A Church for Special Needs Children: Removing Sensory Overdose That Feels Like 'Putting Jeans on Backwards'

An Ohio church has created a special-needs ministry for children with physical and mental challenges to give them an opportunity to engage in sensory appropriate worship.

Faith Chapel Fellowship in Salem, Ohio will launch the ministry with the intent to also allow parents to attend regular worship service while their children are catered to according to their needs.

"Children of all abilities are always welcome in all of our services, but this is a wonderful option for children who find the typical service overwhelming or not suited to their learning styles," Kim Cole, a member of Faith Chapel, told The Christian Post.

Cole, who suggested that the church begin a program for special needs families and who is an occupational therapy assistant, will help out with the initiative along with other qualified volunteers.

Children with mental and physical disabilities as well as those who are autistic tend to become sensitive to their surroundings and have problems with sensory integration. That is why Cole and members of Faith Chapel will adapt the worship service to focus their attention on each child.

"As I learn what challenges them, I can adapt the room or activity to meet the need. For instance, I can adapt the coloring craft to a clay one for a child who is blind. If the child has low vision, I can put a yellow background under it to make it appear brighter to them. We can play acoustic guitar or instrumental only music for children with sound sensitivity. Lights can also be changed to avoid a buzzing noise," said Cole.

Although the special needs worship service is tailored to care for each child, it is not considered a babysitting time period. Cole says their ultimate goal is to include the children in worship and "remove the barriers so they know that they are precious and loved by God and our church."

Although Cole is leading the initiative at Faith Chapel, she also knows what it is like to be on the receiving end of help as she has a 17-year-old son Ian who is autistic. The idea for the ministry came about because of the challenges she and her husband Rich have faced with Ian.

"Things can sound, smell, or feel much more intense for these kids. It is like putting jeans on backwards, wearing an itchy wool sweater, turning a radio to static and then sitting down to learn something. We would all go crazy with those sensations, but people with autism have to deal with this everyday. They aren't bad kids at all they are just overwhelmed by the environment," said Cole.

She added, "This was very true for Ian. Clapping was truly painful for him when he was younger, he would try to crawl under the pews or would scream. It wasn't bad behavior, but a pain response. So as many parents do, I just stopped going to church."

After a while, she returned to church and saw how Ian's behavior began to improve. Now, he plays the drums in their church's praise band whereas before he would be sensitive to loud sound.

"So that is how the idea was born. What about a place where families can relax, worship, fellowship with others and not worry about their child or meltdowns?" said Cole. "All of us parents of children with autism have lived it and feared it. This is a worry free zone! Meltdowns, we've been there, done that and it's okay. We get it! And we will try our best to make the setting one that is more sensory friendly so it is comfortable for every child."

Faith Chapel Fellowship will conduct its first special needs service at 6 p.m., June 14.

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