Churches are having to think creatively about how to encourage all families while everyone is staying at home. What about how to encourage the families impacted by disability in your church at this time? Before you make definite plans, we encourage you to learn how COVID-19 has impacted home life for these families.
Here are some considerations:
Not every family impacted by disability will have the extra bandwidth to do “more” from home. Like many of us, they are now adjusting to working and schooling from home, but they are doing it without the supports they have had in place: therapies, individualized instruction, and behavior supports. As you consider what to offer them, take a moment to learn what life is like in their homes now. Changes, transitions, and new schedules typically take much longer for families impacted by disability to embrace and settle into. Find out what they are experiencing before trying to decide what you can offer them. Learning can take place though a short text, as simple as “I’m thinking of you all and praying for you! How is daily life going?”
Skills that were not present at church are not likely to be present for livestream services or virtual Sunday School classes. While virtual gatherings offer so much encouragement during social distancing, many of our friends with disabilities, especially young kids, find Zoom calls and virtual learning really frustrating. It may be due to the changes in their routines (“I do not do Sunday School on the computer!”). Or perhaps it is because needed social skills have not been developed. Some may not be able to watch a computer screen for long periods or cannot decide when or how to appropriately talk and contribute to a virtual conversation. Encourage your families who want to improve livestream worship and family devotions to check out our online training videos.
Some families are very thankful to be able to participate in virtual church activities in which they were not able to participate in person. Every family is unique, but it is important to think about what is now available to parents, spouses, and caretakers virtually that was not available before the coronavirus. Caretakers may be thrilled that they can now join a virtual Bible study, Sunday evening worship, a hymn sing, or a prayer group. Find out what your caregivers want and consider what opportunities you may be able to connect them to without having to adapt the content or mode of delivery. If your families are not attending existing ministry opportunities, it may be that sharing video or audio is difficult or intrusive because of the effects of disability. Families may feel pressure to have their video and audio active to be like other participants. A simple encouragement to feel free to hide their cameras and mute the audio may make it easier for them to participate.
Some families are currently very tired. It is important to remember that many families living with disability have suddenly experienced a significant increase in caregiving. Without access to therapies, schools, and work, the intensity of caregiving is now 24-7 with no breaks. The challenges presented by many disabling conditions can quickly tire even the strongest families. If they communicate that they don’t want to or can’t add anything else, it may be that the demands of caregiving are overwhelming. Gently inquire how you may best offer encouragement to the caregiver and think creatively. As you learn of tangible needs (e.g. help with grocery delivery), think of possible ways to connect families to the greater body of Christ to have these needs met. Many churches are utilizing deacons and care groups to meet tangible needs, but they may not have thought about how to enfold families impacted by disability into these groups.
Once you know what your families are experiencing, consider these creative ideas to engage from afar your children, teens, and adults who are impacted by disability:
Record their “favorites.” In Sunday School, perhaps you always open with a certain song, have been working on certain memory verses, or always review your previous lessons using a favorite flannel board to tell the story. Record these favorites and email or text them to your families.
Consider a drive-by. Many schools have recently been doing drive-by parades with the teachers waving to their students on the porches. Consider grabbing some familiar faces and buddies and do a drive-by to encourage your families.
Make a special delivery. For example, at Easter, order a simple Easter book (for young children), family devotional (for families with several children), or personal devotional book (for teens and adults with disabilities). Tie it with a ribbon, perhaps add a few Easter eggs or candy, write a short note and deliver it to mailboxes or front doors.
Send short emails with spiritual encouragement. There is currently a LOT to read in the news, in emails, and on social media. Consider sending some short emails with a devotional thought that encouraged you. Some of your emails could be geared towards the parents or caregivers, while other emails could be specifically written to the child, teen, or adult with a disability. If you find a resource that you think your families would love, send that along. Adapt it as needed or include thoughts on ways to adapt, if needed.
Record yourself saying “hello.” There are a number of reasons why FaceTime and Zoom calls are challenging for families impacted by disability. Consider recording a greeting to a child, teen, or adult with disability and sending it via text or email. The family can watch (and rewatch!) the video when it is a good time of day for them. They will appreciate the flexibility that a video brings. And it is easy to do this more than once.
Meet tangible needs. Many families may be hesitant to ask for help with groceries or necessary errands, but they may really benefit from assistance to avoid exposure to germs. Consider ways to connect each family to deacons or an existing care group. Or consider creating a small care group specifically to share the responsibility of checking in on the family each week. Even offering to pick up and deliver a to-go meal to their front porch might offer respite in a small but significant way.
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