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How to Better Include People with Disabilities

Statistically, if your church has more than 150 people, you have members who fall on the Autism Spectrum, including Asperger Syndrome. Because one of the most debilitating aspects of a disability are the attitudes of those around the disabled, one powerful service congregations can offer is to help persons with disabilities reach their fullest God-given potential. It begins by understanding and transforming your own perceptions, and continues by believing that God endows everyone with a range of abilities and disabilities for a divine purpose and calling. In 2009, special education consultant Barbara Newman conducted a workshop at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, an institution devoted to strengthening and renewing worship, to help congregants understand the Autism Spectrum disorders, and to provide practical ideas that can be used to increase worship participation and understanding by adults and children on the Autism Spectrum. That presentation was recorded and is available as a 1-hour audio file on the CICW website.

In November 2013, CICW hosted Dan Vander Platts, director of advancement at Elim Christian Services in Palos Heights, Illinois — a ministry providing services to children and adults with special needs. Vander Plaats explored "how we talk about and see people with disabilities," and how that "will naturally change as we come alongside them." In an edited question-and-answer article Vander Plaats reviewed what he has learned about the 5 stage journey of disability attitudes and how God can work through the disabled to build up congregations. For additional insight and resources, consider the perspective on finding church-based resources for children with disabilities offered by church scholar Dr. Carol E. Lytch in our feature article, "Christian Education Programs Vital to Congregational Health." You might also appreciate "From Accessibility to Inclusion," which explores the same journey Vander Plaats discusses: learning to move from "providing for" to "coming alongside" and "co-laboring with" disabled persons.

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