Can a child with additional needs and disabilities have a meaningful faith?
Whenever I talk to people about children with additional needs and faith, I usually have some skeptics.
This could just be the ‘brand’ of churchmanship, but sometimes it is because they have never had any connection with additional needs and disability.
Two of the most common comments are:
“It will be wonderful when they can understand more and ‘do it’ [faith] properly”; and
“If they can’t explain, surely they can’t believe.”
Well - please allow me to smash those comments out of the water, firstly with some thoughts surrounding faith and then with some stories taken from the children’s work I do.
Faith in a child has the same value as the faith of an adult. In fact, it can be argued biblically that Jesus places an even greater value on it. Their God is just as big, and they are not given a mini Holy Spirit.
There is no difference for a child with additional needs and disabilities. God is just as awesome, and the Holy Spirit just as powerful.
The only discernible difference is - we adults struggle to see how it works because it doesn't fit our self-designed tick boxes.
God is just as awesome for these children as He is for anyone else, but in a way they can understand. God will find His own way to communicate - not ours. Because the Holy Spirit is just as powerful as He is for anyone else, He is perfectly capable in working in the hearts and minds of children who may not be able to tell us ‘how’ He is working.
And you know what? It really doesn’t matter if we don’t get it! God does, the child does - end of story.
Well, technically, not end of story. We still have a biblical mandate to teach and to disciple towards a life long resilient faith, to find appropriate and imaginative ways to support parents in nurturing towards faith.
In leaving space for children with additional needs to explore faith, I have heard some amazing things of God!
For example, a ten year old with Aspergers was skeptical about God talking to Him during a listening activity. His concern was that God wouldn't be able to speak because his brain was ‘different’. He drew a car - his favourite subject. The car had a number plate that looked like a Bible verse. That Bible verse made it clear to him that God understood how his brain worked, because He made it. That young man ran out of the session shouting “Mum - God ‘gets’ my brain!”
I was working with another young boy with ASD, telling the story of the man lowered through roof - using lego and a squidgy toy to tell it. He asked me to tell it again. He then told it to me using the same props, following up with “But God doesn't heal everyone, and that’s ok”
Another parent told me how her teenage son, who also had Aspergers, talked to God in colours, and God replied in colours. This was an easier way to communicate, for Him, and God knew.
God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are precious and meaningful in the lives of many children who have additional needs and disabilities. I learn so much from them, and have often been challenged spiritually by them.
Can a child with additional needs and disabilities have a meaningful faith? Oh yes.