What are invisible disabilities?

Invisible or hidden disabilities include emotional, behavioral, or developmental disorders/diagnoses with no apparent physical symptoms or characteristics. 

Includes students with

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Developmental disabilities 
  • Learning disabilities 
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Mood disorders (depression, bipolar)
  • Attachment disorders (common in adopted and foster care children)
  • Fetal alcohol effects
  • Brain injuries

What we know about families that are affected …

  • They don’t always consider their kids to have disabilities or special needs 
  • There is often a genetic component 
  • They consistently hear more bad news than good news
  • They feel discouraged and isolated 
  • They are less likely to attend church than a typical family and are more likely to have had negative past experiences

What challenges keep children and teens with invisible disabilities from being successful at church?

  • Struggle with self-regulation and impulse control
  • Sensory seeking or avoiding tendencies
  • Social anxiety 
  • Rigid behaviors, inflexibility 
  • Executive function deficits 
  • Unable to meet academic expectations
  • Immature social skills

The good news!

  • These students can often be successful with a few changes
  • Serving the students well can make huge, positive changes for the entire family
  • The mission field of families is ripe and ready for the hope of the gospel 

The goal for the students: Communicate the gospel to every child in an environment where they feel comfortable and in a way they can understand and respond.

The goal for the parents: To be included in all aspects of church life, knowing their child is safe and loved.

We can break down the barriers that keep them from the gospel

  • Matthew 21:14, “And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple …”
  • For children with invisible disabilities, the ways we help them are often invisible as well 
  • This is why it’s important everyone on the team is trained on how to help and on the same page

Social challenges

  • Appropriately playing with peers
  • Keeping hands to self
  • Talking out of turn
  • Trouble transitioning from preferred to non-preferred activity

How can we decrease social anxiety?

  • Clear expectations
  • Visual schedule
  • Visual timer 
  • Have a buddy to help 
  • Ways to ask for a break
  • Expectations for those waiting their turn

Sensory Challenges

  • Lights 
  • Noise 
  • Where they are in space (protoperception) 
  • Smells
  • Textures
  • Extra energy (the wiggles)

How can we address sensory issues?

  • Fidgets (especially when waiting for his/her turn)
  • Noise reducing headphones
  • Comfortable seating with boundaries
  • Ask him/her to be a helper (opportunity for movement)

Academic challenges

  • Learning disability with reading or numbers
  • Low vision or hearing
  • Easily distracted, unable to stay on task
  • Developmentally below grade level

How can we make adjustments to our academic expectations?

  • Material on the board written out on paper 
  • Word bank of answers
  • Hand over hand help from teacher or buddy
  • Don’t ask him/her to read out loud
  • Focus on one main idea

How do I keep up with all the help the student needs?

Consider creating ISPs (individual spiritual plans)Because each child is unique, we develop ISPs for each one—individualized spiritual plans. ISPs take into consideration their likes, dislikes, strengths, goals, and expectations for behavior. Everyone on the team (parents, teachers, buddies, and the student him/herself can contribute to the ISP). Including the parents in the process can make it easier when you need to have hard discussions.

Example: Nathan has autism level 1 and sensory processing disorder.

His goals include participating in discussion with respect, completing activity sheet with assistance, sharing a prayer request when it’s his turn, telling his buddy/parents one thing he learned. Nathan has made a profession of faith & been baptized, so he remembers the Holy Spirit is always helping him.

He has a buddy who uses a buddy bag with fidgets, a visual schedule, and he can ask that buddy to take a walk with him when he needs a break

David has dyslexia and social anxiety/ embarrassment

His goals include completing a modified activity sheet: he has a word bank when filling in blanks or he shares answers verbally with a teacher/buddy at his table instead of writing them out

He isn’t called on to read and his teachers watch out for times he is reluctant to join group activities and step in to make a connection or ask him to be their helper

More resources:

Share This: