I was Baptized last year I took the name Mikhaila for Archangel Michael so it will be very special to me to ask his aid! I only began working with this little girl some weeks ago, but have been encouraged by new things I see her do. This has to be the best job in the world! Shelley


There are so many things to be aware of with children with special needs. Some of these are obvious and some not so. In my experience as the sibling of a special need child and as an Orthodox, I know that the devil can also tempt these children as well ... they do not have a means to explain this to us and some times their behaviour can come across as they are upset or angry or frustrated and it can be as simple as the devil upseting them.

I dont know how much influence you have over this young girl (ie. if she is your niece or if its work). If, however, this is a child from your family ... ask if you can take this little girl to receive a reading from the priest after the Divine Liturgy on a Sunday.

This is one of the most precious prayers we can give these childrens on a frequent basis. Our priest reads my brother using the "Logos" (the spear used to cut the bread for the communion) just after the Service and this seems to work miracles on him.

One other point I wanted to make is that the family also needs much prayers. My personal experience is that we love these children however the rest of the world is not so caring or understanding. So, a few prayers for the families also helps - particularly the siblings.

You can PM if you want to chat more.

With love, Vasiliki. A sibling.

#10 Andrew D. Morrell

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Posted 27 April 2009 - 05:58 AM

Christ is risen!

Father bless.

Our church is blessed with a few children with extra special needs. They are all loved and well treated in our church.

In our case, our precious young son (8.5) has Tourrette's syndrome. It is incorrectly perceived as a behavioral issue... it is actually a biological/neurological disorder. We are hyper protective of him and his feelings and have been blessed with how much love and patience he receives from the congregation at both our home church and the local Greek church we sometimes commune with.

Here is a link to an excellent paper regarding the "invisible disabilities" that so many children suffer from.

http://www.oca.org/RHArticle.asp?SID=15&ArticleID=251

If possible, please keep us informed of your progress. I will keep your efforts in my prayers.

In Christ,
Andrew


Christ is Risen!

Hopefully, I am putting this thread in the right section, if not I asked the moderator to relocate it to the right section/forum.

I have been asked to prepare a presentation on Special Needs Children in the Family of the Orthodox Churchin the latter part of May. I have googled the topic in various ways and then checked also the databases of the various official church websites. Unfortunately, only a few articles on the topic exist. That leads me to ask, as a church have we been ignoring this segment of our faithful and their families?

Are there any ways that local parishes, dioceses, or churches have effected to reach out to them. If so I would be interested in hearing of any parish outreach or formalized ways of reaching this segment of our church population and their families.

In IC XC,
Father Anthony+



#11 Shelley Platt

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Posted 27 April 2009 - 02:06 PM

You can PM if you want to chat more.

PM'd you but your box is full and it wouldn't go through.
Shelley

#12 Theodora E.

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 01:39 AM

I would like to present the other side of this issue. I do not wish to offend or upset anyone, but I have observed plenty of special needs children - from those with learning disabilities to profoundly mentally disabled - going back into my pre-Orthodox days, when the parents, unfortunately, did not attempt to control their children at all/deal with the children's behavior.

I have seen children allowed to run about the nave, screaming at the top of their lungs, rolling in the aisles many feet away from their parents, children doing a good job of removing a large amount of the sand from the candle sand boxes, destroying service books/hymnals/offering envelopes in the pew. I've seen priests and deacons slammed into by said children (lower grammar school age) who were running around at full speed during the Great Entrance. Thankfully, none of the Holy Gifts were spilled. My own purse was gone through, items dumped out, and my prayer book partially destroyed (they were sitting on a chair on the wall, while I was standing in the middle of the church - this was a church with no pews. I saw it happen, but the child was so quick the damage was done by the time I got to her) by a special needs child whose parents would not control her - and who got very confrontational when I mentioned the incident to her parents and who said the child would be allowed to do whatever she wanted to.

Many of these were children with learning disabilities who were "normal enough" on the spectrum to be mainstreamed in regular public school classrooms. Unfortunately, no one wanted to address the situation, including the priest.

The most recent encounter was last summer when a mother wheeled a toddler strapped into a stroller into the back of my current parish, sat down, and proceeded to do nothing while the child screamed bloody murder for the entire 1 hour, 45 minute Divine Liturgy. I'm in choir, and due to the way we're arranged the mother and child were in my line of sight throughout the entire service, aside from when I sat down for the sermon. Our church has a hard floor surface, so it is a very acoustically "live" space. The choir consistenly had a very difficult time getting pitch off the director because we simply could not hear. I sat in the front row for the sermon, and I caught very little (and our priest uses a microphone) because of the screaming child. Boy, was that a topic of discussion at coffee hour that day! Many others also said they could not hear the sermon. I mentioned the situation to my priest later in the week, and from his response, I assume I was not the only one he heard from. From what he said to me, I believe he talked to the mother. He said we'd have to tolerate "normal kid noise," but he realized this was far beyond "normal kid noise" and that he was working with the mother. They came again, but if the child screamed, she took him out into the narthex. I only found out after the fact from my priest that the toddler was profoundly mentally disabled, but that does not excuse the mother from just sitting there, not doing anything, while he screamed for the entire service.

I think many people are afraid to address such situations because 1. the parents of special needs children are already dealing with a great deal and 2. they're afraid of appearing to be insensitive and/or politically incorrect.

But in the situations I've witnessed, I don't believe it does either side - the special needs child/parents or the parish as a whole - any good to ignore consistent, bad behavioral issues. In fact, one of the myriad reasons I left a church was because I was tired of services being disrupted by children always running around and screaming like banshees, parents who did not care (they paid attention to the service and let the children roam), and a parish leadership (including the priest) that did not care to address the situation. We're not talking regular kid noise - but behavior far beyond that.

#13 Olga

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 05:09 AM

I've been wondering about prayer for a severely disabled child. She is 11 yo, just began to walk, but does not speak. I would like to pray to a specific saint for help in teaching her, and for her to learn.
Shelley


St John of Shanghai and San Francisco was treated for a speech impediment for some years. St John of Kronstadt had great trouble in his youth in concentrating on his studies. The Apostles, who were mostly fishermen and tradesmen with little formal education, received the gift of speaking foreign languages and teaching at Pentecost. St Romanus the Melodist, as a young deacon, had a woeful voice, yet, through the intercession of the Mother of God, his voice was transformed into a thing of beauty. Hope this helps, Shelley.

#14 Shelley Platt

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 01:26 PM

St John of Shanghai and San Francisco was treated for a speech impediment for some years. St John of Kronstadt had great trouble in his youth in concentrating on his studies. The Apostles, who were mostly fishermen and tradesmen with little formal education, received the gift of speaking foreign languages and teaching at Pentecost. St Romanus the Melodist, as a young deacon, had a woeful voice, yet, through the intercession of the Mother of God, his voice was transformed into a thing of beauty. Hope this helps, Shelley.


Olga, that is a big help in assembling a choir of saints to help with my young friend! Thank you!
Theodora, I'm sorry you have had such a difficult time with these little ones of God. It does seem to have touched a sore spot with you.

#15 Margaret S.

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 02:50 PM

Theodora, I'm sorry you have had such a difficult time with these little ones of God. It does seem to have touched a sore spot with you.


I've had similar experiences to Theodora's and, honestly, the spot wasn't sore to begin with.

Regards
Margaret
in Edinburgh

#16 Father David Moser

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 03:11 PM

I've had similar experiences to Theodora's and, honestly, the spot wasn't sore to begin with.


I suspect that the "issue" is not about the special needs child, but with the parents who do not know how to or refuse to take the time and effort to teach their children. No matter how disabled a child is, chances are he has as much capacity to learn as a dog and dogs can be taught to sit/lie quietly when instructed to do so. It takes a lot of patience, time, effort, and repetition (and repetition and repetition) to accomplish this, but it is quite doable. Any child can be taught "behavior" by someone who loves them enough to sacrifice their own agenda to invest the time and energy it takes for such training.

Is a special needs child the same as a dog or other animal? Certainly not, such a child is inestimably higher and of greater value than any animal. However, the "training"/teaching techniques that one can use on an unruly puppy to teach a desired behavior can be used even with a disabled child so that that child can function more comfortably in society.

I suppose that I've ranted on enough. I do not assume that the parent of an unruly child doesn't love their child - by no means. It could certainly simply mean that that parent doesn't know what to do and how to do the things they need to do to help their child and so are in despair and feeling helpless and powerless. Thus it falls also to the rest of us in the Body of Christ to bear one another's burdens and do all that we can to help the parent of the disabled child so that that parent can help their child.

Fr David Moser

#17 Theodora E.

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 11:23 PM

Well, I had experience with a close friend for all 4 years of high school that made me aware of the other side of this issue more than 22 years ago. My friend had a brother younger by 5 years, who was mentally disabled from lack of oxygen at birth from the cord around his neck. At age 13, he had the mental capacity of about a 5 year old. My friend's parents did not bother to teach her brother anything about boundaries and respecting other people's things. So, her stuff - clothes, books, cassette tapes, makeup, anything personal, was fair game for her brother. Their parents did not allow her to keep her things away from her brother. She was not even allowed to have a lock on her bedroom door to keep him out. She was very bright and had some creative solutions to save at least some of her things occasionally, without her parents' knowledge. I remember her being unable to turn in homework more than once because he had destroyed it. Her teachers were understanding, but it still caused her problems in school. She rarely had any of us over because her brother was always in your face - and in your stuff.

Finally, in our junior year, she more than willingly agreed to stay during the week with her elderly grandmother who lived several blocks from our Catholic high school (her parents lived 15 minutes away). Grandma had gotten to an age where she felt better with someone else in the house at night. Grandma was mostly deaf and didn't bother my friend most of the time. I spent a lot of time at grandma's with friend. She was able to get her homework done in peace, not have to worry about it being destroyed by her brother. I think she ended up keeping a lot of her stuff over at grandma's, even during the summers.

So, as a result of what my friend went through, I have little patience with parents of special needs children who use the special need as a reason for not disciplining their children or taking any sort of responsibility for their children's behavior (such as not taking a screaming bloody murder child out of the nave to try to calm him down).

#18 Andrew D. Morrell

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Posted 29 April 2009 - 04:01 AM

Interesting responses.

Not all special needs (disabled) children are unruly and not all unruly children are disabled. In my experience, most unruly children are victims of poor parenting. So sad, as the children will eventually suffer more than those around them who may be annoyed or distracted.

In our case, we are very, very blessed. Our son has blended reasonably well into the congregation because we are there to address his needs and guide him. When we see he is unable to handle the stress, we take him out of the service. At times, he stays home.

We have it far easier than many. But still, a Tourrette's child can't be trained 'like a dog'... it's not a behavioral disorder so that approach is completely ineffective. The only approach has been trial and error... and unconditionally embracing the fruits of the spirit, laying everything on us rather than our son, until he is more capable. We just don't lay our responsibility down, ever.

It's always very sad to see parents not embracing their responsibilities to both their children and those around them. But it break my heart to see the looks they get from others in a church. Ideally, Church leadership should find a compassionate and gentle approach and engage with those families, perhaps offer some skilled parenting training sessions. We endorse what is called attachment parenting and have found it to be an incredibly effective approach for so many handicapped or disabled children.

In my non-Orthodox days, I'd visit friend's churches that barred children under eight years old from the service. One of the USA's largest evangelical denominations still does that.

Again, Father Anthony, your effort is in my prayers.

In Christ,
Andrew

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:14

Christ is Risen!

Are there any ways that local parishes, dioceses, or churches have effected to reach out to them. If so I would be interested in hearing of any parish outreach or formalized ways of reaching this segment of our church population and their families.

In IC XC,
Father Anthony+



#19 Vasiliki D.

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Posted 29 April 2009 - 08:01 AM

Not all special needs (disabled) children are unruly and not all unruly children are disabled.

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:14


Interesting responses but that was the best. Perhaps there would be less criticism of families who have to deal with "training the dogs" if people understood how different it is to raising a normal child.

The whole reason these children are labelled "mentally disabled" is because there is a portion (or portions of) their brain that are no longer functional (ie. dead) or dormant (ie. asleep) ... the part of the brain that is sleeping CAN be stimulated and CAN be improved through the appropriate exercises. However, the part of the brain that is dead (in my families situation, my brother lost oxygen to his brain after the whooping cough injection so his brain cells are dead) is dead and can not be stimulated or revived.

If certain brain cells are dead that relate to behaviour then no matter what a parent does they can not "train" their child like a dog (ie. learning function albeit like a robot is disabled) and therefore it does not make their parenting any less "good" than a parent who's child IS behaving.

I would advise that many people on this thread should refrain from passing judgement or comment unless they are experts or have personally lived the experience because we are not talking JUST about "political correctness" but we are talking about passing judgement on people who are carrying a cross that GOD has given them.

Also, if people are distracted by the behaviour of such children (regardless the circumstance) it suggest MORE how far on each person is on their Spiritual path rather than how fairly those parents are "parenting".

Their are monastics who fight demons on a daily basis ...these demons scream and make all sorts of "noise" to distract them from their prayers ... those who succeed in their prayers are those who learn to "block out" this noise without even focusing or paying attention to that noise in the first instance.

Anything that distracts us in church is not the fault of that object but OUR OWN fault .. it is our OWN sin ... we are obviously desiring to worship God under our own idea of what constitutes a "perfect prayerful" environment and that is a little egotistical if we really dug deep into it and thought about it.

As Adam said to God ...its not my fault ..its Eve and then Eve said ..its not my fault ... its the snakes fault that you made.

.................. Is Orthodoxy about how perfect things can appear outwardly or is it about our OWN inward perfection?

Just a thought because when we stop and think this way ..those precious children DO NOT become a burden to us in Church ......

#20 Shelley Platt

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Posted 29 April 2009 - 03:03 PM

Interesting responses.


I've been thinking about these responses all day. My head is spinning, really, when I try to consider all the different perspectives--that of the child, that of the parent, that of the irritated worshipper. What continually surfaces is the response of Jesus to the Gerasene demonic, and the phrase from the daily prayers that petitions, "Let them not perish because of me, a sinner", and what God the Father must have thought about "unruly spiritual Israel" whose parent He was!
Yes, I think it is good that parents take responsibility for their child's behavior seriously and not let things get out of hand, but I'm also aware that children on the autism spectrum do not process information the same way that the rest of us do. Just for an example of how life would be different, imagine what your own life would be like if you were, say, high on lsd all the time and didn't know the difference! Probably people reading this won't know what that's like, but it is a very different perception of reality. Behavioral training is important, but it's not the whole answer.
What I'd like to see in worshippers of Christ is compassion, an active interest in these families and an attitude of "how can I help?" instead of criticism.

Edited by Father David Moser, 29 April 2009 - 06:11 PM.
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