Is Assimilating Parents of Children with Special Needs The Best Option?

Inclusion is the optimal model of the day.  Integrating children with special needs into regular classrooms both at school and at church promotes the thought that barriers should be broken down and all are worthy of being welcomed in.  We attempt to minimize differences and build a comfort level with typical kids so that there is less fear of those with disabilities.  The only time children with special needs are extracted from such classrooms or separated is when there is a need for a sensory break, dangerous behaviors or the like.  This is a noble pursuit.

Meanwhile, parents are factored in as part of the team, with attempts from staff to get everyone on the same page.  Tools like IEPs are used in the schools, and adaptations are made at church.  Parents are supported by the help offered to their children and by modifications offered by staff.  They are then released to go about their own lives as adults.

Within the church context, this means that once their children are “plugged in”, parents are free to join regular worship services and small groups.  While so many of these parents crave the idea of just feeling “normal”, they also express to me that they struggle with fitting in with the collective whole.  They don’t always feel comfortable or accepted in “typical” parent peer groups.  Yet, they don’t want to feel ostracized either.

This is the distinct niche where SNAPPIN’ MINISTRIES has found its calling.  Too often we find parents who find themselves frustrated by typical small groups.  When others are discussing their vacation plans or their kids college experiences, these parents feel heartbroken and unintentionally marginalized.  SNAPPIN’ has identified that there is a unique combination of challenges for these parents that are not currently being met by the wider church.  This combination includes, but is not limited to:

  • Unpredictable schedules due to varying medical and psychological needs.
  • Financial struggles due to increased medical costs.
  • The inability to get out on dates because of child care challenges.
  • The inability to get away on vacations due to a wide variety of issues including financial cost, upset to the child’s routine, and medical limitations that impede travel.
  • Marriages under a higher level of strain due to the child’s well-being requiring more family attention.
  • Angst over equity between siblings who do not have special needs and the child who does.
  • High levels of exhaustion due to the added demands of parenting a child with special needs.
  • Deep fears about the daily life and future life of their child with a disability.
  • Extended family difficulties and friendship difficulties as these couples struggle to be accepted rather than judged.
  • Ongoing battles with schools, medical personnel and insurance companies who are not adequately meeting the needs of the child with a diagnosis.
  • A higher level of stress overall due to the myriad issues of a family member with a disability.
  • Wrestling with appropriate ways to impart the Gospel message to their children who are living with a special need.
  • Spiritual struggles with trying to make sense of their child’s difficulties.  (See our Series “10 Questions Every Mentor of a Special Needs Parent Should Be Prepared to Face”)

I pray that you can see that there is an exceptional cluster of components that are in desperate need of being addressed with this particular group of parents.  A garden variety Bible study on marriage or parenting or finances may only provide a band-aid for a gaping wound.  These individuals need more than just our best Italian pasta dish delivered to their door!  They are struggling with some of the deepest spiritual questions known to humanity as well as some of the the most prolonged trials anyone can face.

When you marinate on these facts, the need becomes clearly apparent.  But add to that the surprising statistics.  Up to 80% of the disabled and their families are unchurched.** The number of families affected by some form of disability is 1 in 5.*  And as many as 49% of mothers of children with autism face anxiety and depression.*  Additionally, an estimated 29% of the population spends 20 hours per week or more in a care-giving role.*  These numbers, even if only half-true, would be enough to cry out for our attention within the church!

For our organization, this is our mandate and mission.  However, this does not exempt other areas of special needs ministry from offering some sort of response.  Whether your ministry has the desire to refer parents to a non-profit like ours, have our team train your church in this unique area or you already have plans to practice a comprehensive approach within your existing structure, this piece of the mission field must not be ignored or assimilated without careful, deliberate, prayerful consideration.

How do YOU plan to respond to these facts today?

**From Joni & Friends Christian Institute on Disability
*From Jackie Mills-Fernald‘s presentation “Supporting the Special Family”, April 22, 2012.  

 Recommended Resource:  SPECIAL FAMILIES …A Casserole’s Not Enough by Jackie Mills-Fernald & Jim Pierson

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  1. #1 by drgrcevich on May 3, 2012 - 12:37 am

    Nice post, Barb!

    I’m thinking that there may be a role for technology in addressing these needs. What if some churches offered online small groups tailored to meet some of these needs? What if those groups met at 10:00 PM, after the kids have been put to bed? What if online worship services had teaching content oriented to the needs of the families you describe? What if SNAPPIN’ could help develop the online content and give it away to churches with established disability ministries and an online presence?

    Just thinking.

  2. #2 by SNAPPIN' MINISTRIES on May 3, 2012 - 12:49 am

    Thanks, Steve! Once again, you’ve figured out what I’ve been up to between hospital runs!

    SNAPPIN’ is currently working on an online, small group, mentor-type model using a variety of awesome resources. We’re very excited about it. While we had hoped to have it “live” by May of 2012, my son’s serious medical traumas pushed us back a bit on our schedule. Nevertheless, we’re still at it, and have much interest.

    As far as online worship services go, I would love to work on such a project… AFTER we break ground and get the Zachariah’s Acres respite campus project closer to happening.

  3. #3 by SNAPPIN' MINISTRIES on May 3, 2012 - 1:14 am

    Since the response to today’s post was so RED HOT, it’s worth discussing further. Please join us tomorrow at 8 PM, CST on #SpnMin TweetChat to explore this topic. Details on how to participate are available at


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