Want to help us put on a conference?

Our team is hosting a disability ministry conference in Cleveland next April. We want the pastors, church staff and volunteers in attendance to leave with the tools and resources they need to launch new ministries or expand the scope of their existing ministries. We want family members of persons with disabilities to leave prepared to support the spiritual growth of their loved ones and to expand the impact of their personal ministries. And we can’t do it without your help!

Key Ministry is pleased to announce that we’ll be hosting Inclusion Fusion Live on April 20th-21st, 2018 at Bay Presbyterian Church in Bay Village, Ohio. Unlike our disability ministry web summits from 2011, 2012 and 2014, we’ll be gathering together in person at the church that provided us with the support to launch our ministry fifteen years ago. The theme of the conference is Every Church Can Do Something.

In accordance with the conference theme, the Program Committee is seeking dynamic speakers who will offer workshops, symposia and briefer “TED Talk” type presentations that will serve as catalysts for churches and individuals to take the next steps in growing their disability ministries. We’ll also be offering extended half-day or day-long workshops for church leaders on the following topics and more…

  • Starting a respite ministry
  • Starting a special needs ministry
  • Developing a church-wide mental health inclusion strategy

How can you help?

First, you can save the dates of April 20th-21st and plan to join us in person and share this post with pastors, church leaders, volunteers and family members who might wish to join us as well. We anticipate there will be a registration fee for some of the extended workshops offered by our ministry partners, but much of the content will be made available for free.

We’ll be looking for friends to help us spread the word about the conference when registration opens in the second half on January. You can sign up here to receive e-mails and notifications as the conference takes shape in the coming weeks.

Finally, we’re looking for engaging speakers with practical tools and ideas for growing disability ministry. Ours is not a “closed club.” Any mature Christian with great resources to share is welcome to submit a proposal to our Program Committee through this link. Submission of a proposal is not a guarantee of acceptance. Speakers have the option of submitting presentations for a program track for ministry leaders or a track for families. Breakout speakers will be offered a free space among our vendor tables to share their messages and products with the entire audience at Inclusion Fusion Live.

Prospective speakers need to provide their submissions by Friday, December 15th and will receive notification if accepted from the Program Committee by Monday, January 15th.

We look forward to seeing many old friends…and lots of new ones at Inclusion Fusion Live this coming April in Cleveland!


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KM_ForFamilies_Logo_Color_RGBKey Ministry helps connect churches and families of kids with disabilities for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. In order to provide the free training, consultation, resources and support we offer daily to church leaders and families, we depend upon the prayers and generous financial support of readers like you. Please pray for the work of our ministry and consider a financial gift to help us cover our shortfall in 2017 and expand the work of our ministry in 2018 and beyond!

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Join Key Ministry at Evangelicals for Life and the 2018 March for Life!

On behalf of our staff and volunteers at Key Ministry, we’d be delighted to have you join us as our team has been invited to participate in the 2018 Evangelicals for Life conference, scheduled around this year’s March for Life in Washington DC on January 18th-20th.

The conference is being co-hosted by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and Focus on the Family. Evangelicals from across the country will gather in Washington DC to be inspired and equipped by top speakers including Russell Moore and Jim Daly. Other speakers known to friends of our ministry include Joni Eareckson Tada, Kelly Rosati and Sharen Ford from Focus on the Family, Shannon Royce and Wesley Smith. I’ll be a panelist for the “Special Needs and Mental Health” breakout session on Saturday, January 20th at 9:00 AM.

The March for Life will be held Friday, January 19, 2018, on the National Mall, during a block of time built into the Evangelicals for Life conference. Reduced rates are available at the JW Marriott where the conference sessions will take place, in close proximity to the White House and the National Mall. A free simulcast of the main stage sessions will be available on Thursday and Friday evenings.

Registration for the conference is $139, but tickets are only $119 until Dec. 6  If you use Key Ministry’s discount code at checkout (GRCEVICH) between now and November 18th, you’ll save an additional 20% off your registration costs. Click here for discounted registration. 

I hope to see lots of old friends…and meet a number of new friends at Evangelicals for Life and the March for Life!

Neither Key Ministry nor Dr. Grcevich receive any financial benefit from your conference registration.
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KM_ForFamilies_Logo_Color_RGBKey Ministry helps connect churches and families of kids with disabilities for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. In order to provide the free training, consultation, resources and support we offer every day to church leaders and family members, we depend upon the prayers and generous financial support of readers like you. Please pray for the work of our ministry and consider supporting us financially!

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Mental illness didn’t cause the church shooting in Texas

Photo: New York Times

It appears our society is in denial about the root cause of the mass murders committed in recent weeks at a church in Nashville, a country music concert in Las Vegas, and yesterday, at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX.

Some like to think that incidents such as the church shooting yesterday morning outside of San Antonio that claimed the lives of 26 men, women and children who left their homes intending to honor and worship God are the result of insufficient gun control laws. The man responsible for yesterday’s atrocity in Texas should have been legally prohibited from purchasing a gun after having served time in a military prison following a court martial for domestic violence for assaulting his first wife and their child, and had been denied a concealed carry permit by the state. Why anyone would think that someone who ignored the laws against murder and killed 26 people would pay any attention to restrictions upon purchasing guns is beyond me.

Others suggest that mental illness must be responsible for the type of event that occurred at the small Baptist church in Texas yesterday. If we could develop some sort of test that would help determine who among us might become violent, increase access to mental health services or develop better treatments for persons at risk of becoming aggressive, incidents such as yesterday’s shooting would become less and less frequent.

The common thread between those two positions is the need to believe that we can somehow reestablish a sense of being able to control the expression of random and apparently senseless acts of violence perpetrated against innocent victims and restore our fragile sense of safety when we venture out into public…to work, to go to a concert, or to attend a worship service. Both positions also minimize or avoid the need to acknowledge an unpleasant truth that most people on both sides of America’s great cultural and political divide would like to ignore.

EVIL is the root cause of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and the shootings in churches in rural Texas, Nashville, and several years ago, at an historically African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. As a society, we seek to minimize the existence of evil because recognition of evil threatens our shared delusion that any absolute standard of right and wrong exists. We want to be masters of our own universe and to decide for ourselves what is right and what is true. To acknowledge that some clear standard for right or wrong conduct exists requires us to recognize that a source for such a standard exists outside of ourselves…and acknowledge the Creator of the universe who established the standards!

What makes me most angry about the words and actions of our leaders in the aftermath of incidents such as the massacre in Texas is the perpetuation of stigma by attributing hateful and violent actions to the presence of mental illness. They cause people to needlessly fear friends, neighbors and family members who are among the fifty million Americans with an  identified mental health condition.

As I write this blog post, we have absolutely no reason to believe that the shooter in Texas had been diagnosed or treated for any mental health condition, or reason to believe that he  met criteria for any condition other than antisocial personality disorder…a description of long standing patterns of social interaction or behavior that’s not amenable to mental health treatment. Yet our need for a scapegoat causes too many of our leaders or others in a position of influence to blame the presence of the most common disability in our culture for actions that cause great pain and anguish.

Think of it this way…does attributing crimes such as the one committed yesterday at a little church in Sutherland Springs, TX to mental illness make it more or less likely that other churches will embrace the need to welcome persons with mental illness into their worship services and fellowship activities? And if as a result of blaming mass murder on mental illness persons with mental illness are less likely to be welcomed into local churches, whose agenda is advanced? God’s or the enemy’s?

The gunman in South Texas didn’t have a mental health problem…he had a spiritual problem! As did the gunman in Las Vegas. And Dylan Roof…the young man convicted and sentenced to death for the murder nine members of Charleston’s Emanuel AME church two years ago. While each of them might be thought of has having a “debased mind,” the Bible teaches the condition of their minds (and souls) has a cause other than mental illness.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.  They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Romans 1:28-32 (ESV)

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shutterstock_291556127Key Ministry encourages our readers to check out the resources we’ve developed to help pastors, church leaders, volunteers and families on mental health-related topics, including series on the impact of ADHD, anxiety and Asperger’s Disorder on spiritual development in kids, depression in children and teens, pediatric bipolar disorder, and strategies for promoting mental health inclusion at church.

Posted in Controversies, Key Ministry, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why your kid’s Concerta isn’t working as it should… Chapter Two

The FDA has again approved a generic version of the most commonly prescribed medication for teens in the U.S. without requiring proof that the new product works as well as what kids are currently taking. The FDA took this action after withdrawing approval of the last two generic versions of Concerta approved through the same process.

ConcertaWhen Concerta first hit the market in 2000, it revolutionized the treatment of ADHD because it offered the first truly effective method for prolonging the effects of methylphenidate (the active ingredient in Ritalin and many other stimulant preparations) so that kids no longer needed to go to the principal’s office or nurses’ office in the middle of the school day. When Adderall XR followed in 2001 and Strattera in 2002, a vast increase ensued in the number of children and teens identified with and treated for ADHD. Out of the roughly 25 medications currently approved for ADHD, Concerta remains very popular because of the consistency of its’ effects throughout the school day and immediately after school. It is widely used in teenagers because of its’ beneficial effects on driving performance.

A basic principle in understanding how extended-release stimulant products work is that the manner in which the drug is released into the body (the drug delivery system) has profound effects on the pharmacodynamics (the observed benefits/response to the drug). We have a number of approved medications for ADHD in which methylphenidate is the active ingredient. In addition to Concerta, Ritalin LA, Metadate CD, Daytrana, Quillivant and Focalin XR are all extended-release methylphenidate products. The effects of the product at specific times throughout the day result from differences in how the medication is released and absorbed into the body with each unique delivery system, and form the basis of how we decide which product we choose for an individual child. Allow me to illustrate…

Concerta utilizes something called the OROS delivery system (see featured picture at the top of this blog post) to release methylphenidate into the body. It was developed by a team of scientists in California who observed a phenomena referred to as “tachyphylaxis” with earlier attempts to develop long-acting methylphenidate-based stimulants. Essentially, people taking stimulants develop some degree of tolerance to the drug acutely in response to an individual dose. While the absolute level of the drug in someone’s system matters, a rising blood level is often necessary to sustain the beneficial effects of medication over the course of a school or work day.

Concerta was designed to release an initial dose of stimulant within the first two hours of ingestion…22% of the active drug is contained within the coating of the pill. After this overcoat dissolves, a laser-drilled hole in the end of pill is uncovered. As the pill passes through the stomach and the gastrointestinal track, water taken up into the pill results in changes in internal pressure that leads to a “pulse release” of small amounts of medication as it passes through the gut. The effects of Concerta were tested in a laboratory classroom setting, in which raters blinded to whether kids received active drug or placebo scored the observable behavior of kids throughout a twelve hour day, and an age-appropriate mini-math test (PERMP) was administered at intervals throughout the day to measure medication effects on cognitive performance. The results are pictured below. A significant benefit of Concerta is the consistency of improvement in cognitive performance throughout the day.

OROS Lab Classroom

In contrast, Focalin XR utilizes a “beaded” delivery system to release methylphenidate into the body. Focalin XR is a capsule containing two types of beads. The outer coating of the capsule dissolves very quickly (within ten minutes) upon ingestion. 50% of the beads inside Focalin XR release almost immediately after the coating of the outer capsule dissolve, while another 50% have a different coating designed to dissolve approximately four hours after the capsule is swallowed. One advantage of Focalin XR is that parents can crack open the capsule and sprinkle the contents in yogurt or applesauce when kids can’t swallow pills, whereas Concerta won’t work if the pill isn’t swallowed intact. Another advantage with 50% of the medication released immediately is that the medication kicks in very quickly in the morning with demonstrable benefits at 30 minutes (see below). In practice, Focalin XR has a pronounced peak effect in late morning and is very effective for most kids throughout the school day. At the same time, the cognitive effects of the drug fall off much more quickly during the latter part of the day compared to Concerta, and drug company marketing claims aside, I find in my patients that Focalin XR is a good choice for kids who need medication to cover the duration of their school day, but not much longer.

Focalin XR Lab Classroom

Daytrana is a patch worn on the hip in which methylphenidate is absorbed through the skin as a result of an osmotic gradient…the difference in the concentration of methylphenidate in the patch vs. the difference in the concentration of methylphenidate in the capillaries supplying blood to the skin. A unique benefit of Daytrana is that it will last longer than any of the other stimulant products on the market…it was originally developed to be a 16-18 hour drug. Because the testing required for approval by the FDA examined the effects of the product over a twelve hour period, the company that manufactures Daytrana isn’t permitted to share that information with prescribers. The cognitive effects of Daytrana also peak later in the day than with other products (see below), making Daytrana very helpful for many kids who struggle with homework after school. Comparing the laboratory classroom studies of Daytrana to Concerta and Focalin XR, an obvious downside to Daytrana is that it doesn’t work as well during the first half of the school day. Many parents resort to either putting the patch on their child very early in the morning while they’re still sleeping to overcome this effect, or give their child a small dose of immediate-release methylphenidate (Ritalin or immediate-release Focalin) when they first  apply the patch on in the morning.

Daytrana Lab Classroom

My point is that what makes Concerta work like Concerta is the OROS delivery system. The same drug (methylphenidate) released through a different delivery system produces a VERY different response.

The arrival of generic Concerta was delayed for a number of reasons…the makers of Concerta fought the lawsuits of the generic manufacturers aggressively, and pursued a legal strategy involving what’s referred to as a “Citizen’s Petition” requiring generic companies seeking to copy Concerta to demonstrate a similar pattern of ascending blood levels throughout the day. Because Johnson & Johnson (the parent company that owned the rights to Concerta) owned the patent on the OROS release system, companies seeking to make a generic version had to do so with a different delivery system.

Concerta 27Concerta 18Ultimately, Watson Pharmaceuticals (subsequently acquired by Actavis) was approved to manufacture a generic equivalent of Concerta. As often occurs in these situations, the lawyers for Johnson & Johnson  and Watson worked out a deal to avoid years of legal battles in Concerta 54Concerta 36which J & J would continue to manufacture Concerta through their Alza subsidiary that Watson would sell at a discount as an “authorized generic,” with the two companies splitting the profits. The brand Concerta and the Activis version of Concerta are equivalent…they are manufactured in the same factory, using the same equipment and the same drug delivery system as in the original Concerta. Pictures of the “authorized generic” using the OROS system are shown above:

The next two versions of versions of generic Concerta (manufactured by Mallinkcrodt and by Kremers Urban) each used very different drug delivery systems (release mechanisms) in an effort to replicate the therapeutic effect of Concerta.

M54 M36 M27In the case of the Mallinkcrodt product (pictured at right), an overcoat containing immediate-release methylphenidate that dissolves within the first hour after ingestion. The core of the pill contains a diffusion-controlling membrane that releases methylphenidate as water in the gastrointestinal tract passes through the membrane. The membrane is designed to release methylphenidate over a period of time roughly corresponding to the release period resulting from the OROS delivery system in Concerta.

KU 27KU 18The Kremers Urban generic (pictured at right) uses an extended-release bead technology to release methylphenidate at a controlled rate. The pill resembles a conventional tablet in appearance, featuring an overcoat containing immediate release stimulant that releases during the first hour as the tablet disintegrates and a core of extended-release stimulant beads operating with a similar mechanism as those in Focalin XR.

Here are links to the FDA-required product information or “labels” for Concerta, the Mallinkcrodt generic version and the Kremers Urban generic version that are being substituted for Concerta. It appears that the FDA allowed the generic manufacturers to “cut and paste” the data from Concerta’s pharmacokinetic studies and clinical trials and present this information as if it represented trials each company conducted with their own unique product.

The absorption of the original Concerta depends to some degree on an individual’s GI transit time…i.e., how long it takes for the pill to pass through the gut. Bead release systems (as in the Kremers Urban version) typically depend upon the acidity of the contents of the stomach at the time the extended-release bolus of medicine is needed. One would anticipate an individual child or teen might absorb significantly more (or less) medicine at different times during the day when two products that on average deliver roughly the same amount of medication over the same time period depend upon different physiologic processes.

When the FDA requires generic companies to do studies demonstrating “equivalency” to a brand medication, the amount of medication taken up into the body (measured by what we refer to as the “area under the curve” or AUC) is required to be within 80-125% of that observed with brand name drug. With some types of medication, that variability makes little difference. With stimulants, small differences in either the rate at which the medicine is absorbed or the time at which the medicine is absorbed make a PROFOUND difference in the benefits or side effects experienced by an individual child or adult. The FDA doesn’t require generic companies to conduct comparison studies showing that the products work as well in practice as the brand name drugs they’re intended to replace. Neither Mallinkcrodt nor Kremers Urban was initially required by the FDA to conduct a study showing that their drug works as well in practice as the brand or authorized generic versions of Concerta.

Restating my earlier point, what makes Concerta work like Concerta is the OROS delivery system. The same drug (methylphenidate) released through a different delivery system produces a VERY different response.

Ultimately, a small, randomized study was published in Clinical Pediatrics demonstrating the superiority of the “brand” Concerta and generic Concerta using the OROS delivery system marketed by Actavis, compared to the Kudco and Mallinckrodt versions of generic Concerta using non-OROS delivery systems. In response to this study and consumer complaints, the FDA demanded that each company submit additional data demonstrating their products to be equivalent to Concerta. Mallinckrodt did not comply with the request, while data submitted by Kremers Urban was deemed insufficient.

Given the calls that have started coming into my office over the last day or so, there’s a very good possibility that a similar scenario will play out again as the newest generic version of Concerta, manufactured by Osmotica through their Trigen subsidiary hits the market this month. The FDA again allowed a generic manufacturer (Osmotica) to substitute the data from Concerta’s clinical trials in their product-specific information, instead of requiring them to publish pharmacokinetic data specific to their product.

The drug delivery system being used with the Trigen system is more similar to the OROS system used in Concerta, but it’s still different. Families will also face tremendous pressure to switch to the new product because the FDA approved a 72 mg version of the Trigen generic (the most common Concerta dose in teenagers) because insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers will save money by paying for half as many pills as are currently required. I hope the Trigen version works as well as Concerta. It might be more potent. It might be less potent. We have no more way of knowing how it will work than we did with the Kremers Urban and Mallinckrodt products for which approval was withdrawn by the FDA.

The last time the pharmacies began switching kids to cheaper generic versions of Concerts, I had over ten kids show up in my office reporting a significant decline in the effectiveness of their medication. I wrote much of this post after seeing a mother and her daughter who reported problems with medication when the appearance of her pill changed. I sent them back to the drugstore with new prescriptions for the brand Concerta or the authorized generic version. The pharmacist told the mother it was illegal for them to fill the prescription for the original product (not true) even though she was willing to pay for the prescription “out of pocket” and threatened to call the police if she insisted on having my prescription filled.

I encourage families of kids who are taking Concerta to be prepared on your next trip to the pharmacy. If you have no other affordable option, make a point of informing your child’s prescriber and the FDA if they don’t respond as well to the new generic or experience more side effects on the new generic.

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ADHD Series LogoKey Ministry has assembled a helpful resource page for church leaders and parents addressing the topic of ADHD and spiritual development. This page includes our blog series on the topic and links to helpful videos and resources for pastors, church staff, volunteers and parents. Access the resource page here.

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The rising tide of mental health ministry in the church

Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen more and more evidence of God at work in many different places in raising up leaders to champion the cause of mental health ministry in the church. It seems like articles are appearing more and more frequently calling attention to the needs of persons with mental illness at church, including this post on making the church a safe place for persons with mental illness, an excellent piece written by Brad Hambrick for the ERLC describing five ways the church can help someone with mental illness and this interview of Kay Warren by Ed Stetzer on suicide, mental illness and the church featured by Christianity Today.

Matt Stanford has come out with an updated and revised version of Grace for the Afflicted, the book he authored to educate Christians about mental illness from both biblical and scientific perspectives. Matt writes thoughtfully from his experience gained as an academic neuropsychologist at Baylor University and offers encouragement and comfort to fellow Christians who have been assumed their mental illness is a result of personal sin or insufficient faith. The updated version includes eight new chapters, including chapters on bipolar disorder, trauma and stressor-related disorders, traumatic brain injury and mental illness and the church.

Saddleback Church is putting on Reach this week, a three-day training event for churches interested in launching an identified mental health ministry. Their training seeks to a provide a theological framework for mental health ministry, develop a paradigm for care, understand how to deliver practical and effective levels of ministry for any size church, learn about tools and strategies for starting a mental health ministry, and much more.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of participating in the Mental Health, Children, Youth and the Church Conference, sponsored by Fresh Hope for Mental Health at Nebraska Christian College.

Fresh Hope was started by Brad Hoefs. Brad was serving as senior pastor of one of the largest Missouri Synod Lutheran churches in the U.S. in the mid 1990s when he lost his job in the aftermath of an episode of bipolar disorder, a condition that runs in his family. Amy Simpson wrote an excellent article describing the circumstances that led to Brad being called to pastor a church started by a core group of families impacted by mental illness and the need that led him to launch Fresh Hope.

Fresh Hope is an international network of Christian support groups for those who have a mental health diagnosis and for their loved ones. They seek to empower individuals with a mental health challenge, along with their loved ones, to live a full and rich faith-filled life in spite of a mental health challenge. Fresh Hope groups are now hosted by churches in over 20 states, along with groups in Canada, England, Guam and Australia, along with online groups. They’ve recently launched Fresh Hope for Living Free, a support group model for persons with mental illness who are incarcerated, and Fresh Hope for Teens for adolescents with mental health challenges and their friends. Brad also hosts a very popular podcast on mental health-related topics.

Brad and his team have graciously posted the entire video of their recent conference for the benefit of church leaders and fellow Christians everywhere. My presentation on Key Ministry’s model for welcoming children and families impacted by mental illness into the church begins at around the 15:00 mark of the video. Dr. Brian Lubberstedt‘s overview of common presentations of childhood mental illness begins at around the 2:00 mark. I’d strongly encourage readers to check out Colleen Swindoll-Thompson‘s talk beginning at around the 4:15 mark in the video. Colleen shared an remarkable witness in which she discussed the ways in which her family has been impacted by trauma and mental illness. Her willingness to be so open and authentic about her family’s experience represents an incredible gift to the church and a powerful response to the historic stigma surrounding mental illness and the church.

Would you like to be part of the rising tide of support in the church for persons with mental illness and their families? Pray for our team and for all of the outstanding ministries doing work in this arena. Ask God how he might use you to minister with persons affected by mental illness in your sphere of influence. Check out the resources listed above. Share resources that others may not be aware of in the comments section below. Become an advocate for mental health ministry in your church.
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shutterstock_291556127Key Ministry encourages our readers to check out the resources we’ve developed to help pastors, church leaders, volunteers and families on mental health-related topics, including series on the impact of ADHD, anxiety and Asperger’s Disorder on spiritual development in kids, depression in children and teens, pediatric bipolar disorder, and strategies for promoting mental health inclusion at church.

Posted in Hidden Disabilities, Key Ministry, Mental Health, Training Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The mental health crisis among persons with autism

I strongly suspect that many reasonably knowledgable disability advocates have little or no appreciation of the extent to which persons with developmental disabilities, especially individuals with autism are vulnerable to mental illness. A recently published study in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders illustrates the extent to which the prevalence of mental illness among young adults with autism represents an epidemic with serious implications for the medical and mental health communities – and for anyone involved in ministry in the autism community.

A team of Canadian investigators reviewed the demographics, clinical profiles, and health service use patterns of young adults in Ontario between the ages of 18–24 years with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), other developmental disabilities (other DD), and those without ASD or other DD (non-DD) using administrative health data. Some of the key findings from the study include:

  • 52% of young adults with autism had a psychiatric diagnosis, compared to 39% of persons with other DD and 19% of the non-DD population.
  • Young adults with autism were 2.34 times more likely to see a psychiatrist than peers with other DD, and twelve times more likely to see a psychiatrist than peers without developmental disabilities.
  • Young adults with autism are 4.58 times more likely to access psychiatric services through an emergency room and experience rates of psychiatric hospitalization more than ten times higher than those reported among their non-DD peers.

This study echoes earlier research we’ve reported on in this blog, including a study reporting that adults with autism and no intellectual disability are over nine times more likely to commit suicide when compared to their age-matched peers, another study of 10-14 year-olds with autism in which 70% of kids with autism were found to have at least one mental health disorder such as anxiety, ADHD or depression and 41% had at least two comorbid mental health disorders and a report that kids with autism were 28 times more likely to experience suicidal ideation than age-matched peers without autism.

It is important to note in looking at the Canadian data that rates of mental illness are elevated in general among persons with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. In that study, mental illness was roughly twice as common and use of psychiatric services was five times more common among persons with non-autistic developmental disabilities compared to the general population.

What are the most important take home points here for pastors and disability ministry leaders?

Mental health ministry is inseparable from special needs ministry with children and teens or any ministry serving adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Many of the strategies used in promoting emotional regulation and self control among children and adults who struggle in those areas represent mental health-based interventions.

Children and adults of typical intelligence with autism spectrum disorders will be more appropriately served by mental health inclusion ministry. When our Key Ministry team was in the process of developing a mental health inclusion model, we sought to develop a model that would account for the challenges persons with autism face in attending church associated with their primary condition (sensory processing, social isolation and expectations for social communication), challenges linked with the mental health conditions arising from associated mental health conditions (stigma and the reluctance to self-identify, anxiety, executive functioning deficits) and a challenge common to both types of conditions – overcoming negative experiences of church in the past. An effective inclusion ministry has to be prepared to help overcome all of the obstacles they’re likely to encounter across all of the activities essential to the life and mission of the local church.

We need to fully appreciate the unique struggles and challenges experienced by children and adults at all points along the autism spectrum. The condition that has spurred the development of much special needs ministry in recent years (children and adults with profound language delays, intellectual disability and stereotypic behavior) is fundamentally different than the experience of persons with restricted interests and behaviors and social communication deficits but normal to high intelligence. Our models of ministry to this point have failed to recognize the unique needs – and unique gifting of persons at the high end of the spectrum.

Perhaps one of the reasons the church has struggled to effectively minister with many persons with autism spectrum disorders is that we don’t do a very good job of welcoming and including children and adults with mental health-related challenges common among persons with autism?

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Key Ministry has developed an array of resources for pastors, church staff members, volunteers and families interested in supporting kids with autism spectrum disorders, including articles, blog posts, interviews with prominent ministry leaders and training videos. We encourage you to share these resources freely with church leaders or families that would find them helpful!

 

Posted in Autism, Hidden Disabilities, Key Ministry, Mental Health, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Three point two percent…

Three point two percent. According to a study authored by a Baylor University professor, those are the odds of an adolescent who attends church less than once a month becoming a weekly church attender in young adulthood.

The data was included in a larger study in which the authors were using the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health to examine how often young adults who were involved in institutional religion as adolescents return to religionmeasured by religious service attendance and religious affiliationafter leaving in emerging adulthood, and how this return is patterned by family structure in young adulthood. They found that the majority of young adults who regularly attended religious services as adolescents don’t return to regular religious service attendance, regardless of their family structure.

As someone who spends the majority of his work life with teens and their families, I suspect many church leaders fail to appreciate the extent to which traditional Christian teaching regarding marriage. sexuality and the sanctity of life is antithetical to the worldview commonly held by the generation that is entering the work world and starting families. If the majority of teens raised in the church aren’t returning, what chance do we have with teens who lack such a foundation? What should we do?

We need to become very intentional about doing everything we can to get families of children and teens into weekend worship services as often as possible. Our focus as an organization is in helping churches to welcome and include families of kids with disabilities, with an emphasis upon families of kids with “hidden disabilities” – mental illness, trauma and difficulties with social communication, but this is a larger issue for the church than simply disability inclusion. If I were serving on a church leadership team, I’d devote as many resources as possible to reaching as many families with children and teens in my surrounding community as we could.

We have to get far more serious about spiritual formation among the families who do attend church regularly. We can’t dilute our message or our teaching to be more “seeker-sensitive” or we’ll end up with attendees with faith a mile wide and an inch deep. I’m reminded of Jesus’ commentary from Matthew 13 on the Parable of the Sower…

When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.  As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy,  yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.  As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

I worry that the kids of this generation are going to face challenges to their faith that my generation hasn’t had to face to this point. It does little good to get kids and families to church if nothing transformative of life-changing at church. We need to get serious about about preparing our kids to practice their faith in the midst of an increasingly hostile culture.
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KM_ForFamilies_Logo_Color_RGBKey Ministry helps connect churches and families of kids with disabilities for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. In order to provide the free training, consultation, resources and support we offer every day to church leaders and family members, we depend upon the prayers and generous financial support of readers like you. Please pray for the work of our ministry and consider, if able, to support us financially!

Posted in Controversies, Key Ministry | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Mental health, children, youth and the church

Our team at Key Ministry is delighted to be partnering with Fresh Hope and long-time friend of our ministry Colleen Swindoll-Thompson for a special day of dialogue and conversation regarding the mental health needs of children, youth and families in the church.

We’ll be coming together for a one-day seminar on Mental Health, Children, Youth and the Church on Thursday, October 12th at Nebraska Christian College in Papillon (a suburb of Omaha) sponsored by Fresh Hope for Mental Health. The seminar will take place from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM Central time and lunch will be provided for attendees at the conference site. A live streaming option is being made available for those who would like to participate in the conference but are unable to travel to Omaha to attend in person.

I’ll be sharing Key Ministry’s model for church-based mental health inclusion at the seminar. Pastor Brad Hoefs will be introducing Fresh Hope for Teens, a Christ-centered mental health support group model for youth with mood disorders.

Early-bird registration is available for $25 through October 5th, and increases to $30 during the week leading up to the seminar. Registration for the conference live stream is $15. Continuing education credits will be available.

I look forward to seeing and meeting many friends of our ministry from across the Midwest in Omaha on Thursday, October 12th!

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shutterstock_291556127Key Ministry encourages our readers to check out the resources we’ve developed to help pastors, church leaders, volunteers and families on mental health-related topics, including series on the impact of ADHD, anxiety and Asperger’s Disorder on spiritual development in kids, depression in children and teens, pediatric bipolar disorder, and strategies for promoting mental health inclusion at church.

Posted in Key Ministry, Mental Health, Training Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

As Iron Sharpens Iron…The Special Needs and Disability Ministry Leaders Facebook Group

A place to learn, share and encourage.

Iron sharpens iron,
    and one man sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:17 (ESV)

On occasion, God has prompted me to do some pretty unlikely things. Raise “happy” chickens in suburban Chicago? (Thank goodness I have forgiving neighbors.) Fork over $10,000 I didn’t have to free hundreds of young girls trapped in slavery in Ghana? (Thank goodness He has a generous Church.) Create a national non-denominational online forum for newbie and “seasoned” special needs ministry leaders? (Apparently, God has a good sense of humor.) It’s amazing what God thinks we can do in the face of such unlikely odds.

As a technophobe who barely navigates her way around email (never mind today’s tangle of social media), the idea of my starting a web page I didn’t know how to create to bring together hundreds of people I didn’t know was simply absurd. Funnier still was the fact that at the time, I wasn’t even involved in special needs ministry. But God was insistent.

So I rolled up my digital sleeves and hammered out a very basic Facebook page with a no-nonsense name, Special Needs and Disabilities Ministry Leaders Forum. SNAD-Leaders for short.

Five years old in June, SNAD-Leaders has over 800 members and growing. It has proven to be an interactive, informative site where leaders (both newbies and well-seasoned) can ask their honest questions, wrestle with differing perspectives, offer input, empathize over shared frustrations, and try to help one another in the name of Christ.

And have I mentioned God prompts us to do the most unlikely things? Two years ago, God prompted me to turn yet another direction. It was time to step off the frenetic treadmill of special needs advocacy. No more articles. No more blogs. No more presentations. No more platform building. No more special needs ministry leadership at church. No more interviews. And no more SNAD-Leaders. God made it clear. I needed a timeout – a season of rest, both for myself and for my family.

Until now.

Several months ago SNAD-Leaders lost its administrator. And although I love interacting with our online community and have come to care about our members as dear friends, one thing hasn’t changed. I’m still a hopeless technophobe. I was sure God had another plan in mind.

When I asked Steve Grcevich, (an early SNAD member, co-admin and friend) to take the reins of SNAD-Leaders I knew it was a perfect fit. Steve would have the heart to care about SNAD, as he has since it began, and he would have the experienced staff and knowhow to take it to levels of effectiveness and resourcing I never could.

However, when he answered my question, it was a surprise. Would I step in again as the admin for the site but this time as an employee of Key Ministry? And with a team who could partner with me to provide all the techno-whats-its, gee-whizery, and expertise to make it even better?

So, starting this month, SNAD-Leaders is entering a whole new chapter. While our focus will still be dialogue and discussion, there will be some changes ahead. The appearance of the page will be updated. We’ll provide more opportunities to share resources, information, articles and curricula. We’ll add webinars to facilitate greater interaction and  discussion with experienced disability ministry leaders on the latest issues and most common questions. I am truly, truly excited.

God has a long and glorious history of asking His people to do the absurd or to undertake the improbable. I think He utterly delights in prompting us to do the most unlikely things. But it’s only when we say “yes” that we get to see just how amazing He really is.

Know someone who would like to be part of the group? SNAD-Leaders is a “closed” Facebook group in that membership is limited to persons serving in some leadership capacity in a church or parachurch ministry engaged in disability inclusion. Prospective members will be asked two questions…

What position do you currently hold or role do you play in your church’s disability ministry?

How did you hear about our Facebook page and why do you want to join?

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Kelli Anderson is a freelance magazine writer, blogger, podcaster and the newest member of our Key Ministry team. Kelli is the author of Divine Duct Tape, a sixty day devotional that comes from her own experience as a mother of three teens, two with Asperger’s Syndrome. Many of her articles focus on the practical how-tos of supporting and embracing families of special needs children, especially those who struggle with social, emotional and developmental disorders.

Posted in Announcements, Resources, Special Needs Ministry | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A gateway drug to the devil”

A news story making the rounds in California in recent weeks points out the potential for pastors and church leaders to cause harm through uninformed and untruthful statements regarding mental illness and dramatizes how much work still needs to be done to better educate the Christian community about mental health-related topics.

From Fox News:

A bipolar California kindergarten teacher — who was told by a pastor her medicine was a “gateway drug to the devil” — has been missing since she got into a car accident Monday.

Jamie Tull hasn’t been heard from since shortly after she crashed. Tull’s husband, Apollo Tull, told The Modesto Bee his wife called him in tears, saying “I’m not going to see you again.” Soon afterwards, Jamie drove off the road, into fences and a cattle gate. After the crash she told her husband where she was.

Apollo called 911 and drove to the scene. When he arrived, he found police, but no sign of his wife.

Jamie’s father was interviewed by a reporter from KTXL-TV in Sacramento:

According to Devenport-Tull’s father, his daughter has bipolar disorder. He says she has not taken her medication for about six months because a pastor and his wife told her that pills lead to demons.

Her father also told FOX40 that Devenport-Tull was taken against her will about 10 years ago in Southern California. Three years after she had returned she was diagnosed as bipolar, prescribed medication and was considered high functioning until she stopped taking her medication.

Fortunately, Jamie’s story had a happy ending:

The former Modesto school teacher who went missing nearly three weeks ago in Merced County was found alive Friday morning, authorities said.

Jamie Tull, 33, was discovered in a field about a half-mile east of where she crashed her vehicle off East Childs Avenue just past South Cunningham Road, according to Merced County Sheriff’s Department officials.

According to the Modesto Bee, Jamie is very fortunate to have been discovered by authorities when she was:

Posted in Controversies, Key Ministry, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments
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