Here is a story i could sink my teeth into since i am the parent of several special needs children. A young boy, by the name of Adam Race, has been banned from the church that he has attended since 1996. He has been banned because he is autistic, and is very large. He has several behavioral challenges that the church is suggesting endangers other attendees.
Adam’s priest by the name of Daniel Walz has filed a restraining order against the 13 year old’s parents; which the mother has violated. Understand that Adam is only 13; however, he is six feet tall and weighs somewhere around 225 pounds. The sheer size of the young man is definately something to consider.
The priest alledges that Adam has struck another child during services and that in his zeal to leave the building, has at times almost knocked over elderly parishioners. Adam has also run out of the building and, started a couple of vehicles to hear the “calming roar of the engines”. This is another danger concern. Adam sometimes has a problem holding his urine; and, if he needs to be restrained during difficult behaviors, he fights it. The mother and father, do at times, have to restrain him. This can all be quite disruptive; and that, plus the concerns for safety, has led the priest to file the restraining order. The priest felt they had no other choice.
It seems that before that filing, the priest and a church trustee attempted to discuss their concerns with Adam’s parents. They offered the family other options and accomodations to deal with the behavioral issues. The family refused. It hasn’t been revealed what those other accomodations were. The family has defied the restraining order and continued to attend church with their son. By the way, this is a family of seven.
I have special needs children as i said before. I have also been a foster parent to many special needs children who were behaviorally challenged. I know the stress of that. I know the need of sitting in church to receive peace and a strengthening of my faith. I also, am well aware that most of the time…it is much more stressful trying to achieve that goal of peace and strength in a very public setting with others who have no idea of the daily struggles living and providing for special needs young people requires.
You see, you need special training to deal with some of the behaviors and special requirements. So you can’t just happily send a special needs child off to a sunday school classroom with people who are unprepared or untrained in those skills.
My husband and I have been teachers in several church settings. We know what it is like to be the teachers or instructors in charge . We have had to teach and sometimes handle special needs children or teens in that environment as well.
One time, we did have a young man who was also very large for his age and autistic. It was a child that did not attend regularily, this program was a vaction bible school event. The platform was a raised one. All of the children were encouraged to stand in front of the platform during praise and worship. Then, when that was done, they were encouraged to sit down in the rows of pews. The young man in question, at one point, ran to the front while the puppets were performing. My brother- in- law, who was a weight lifter, was operating a large puppet that included having his arm encased in a fur lined sleeve.
The young man ran up on stage and grabbed my brother-in-laws arm and pulled it down over the front of the puppet stage and almost broke my brother-in-laws arm. It took several people to disengage him. It was something we were un-prepared for. The parents had dropped him off during the services and left. This was unusual…because the other days of that week, they had stayed with him and helped to keep him under control when he would get overly excited. Communication is key in these situations. Educate the workers or volunteers to the special skill sets that they will need to work with special needs youths successfully!
Most of the time, having special needs children in church is workable. You discuss with the family members or care givers what works for each child as an individual. Maybe you can even get the parents to help volunteer in the children’s program to help out. You do your best so that the caregiver can get a couple of hours of peace and “down time” from the strains of 24/7 caregiving, if possible. Raising awareness about those who live with special needs children and providing support is the goal of this website: http://www.growingupspecial.com/
What you can’t do, is jeapordize the well-being of others around violent or unpredictable special needs. In the case of Adam, if the accomodations that the priest was offering would have allowed for maybe a private room with closed circuit television or something equivocable, i don’t see why the family would not jump at the opportunity, not to be the center of attention during services. It seems to me that if they wanted themselves and their other children to get the most out of services they would have tried other options.
Understand, we do not know all of the circumstances. I am only operating with the information that i was able to glean from reports. However, I can’t imagine trying to attend a church where my very presence was considered to be intrusive. How can this environment be considered to be uplifting spiritually? I would hope that if the church truly tried to find a way to allow Adam’s family to continue to be a part of the congregation; and, allow for his special needs without causing dangerous situations; Adam’s family would respond in kind. I hope that they can find some sort of middle ground.
If there is more behind the scenes details that explain their need to defy the restraining order…it has not been presented publically. Church is supposed to be a refuge from the everyday world. We are supposed to leave the building lifted up and renewed…i hope that there can be healing and well-being for all concerned.
Update: June 02, 2008 Carol Race, Adam’s mother, pleaded not guilty to violating the restraining order that kept her and her son from attending mass. She says that she will continue to fight for disabled people to attend church services. She says she believes that thousands of families around our country have not felt welcome in their churches and is asking that churches set aside a pew for families, in their church, in similar circumstances.