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Can Faith Help With Special Needs Children?

The often under-discussed aspect regarding special needs kids is activating faith

Faith is a crucial part of many families. However, some families have the added challenge of raising a special needs child. These families are forced to contend with stigmatization in the broader society and their faith-based communities due to their child’s diagnosis.

can their faith be of any benefit to their special needs child?

“Special needs” is an umbrella phrase for a wide variety of diagnoses and disabilities. Children with special needs may suffer from profound cognitive impairment, a syndrome, psychiatric issues, and even terminal illness. Some children may express a struggle with learning disabilities, food allergies, panic attacks, and developmental delays.

Special needs challenges are more severe than what the typical child faces. These challenges can even last a lifetime. Extra support and additional services are crucial for these kids. It is obvious they need more guidance and help to achieve social, emotional, academic, and even medical milestones.

To help special needs children is to help them reach their potentials. Medication and psychotherapy have been the primary ways of helping them. These approaches are formal, however.

Faith-based approaches are becoming increasingly popular.

Using faith as a way to help special needs children leverages the love and warmth that’s the hallmark of an experience with Jesus. It is essential to note that faith can only be sufficient when parents of the special needs kid become active participants in the faith community. That first dose of acceptance helps them connect to the community in a way that makes them the bridge that their child can walk on.

Loving parents are forced to reorder their lives and schedule to accommodate their child’s exceptional attributes. It is, indeed, a highly challenging time for all involved. The good news is that a growing number of leaders are committed to becoming more effective in ministry to children with special needs.

special needs

While there is an increasing body of secular research on special needs children, the role of faith and faith-based approaches is under-emphasized. People with disability are hardwired to have a relationship with God, just like everyone else. They thirst for God’s grace and love, often wrestling profoundly with God’s purpose for their life.

The foundation of faith in helping special needs children is a copious mix of genuine love and relentless hope. The outflow of this is hope, encouragement, and care for the special needs child. It mirrors the love and commitment that God has towards us despite our shortcomings and inadequacies. In a sense, before God, aren’t we all like these special ones, always needing the Father’s acknowledgment and reassurance until we reach our goals?

Faith may take the form of religious education, where one-on-one support with mentors helps the child build confidence. Children born with conditions such as cerebral palsy and autism can learn to trust that God heals. They also learn that He has a good heart towards them. Their families can, in turn, grow in patience, kindness, love, perseverance, joy, and faith.

Secular therapists often recommend children with developmental disorder wear a compression vest. This deep pressure vest provides constant proprioceptive output to help with autism. The pressure simulates a reassuring hug. Imagine a warm bear hug all day long; that’s what compression vests achieve. There is improved sensory integration, and among other benefits, compression vests:

  • improve a child’s focus so they can pay attention in class
  • provide deep pressure stimulation that is calming
  • help tone down stereotypical behaviors

But, could faith have a more lasting therapeutic effect?

A study by PLOS ONE in 2012 linked neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism to difficulties with belief in God. The study suggested a paltry 11 per cent of people living with autism are likely to believe in God. It considers the challenge they have in assessing what others might be thinking (God, in this case).

This sense of assessing another’s thoughts is known as “mentalizing.” It affects not only their belief in God but also their ability to attend religious services. Loved ones can help them work through faith issues. While they struggle in one area or the other, through their relationship with Jesus, they can overcome those struggles, and have a deeper level of understanding.

Lori Sealy has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and has struggled with fierce doubt for several years. Joseph, her son, also has autism. With the diagnosis, she learned to appreciate some of her social struggles. It also shed light on her spiritual troubles, too. Lori describes how her disability and doubt are related. More importantly, she does not excuse what she calls her “sinful doubt.” It brought her relief as she realized that only Christianity has the spiritual answer to autism (and other special needs cases).

Lori is helping her son adapt to the world by showing him that the grace of Jesus is sufficient for all that he faces. Lori has gone on to record a musical album, “Begone Unbelief”, that explores the spiritual doubt experience. She has also commenced outreaches in her church and community, often praying with parents of special needs kids. She provides an interesting perspective on how faith can address the physical and social struggles linked with autism.

The key lies in lovingly presenting the Gospel and ministering grace to special needs kids in helpful ways. Present spiritual matters in relatable terms, discussing how Jesus builds a concrete bridge to an intangible God. That is a simple way to begin.

Lori believes it is most important to care. Caring about the child and how they struggle as they war their way through life only demands care. Care enough about them as Christ has cared about you – with intentional compassion. Lori Sealy still battles unbelief on occasion, but she understands how her weakness is only an end to display God’s grace. It is what every special needs child (and their family) need to know.

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