Families living with many types of disability may benefit from a space to take a break when worship or sensory demands become too much. Break rooms are for temporary respite and as a calming area, not an alternative to being in the sanctuary. Families should be encouraged to use the break room when needed and to return to worship when they are ready, even if behavior is not perfectly stable.
For break rooms to be successfully used this way, here are some things to keep in mind:
We want all families worshipping in the sanctuary. Break areas should come with clear, positive messages that we want every family in worship. Break rooms are not there to put away or hide families with problematic behaviors. These areas are for families to catch their breath and regroup so they can re-enter worship.
Break areas need to be designated for families with disabilities. If the room is also utilized as a spot for overflow or as a cry room, parents and caregivers will be less likely to use the room out of fear of disturbing others. Your break room needs to be the place where kids, teens, and adults with disabilities can be fully and freely themselves without any fear that behaviors or noises will be inconveniencing others.
Ideally, break areas should be close to the sanctuary. The longer the walk, the less likely it is that parents and caregivers will utilize the room. It may be easier to go to their car and leave, as opposed to having to walk across the church and back.
Break areas do not need to be costly. Generally, rooms should not be elaborate or full of items that could be disturbed. Open space is better. Comfortable seating, such as bean bag chairs or love seats, go a long way toward making people comfortable. A table and chairs are helpful for activities the family brings for calming or distracting purposes.
Break rooms can serve multiple purposes. Space allocation is often at a premium in churches. Rooms utilized for other purposes during the week can easily be used as a break room on Sundays with a little preparation.
Tip: avoid using rooms like a library where there are many books or resources that could accidentally be rearranged.
Break areas do not have to be rooms. Some churches are constructed with no additional rooms surrounding the sanctuary. Be creative in finding nearby space. If no room exists, consider a designated spot outside the church that is away from roads and parking lots. A shade tree and fresh air can sometimes be as refreshing as a quiet room.
Plan ways to educate the congregation on break room use. Pulpit announcements and regular blurbs in the church bulletin and newsletter are great ways to help your congregation understand how you are embracing families with disability. Highlight the purpose of the break room and that it is not there to keep noise to a minimum in the sanctuary. It only takes a few naysayers who view the families as a problem to discourage those families from attending worship at all.
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