In honor of Autism Awareness Month, we’re honored to share with you a series of guest posts from the leader who is, in my opinion, the premier expert on inclusion of kids with autism spectrum disorders at church. For more information on Mike Woods, click here.
In today’s post, Mike discusses the process that his ministry staff and volunteers use to develop relationships with each child and adult with special needs they minister to.
One of the primary outcomes for each team member in our Special Friends Ministry is to develop relationships with each and every child and adult with special needs that we minister to. The process that we use to develop a relationship is called C3 (Comfort, Confirm, Challenge) and is derived from the many interactions between Jesus and people with disabilties in the Gospels.
Strengthening the relationship is important because it lays the foundation to helping children develop their faith based on the developmental age as I have previously blogged.
It’s been my experience with my son who is on the severe end of the autism spectrum, and other children with special needs, that developing a relationship with a child on the spectrum can be challenging (but worth it!).
The most striking feature of autism is social disconnection. Children with autism appear neither to be interested in nor able to “read” the social world. It is as though they are “blind” to the sometimes complicated, emotionally loaded give-and-take of human interaction. Writing of one of the boys in his study, Leo Kanner (known for his work related to autism) stated:
“He paid no attention to the persons around him. When taken into a room, he completely disregarded the people and instantly went for objects, preferably those that could be spun. Commands or actions that could not possibly be disregarded were resented as unwelcome intrusions. But he was never angry at the interfering person. He simply pushed away the hand that was in his way or the foot that stepped on one of his blocks…”
The boy in Kanner’s study pushed away interfering body parts without seeming to understand that they were attached to a whole person – a person with his own intentions and desires. They were just objects that happened to be in the way. This is very typical of some children on the autism spectrum.
However, our Special Friends Ministry team is determined to create and maintain relationships with our children on the autism spectrum. Christianity is about entering into relationships with people…ALL people. And in order to be able to do that, it’s important to be familiar with how the Master of developing relationships interacted with people. That’s why we use what I call the C3 model: Comfort, Confirm, Challengethat’s based on Jesus’ interactions with people with disabilities.
The first “C” in the C3 model is “Comfort.” Creating a mutually valued relationship means that we need to help a child (or adult) with autism feel safe and secure with us. We have to be careful that our physical presence does not signal fear or create anxiety for a child with autism. The acceptance of human presence and engagement with others are the cornerstones of relationship. Learning the meaning of human presence, engagment, and unconditional love leads to mutual and potentially reciprocal feelings and interactions that signal respect, worth, and sharing.
Here’s the Special Friends Ministry video presentation on how to develop comfort with a child or adult with special needs who is, to some degree, socially disconnected. Make sure to click subscribe or “like’ our facebook page in order to be notified when the Confirm video presentation is published!
Thursday: Part Two of C3: Comfort, Confirm, Challenge. Dr. Grcevich’s series will resume on Sunday with tips for church staff and volunteers serving kids with Asperger’s Disorder.