Ok, I’m being overly dramatic! But many of us with children with special needs realize and recognize that when someone spots us and our child(ren) they often quickly look away, have a shocked expression on their face, walk away, and/or give us a look.
When our daughters (typically developing kids) were with us as a family, they definitely stuck up for their older brother with special needs. Sometimes I’d catch them give a similar look back at people or actually say something! I appreciated their defense on Joey’s behalf. They could say what I’d have liked to without people having an attitude back at me!
While these things will happen in public places primarily with people who perhaps don’t know what to do because special needs isn’t familiar to them, aren’t kind in general, or just plain ignorant (sorry, but it’s sometimes true). But in the church, we need to be the ones who set by example and welcome others into our place of worship with a welcoming heart that Jesus would have!
Often churches have a welcome committee. Our present church does such a great job of welcoming everyone. I am not on their committee, but here is what I notice that I think is really special and something that makes us all feel welcomed:
- Each greeter is wearing a “church” shirt with their name also on a nametag. There is no doubt that they are the official welcoming team and they are proud of it!
- They watch to see if people want a handshake or a word of greeting. I love that! I sense that they are using this tenderness to be sure the person is not made to feel uncomfortable. No one is reaching out to give hugs (sometimes that’s too much for one with special needs, or others in general who don’t care for hugging!) so it’s nice to observe that sensitivity.
- Now that others have gotten to know us, they say Joey’s name out loud! “Hey, Joey!” “Glad you’re back, Joey!” If we’re known as Joey’s dad and mom with out our real first names that is fine with me! The great part is Joey usually responds back “Hey, buddy!” (Even to the ladies!)
- When others have had their hands full (with other children or perhaps a wheelchair), I watch the welcome team make sure they open both sets of doors. I love that kind of thinking ahead.
There are other things that warm our hearts when we are welcomed like that, but we also appreciate whether at church or elsewhere in public, when we aren’t looked at like we’re bothering someone. We’ve always been very careful to be appropriate in terms of sounds Joey might make, or things he might do. We recall being at a sports event (totally appropriate to be yelling for our team) and the couple in front of us kept turning around giving us dirty looks. Perhaps they couldn’t tell what Joey was saying, but he wasn’t being rude or inappropriate. We need to check ourselves in church if we are doing the same thing. And then let’s not.
Thinking ahead to what our expression is when we see one with special needs is so important. Having a smile to welcome us is a look that will definitely welcome!
Dr. Joe and Cindi Ferrini are authors, speakers, and bloggers for several blogging sites on family and special needs. They speak nationally for FamilyLife Weekend To Remember Marriage Get-a-Ways, authored Unexpected Journey – When Special Needs Change our Course, and have been interviewed on Focus on the Family, FamilyLife, and various other radio and television venues. Connect with them at www.cindiferrini.com and social media at : www.facebook.com/cindi.ferrini, www.facebook.com/UnexpectedJourney/, www.facebook.com/MyMarriageMatters/