All people, regardless of their abilities or how their brains are wired are human. Even seemingly odd behavior communicates something or fills a need. How do we ensure our parishioners and leaders understand this so they can embark on disability integration? We form a team. This post explains who should be on the team, how to form the team, and what the team will do.
…“Oh, yes, well, that’s because he’s on the autism spectrum…”
“He doesn’t look autistic…how is he on the autism spectrum?”
“Well, he (insert behavior here)…”
“Yeah, but my kid (insert behavior here)…don’t all kids (insert behavior here)?”…
It’s a familiar conversation for anyone with a kid on the autism spectrum and even for some adults sharing about their autism diagnosis.
Education and Empathy
As frustrating as it can be, I always try to engage this conversation because awareness and knowledge are how we change the culture to one of acceptance and appreciation.
Yes, all kids (insert behavior here), but probably not to the same degree with the same triggers, and when taken into consideration with other (insert behaviors here), the cumulative can lead to a diagnosis that the child’s mind is differently wired. The same applies for adults with a diagnosis.
All Behaviors Communicate Something and/or Fill a Need
Ultimately, it comes down to helping people understand that ALL behaviors are human behaviors. So yes, that’s why the description of my son’s behaviors doesn’t seem all that shockingly different.
When a diagnosis enters the pictures, it’s sometimes like we forget that individuals with differently wired brains or other disabilities are humans, not aliens.
The humanity and similarity of everyone, even those who appear or act a bit differently, is so important for anyone who knows, loves, or works with a differently wired person to recognize.
When we remember that all behavior is human behavior – all behavior communicates and/or fills a need for the individual – we stop seeing the differently wired person as foreign, “other”, or a mystery. We stop seeing “bad behavior” and start asking questions like, “what is being communicated by this behavior” or “what need is the individual satisfying with this behavior.”
Fluctuation in Parish Leaders
Within a parish community, we have a continually fluctuating group of people we come into contact with at Mass, bible study, faith formation classes, RCIA, Parish picnics, coffee and donuts, etc. Volunteers that run these ministries usually change at least a little bit from year-to-year.
So how can we help parishioners, especially staff and volunteers who serve in various ministries, understand, accept, and love individuals who are differently wired? How do we start, continue, and thrive in the disability integration process? How do we ensure that leaders know that one person uses vocal stims to calm themselves when they are anxious and uncertain about a situation and another person stims to drown out sensory input that feels too much?
We form a Disability Integration Team
Forming a Disability Integration Team is one of the first steps I would advise any parish to do if they are serious about disability integration.
This team will be part of creating your integration plan and implementing it. They will help you troubleshoot, adapt, and follow the natural progression of your integration process as it unfolds.
Who should be on this team?
First and foremost, individuals with various disabilities and diagnoses – these parishioners will be the best source of first-person witness to their needs and those of others with various diagnoses. Second, parents and other loved ones of individuals with various disabilities. Of course, the Pastor, clergy, lay staff, and other parish or ministry leaders should be present as well. Fourth, people from the various therapeutic disciplines, such as Speech and Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, Psychologists, and perhaps even Behavioral Therapists (note: this can be somewhat controversial; more on this later).
How do you put together the team?
- Pray. As in all things we do as a Church, we begin with and center on God. Discern with the Holy Spirit, ask God to provide the grace for disability integration at your parish and to help you find the right team of people.
- Invite. Once you’ve prayed, identify individuals who meet one or more of the categories above. This will involve really getting to know the people in your parish and spreading the word that you are looking for individuals to be a part of this team. Discern who God might be calling you to invite and then personally ask them to be a part of the team.
- Meet and prepare. Make sure prayer is central to all of your meetings. Lay out your hopes and dreams for the future and your team. Have members share their stories to develop rapport and mutual respect. Make sure that training is a part of your meetings so that individuals understand the difference between ecclesial integration and disability ministry. Allow these meetings to be a time of mutual edification and development of the three intercultural competencies: Attitudes, Knowledge, and Skills. Each person on the team will have something to contribute to the others.
From there, your team should be able to help come up with a pastoral plan for implementing the process of disability integration.
If you and/or your team needs some assistance in any aspect described above, Uniquely Catholic can help. We can help you form a team, launch the team, get your pastoral plan together, and get the process of disability integration off the ground. Just contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. See more about how we can help on our “What We Do” page.
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