As I have traveled and talked with a number of parents, many express concerns or desires for their child to be included in religious services, rites, and activities. This is a very important concern as many hold their religion and the enrichment it brings into their lives dear to them. Many find religion a life line and light for a way to live in this world. We would want our children to experience the same.
Some RPM students will express particularly to a parent, but in some cases a provider, a desire to participate in religious services, rituals, activities and so forth. For the reasons mention above, as well as the value of every human being and his/ her feelings or desires, these request need consideration, validation, and fulfillment where possible.
Many in a religious community have very little information on disabilities, how to interact, or that they should even be included. Many don’t intend ill will, but lack education and experience in the area– which can lead to some hurtful events, as well as, feelings or actions of exclusion in a religious environment.
Having RPM can give an easier way for your child to participate in religious services as they can communicate responses. It also demonstrates clear evidence for your child’s intelligence and comprehension of religious instruction, rites, and services. Regardless, you will want to help those who assist and teach your child to have some basic understanding of your child’s intelligence, outward actions, autism or other exceptionalities– even if they don’t do RPM with him/her.
You might explain:
a- The difficulty of getting the body and emotions to act at the level the brain comprehends
b- That your child has language/understands—expressive language and receptive language are different areas in the brain, therefore not being able to speak (or act like one understands) doesn’t indicate lack of understanding, feelings, or thoughts.
c- Some actions are not behaviors but stims.
d- Explain the struggle to control impulses—literally acting before thinking
e- Have high expectations for the child to behave, but also to be understanding
f- To talk with respect at an age appropriate level even if child doesn’t seem to be listening.
g- You might at least show them how to do choices so that your child can respond to lessons or participate in a desired activity if you are not around or someone isn’t able to take the time to learn.
h- ways to handle your child’s stims or behaviors.
I- ways to help your child be more comfortable (routines, preferences, interaction)
Before I lead into more resources for you, being in religious environments can be a challenge for your child, even if he/she wants to participate in the religion. Education is always a top goal of RPM as it is an educational method, therefore, you will want to educate your child on an behavioral expectations and why. You will also want to educate on tenets of your religion or the religion your child desires to participate in.
The home is a primary place of learning and religious instruction, therefore, developing RPM lessons around religious beliefs, values, practice, or scripture may become a part of your RPM curriculum.
In some cases it will be effective to discuss with your child about what is concerning him/her or making it difficult to handle the religious environment. These discussions will be most helpful if they happen in the context of a lesson leading to natural discussion about them. Be open minded in having these discussion as his/her perception of the environment may be different than what you think is creating the difficulties. Also, some can’t pinpoint the difficulty so be careful in making assumptions. (If your child gives generic answers without specifics, chances are he/she doesn’t know why.) Others may find it embarrassing or too emotional to discuss. Some of the issues can be solved, some will need to become a tolerance goal.
You might lead your child to decide on goals for him/herself so your child takes responsibility and is successful.
I assisted a family in helping a student attend religious services. The student, family and I made goals for tolerating length of time sitting in the meeting. We were trying to increase the time of sitting before leaving for a break. We discussed on breaks the goal for the next length of time staying in the meeting before leaving. We discussed ways to help the sitting be easier to handle as well as the sensory demands. We had goals of being able to tolerate partaking of bread when presented as part of an ordinance…building up tolerance to the tactile defensiveness to the bread. Some discussed offering the student a cracker instead…something the student would tolerate. This can be a process for some.
We also discussed with the congregation and leaders about the students disabilities and how to help the student. This helped bring the support and help of the congregation for the child. The response was positive and those previously with issues calmed down and showed more support.
Some parents have attended Sunday School with a child to allow them to answer questions. This can help others see how to interact, accept, and respect the child as they can see the child communicating, understanding, and you treating your child appropriately. *Important to note however, is to not put your child on the spot and have him/her fail to “prove” how smart he/she is. Let him/her come at his/her pace so that when spelling or making a choice in front of others he/she is able to feel good about how he/she may be looked at or perceived.
Religious inclusion is possible, but can take a fair amount of work to get the situation to an ideal level.
UPDATE (6.1.16) and comments from her grandmother: In the spring of 2015, C attended the baptism of her cousin I. Afterward as we were sitting on the couch in the foyer of the Church C began to cry. We asked her why she was crying. Using her letter board she said that she wanted to get baptized just like everyone else. We checked with our (church leaders) bishop, stake president and the mission president and they were all excited for her to be baptized. C set the goal of December 19, 2015 to be baptized. She took missionary lessons and studied scripture. C was very determined. Her answers to gospel questions were amazing. C was baptized on her goal date. She even conquered her fear of putting her head under water in order to be baptized.
The entire ward (congregation) has been supportive of C. They say hi to her in Church and many ask her questions on Sunday which she answers on her letter board. C stays the full 3 hours of Church every Sunday. She started out needing computer games to keep her occupied during this time. She progressed to coloring books then reading books and now she can sit the three hours and just listen.
C is now working on her Young Woman's award (This is where girls between the age of 12 and 18 work on projects that have to do with 8 virtues: faith, divine nature, knowledge, choice and accountability, individual worth, good works, integrity, and virtue. You can find out more about that here.). Her class offered to do it for her, but she said she wanted to earn it on her own. She is on goal to earn it by next summer at age 16.
From me: C is a mover. She is very kinesthetic. If she is in open space she is likely to run or walk fast down a hall. To stand still she leans on someone or presses herself against a corner or wall. (she is getting better at all this.) She can be overwhelmed by sensory bombardment of environments quickly so her efforts and that of her family and congregation at church are a huge achievement.
The following are resources that may give you more ideas of way to help your leaders, ministries and congregation include your child fully in religious services. Regardless of religious persuasion or disagreement you may possibly have with some of the content of any of these resources, you can find some links here to assist you with ideas and ways to help your child be included in church services, rites, and activities.
http://education.byu.edu/disabilitiesThis one is a link to a website by a researcher who studied inclusion and instruction of leaders in a religious environment of those with exceptionalities–giving helps and ideas for leaders and teachers in religious organizations on disabilities. It has links to research and a video you might find useful for your child’s aides or teachers.
https://vimeo.com/8221577 Teacher training video by the researcher– also linked on this website.
http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=6089&context=etd Scholarly article on how instruction of leaders helps them to included individuals with disabilities in a religious organization.
The following are some links to religious organizations that suggest helps for inclusion of individuals with disabilities in religious environments from a variety of faiths:
Please feel free to email me any additional resource you have found that we can add to our list, to help with including your children in religious practice: firstname.lastname@example.org