I know enough about the military and sports to know that a point man is one who is on patrol or a leader who will lead at the front of the group (often exposing themselves as the first to enter into danger). They are also ones who are a principal spokesman or advocate. And I think it would be especially effective, helpful, and kind to have a point man (or woman) in the church setting particularly to help those of us navigating the challenges and dangers (and victories) of the battlefield of special needs.
When Joey (now 36) was in the process of being diagnosed with cerebral palsy, epilepsy, mental challenges, and speech, gross, and fine motor delays it would have been a wonderful thing for us to have a point man (or woman) to help us navigate the ways of the special needs journey. Doctors leading us to believe he’d eventually catch up worded it “delays”; but we soon learned that was a connotation for “he’ll learn but he won’t catch up.” I think someone who’d gone before us might have helped us recognize and orientate ourselves to the real road of special needs.
Throwing pebbles in my parent’s pond were about four little ones about the same age as Joey. They moved, ran, threw, giggled, and loved watching the stones ripple in the water. Joey sat there looking at them having fun. He didn’t seem to notice he was missing out. We’d put stones in his hand and helped him toss it. That was one of the days I began to see how delayed he really was. The comparison was obvious. It was also the day that I had a Point Woman step in to take action. My dear friend Betsy inquired of my mom if she, Joe, and I were noticing the delays in Joey. Because he was the first child of ours and first grandchild of theirs, we had little to compare his development to, but that day, with all the other children to observe, it was very obvious.
Betsy’s inquiry was the action needed for us to get things moving for Joey. While he’d had all his usual doctors appointments, we made a date to talk to our pediatrician who’d been watching his development but not diagnosing him and not hinting to us, either, that he was delayed. With that doctors visit also came the diagnosis. Many tears were shed on the way home and in the days (and years) to come. Action for early childhood intervention began to take place and therapies put into place for many years to come both in the hospital, school, and life settings.
I also realized I needed some direction so I took the plunge into the deep end of the pond looking for a Point Woman in my life; someone who’d gone before me on the special needs road. I reached out to two women, both my senior by close to twenty years, who had adult children with special needs. I had hoped to be able to “run things by them” over time for help, encouragement and direction, but realized at both meetings that their mindset was different than mine. They seemed fine to wade in the shallow end but not venture to help me struggling in the deep end. They were wonderful women, but their take on this journey was more of a “God is good and it will be fine” stance and I wasn’t there yet. I needed a life preserver ring, maybe a life jacket or some type of floatation device—maybe even a simple noodle! But that wasn’t going to happen.
Thankfully this life lesson gave me the opportunity to reach out to and make myself available to others on this journey with great joy! Sometimes it’s through my writing and sometimes it’s meeting in person or talking on the phone.
So how would this look in our churches and other public settings as well as one-on-one in life? What would we need from this point person, for them to help someone navigate this journey?
First, I’d say they don’t have to have a child with special needs, but they’d need to be caring enough to look for the opportunity to meet the needs of those in this stage of life. Here are the characteristics I'd look for in someone who could come along side of others:
· Be a good listener: looking for newer (younger) parents who are floundering on the journey.
· Don’t exclude the little older parent a few years down the road on this journey. They might welcome this help and caring!
· Recognize a baby who might fit the “criteria” of special needs and introduce yourself to the parents, waiting for opportunities to help and care.
· Listen for when someone shares a recent diagnosis that might couple with special needs (“delayed”)
· Don’t offer quick advice.
· Offer to listen to that person for where they are on that journey. No need to give advice or direction; just care. If they need advice, they’ll ask.
· Notice things in the bulletin like prayer requests when medical “testing” is being done and make a connection to pray for and meet those parents.
· In any of the above scenarios be willing to introduce themselves to the parents and gently walk with them (as much as they allow you to enter in) on their journey.
Churches who would welcome this Point Man challenge might enlist the same kind of training that Key Ministry provides in church settings. It’s not an expensive addition to ministry money-wise, but it will require time, training, and the willingness of some to step up and help.
It’s wonderful that we have in many churches Special-Needs Sunday School Classes, Respite Night’s Out, and even a “buddy system” for a child to have a pal on Sunday to help them, but often parents miss out on the guidance they need to navigate this course. Might YOU be a Point Man (or Woman) to a younger couple in the deep end?