The challenge of learning disabilities in the church
In our busy lives we strive to attain in our community, in our work and with our family. We help our children to achieve at school, in church and on the sports field, receiving congratulations when they do well in their GCSE’s, A-levels and finally, one of the proudest moments in a parent’s life when their child steps onto the graduation podium. This is followed by their first job, the wedding day and the first grandchild – all highlights in a family’s life.
For some parents the smallest step the child makes is welcomed with great rapture. After months of repetition a child finally grabs a biscuit and sucks on it. Years are spent teaching a child to say one word.
Learning disabilities affect 1.2 million in the United Kingdom and about 23,000 in Wales. Some of the children and adults have associated health and physical needs alongside their learning disabilities. How can the church reach these families?
Firstly, by accepting them fully and totally. Jesus makes no exceptions. He said, ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me’ (Mark 10:14). You need to see the child or adult behind the disability. Be sensitive when you talk about your own child’s achievements. And above all rejoice with parents when they tell you about the smallest step which their child with disabilities has made as much as the shepherds and the kings rejoiced with Mary on the birth of Jesus.
Share the load
Jesus also said, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matt. 11:28). We are called as Jesus’ followers to share the load of our fellow sisters and brothers, and by sharing the load of others we witness about a God who cares for them and wants them to come to salvation. Many families caring for a child or adult with disabilities need a listening ear and encouragement. If they are having difficulty attending church activities see if you can find a solution. Could there be a rota set up so the parents can attend some events? Could some of the activities be made more accessible to the needs of those with disabilities? Develop a friendship with the parents and offer help when parents are tired and exhausted from their caring role – an occasional cake or meal can speak volumes.
Ask God to help you when you do not know how to relate to the child or adult. Read up on the conditions which people experience from the different syndromes such as Down’s to the wide spectrum of autism. This will enable you to have a better understanding. Pray for the families, for salvation if they are without Christ, for strength and wisdom and for a circle of friends who love and care for them.
For many parents their constant worry is for the future – a time when they no longer can care for their adult child. Prospects was formed over thirty years ago to meet that need to provide Christian support. It was founded by David Potter – a parent with a daughter with disabilities. Plas Lluest in Aberystwyth was the first care home in the charity and Prospects now supports people with a learning disability across the United Kingdom. Social care has changed considerably in the last thirty years but Prospects’ mission remains the same: ‘Prospects is a Christian voluntary organisation which values and supports people with learning disabilities so that they live their lives to the full’.
Pamela Marsden is the manager of Prospects’ Plas Lluest Day Services, Aberystwyth.
Prospects would like to hear from churches who feel led to minister to people with learning disabilities in their fellowship and Christian families who would like to explore the possibilities of Christian support for their son or daughter. Please visit www.prospects.org.uk or ring 0118 950 8781.