Parenting 3: Special Needs Parenting

Janet Aucoin April 8, 2022

A special guest joins us today to wrap up our mini series on parenting, with a look into how to care for our children with special needs. Rita Jamison will share her wisdom on how the Lord has equipped us through His Word and a relationship with Him to love those who are often isolated and hurting.

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Episode Transcript

Resources:

Booklet

Parenting Your ADHD Child

MP3

ADHD (highly recommend all parents listen to, not just parents with those labeled ADHD)

CD series

Helping Your Child Learn

Helping Children Labeled ADHD

Transcript:

Janet: I don't just need to feel better. I need the truth. And ultimately that will make me better.

Alexandra: I just want to make it as totally simple and no brainer as possible for ladies to see that the Bible is really applicable to their everyday life.

Jocelyn: When they understand theology, the application flows out of it quickly with joy.

Janet: It is a journey, but even the journey itself is joyful when I'm doing it, holding the hand of my savior and trusting him all along the way. This is the joyful journey podcast, a podcast to inspire and equip women to passionately pursue beautiful biblical truth on their journey as women of God. When you choose truth, you're choosing joy. Typically, I’ll be joined by either Jocelyn or Alexandra, but for our first full episode listen as all three of us discuss the topic of joy.

Janet: Well, welcome back to another episode of our Joyful Journey Podcast. I'm here once again with my co-host Jocelyn, and today, I've asked Jocelyn she's going to lead us in interviewing someone very special to my heart. I am so encouraged and excited that she's here today. So, tell us what we have in store, Jocelyn.

Jocelyn: Yes, today we have the privilege of hearing from our friend Rita Jamison. She has been in the education service, serving the public school system as an educator for 31 years and 25 of those years, she served in special needs all in the public schools, and additionally, she has really, really served in our church and in our counseling ministry as a counselor who is capable of doing lots of great biblical counseling, but also really able to serve those who have special needs. She teaches at conferences and she serves as a resource for our church in our counseling ministry. Today, we've asked her to help us think about parenting special needs situations. So, we would really like to hear from Rita today on ministering to families with special needs children. And, first of all, I just want her to share how she got interested or involved in serving special needs families?

Rita: Well, as a child, I, was a very poor student in school. I did not learn to read until I was in fifth grade. And that all came about as a result of a vision test in fourth grade at the end of the year.

Jocelyn: Wow.

Rita: And the school nurse did that vision test and called my parents and said Rita needs to see an eye doctor fast.

Jocelyn: Wow

Rita: Well, when I did get there, I was legally blind with a stigmatism.

Jocelyn: Wow

Rita: And also with farsighted and nearsighted issues in both eyes. So a whole new world opened up, when I got my glasses.

Jocelyn: I had a fifth grade teacher that also became our sixth grade teacher and followed my class. And she must have seen a spark once I had my glasses because she offered to teach me if I would stay in recesses and afterschool. I wanted to learn to read more than anything in the world to be like all the other kids, and so that's what we did.

Jocelyn: Cool.

Rita: As a result of her help, I was able to read and she taught me how to study. And so when I got to junior high, I decided I wanted to become a teacher just like her to meet the needs of other kids.

Janet: I love that.

Jocelyn: How special. So tell us a little bit about your journey in education because you didn't start out as a special needs teacher. You started out as a teacher. So tell us about that.

Rita: I went into elementary education, and my love was teaching those students who were struggling.

Jocelyn: Wow.

Rita: And back in those years, there was tracking in the public school. There was a high track, the average track, and a low track.

Jocelyn: Okay.

Rita: And I wanted the low track and fortunately, no one else did because there are many of the problems.

Jocelyn: Yeah.

Rita: I loved it. I taught for six years. And then stayed at home with our family. A bout 15 years later, I tried to get back into education in the elementary span, and here in Lafayette, there were way more teachers than were needed. So I could not find a job until the state changed the special ed law. And in that time, there was not enough licensed teachers to fill all the classrooms. Because my love was the lower track, I was offered a job teaching special ed on a limited license. If I wanted to continue there, I had to go back and get my degrees, which I did. So then I taught in the elementary special education for 25 years.

Jocelyn: Well, it sounds like you have lots of training now that put you in that place where you could serve special needs families, and one thing that I was very interested in hearing about from you is the spiritual component of serving families with special needs children. So why don't you tell us how God speaks to this topic?

Rita: Well, He does that in multiple ways. I think the Psalms explain the heart of many special needs families.

Jocelyn: Yeah.

Rita: "The troubles of my heart are enlarged. Bring me out of my distresses". Psalm 25:17 "For I am afflicted and needy. And my heart is wounded within me". Psalm 109:22 "Be gracious to me, Lord for I am in distressed. My eye is wasted away from grief, my soul and my body too". Psalm 31:9 God's answer to this affliction is given to us in Romans 15: 1-3, "Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself".

Jocelyn: What a passage.

Janet: Yeah, and to think about, I don't always think about that and apply that to special needs, but clearly that would be those who are weaker. I know the context here isn't specifically special needs, but the principle is we should be thinking of others more than ourselves and thinking of those who are weak.

Jocelyn: Exactly, and the thought of not just pleasing ourselves so much individualized attention has to be given to children who are struggling in one way or the other.

Janet: Right.

Jocelyn: And it is a huge sacrifice as a parent to say, I will lay down what I want to do to figure out what this little child needs. It really is about learning how to serve other people.

Rita: Very true, and if you are a believer in Christ Jesus, you can be confident that your life with a special needs child, although hard, is under the control of an all-powerful and all-loving God.

Jocelyn: That's a comfort.

Rita: All of our circumstances have meaning and purpose in God's eternal plan. He brings into our lives only what is for His glory and our good. God wants the body of Christ to serve these families.

Jocelyn: That's such a good reminder. So how can the body of Christ help on a daily level? What would that look like?

Rita: Ministering to families with special needs children, as part of bearing the weaknesses of those without strength. Disability doesn't just happen to an individual though. It affects the entire extended family. Disability is a family affair, touching parents, grandparents, siblings, and in-laws. It also touches the church, the family of believers. So it becomes part of the one another care of the local church described in the scripture. Romans 12: 4-6 says, "Just as each of us has one body with many members and these members do not all have the same function. So in Christ, we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace, given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly". The body of Christ has a responsibility to its members. It's part of the one, another care of the local church. If you are a believer, you have the two most important things you need to offer one another care. That is the holy spirit, and the Word of God.

Jocelyn: That's so helpful to hear because it almost might feel so big that we need specialized training to be able to do any difference in the life of a special needs family that's struggling. So it's really helpful to hear that we as believers, we have what we need to serve those who are in a special needs family.

Rita: That's true. Life will be different for parents of special needs children, but God is in control. He's going to guide and provide for this family. He will use this for their joy and His glory.

Jocelyn: True.

Rita: The job of a local church member is to minister to them and their struggles. Many verses in the scripture tell us about engaging in one another care, loving one another, bearing one another's burdens that is in part the mission of the local church.

Jocelyn: And it's so interesting to think about that God wants us to minister to the needs of individual families. Each family is going to be a little different and they're not going to have consistent needs. Every special needs family is not going to have the same need. And so it really is in getting to know them and to really get to understand what their struggle is, to see how I personally could help meet need that they have, or fill in a gap that that family might be experiencing. So it's cool that we have the Holy Spirit, He's going to help us to understand a situation and to be wise to see how in some way serve them.

Rita: That's the challenge, but God has the answers.

Jocelyn: So it doesn't require a special training to minister to special needs families. Can anyone be involved in that?

Rita: Yes, anyone can serve in this way, and no, Jocelyn, you don't have to have special training. It just requires the heart and mind of Christ to serve those who are bewildered, isolated, anxious, hurting emotionally, and tired. You can offer help and hope because God has given you the capacity.

Jocelyn: That’s true.

Rita: Our Lord never gives us a job, a command, without giving us the tools to accomplish it. Jesus has been where these parents are. He was tempted in all aspects, just like we are, and He can equip us to help those who are hurting. Remember when you serve one another do so with your eyes on Jesus. Matthew 25 tells us that He's the one you are ministering to. Jesus said, "I tell you the truth when you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you are doing it to me".

Jocelyn: That's so cool to think about.

Janet: I love that and thinking it just that's the heart of Christ that He is drawn to the needy, to the outcast, to what the world might say is not as valuable for whatever worldly standard they've given to know that Jesus says, when you care about the least you're caring about Me because that's My heart.

Jocelyn: And one of the, parts of our family story is that we had two premature babies. One was born at 27 weeks and one was born at 32 weeks and it was almost 20 years ago. So we don't talk about it a lot more because that's kind of a part of our past history that is not a current issue, but that was really hard. There were some really difficult challenges that God had decided beforehand that our family was going to walk through, and as first-time parents, we didn't even know how to be parents to a normal kid much less a special kid or a special situation that had a lot of, you know, really weird, hard health stuff. So why don't you help us think about what are some of the challenges that the family that has a special needs child might experience on a daily basis, just normal life.

Rita: Well, after a diagnosis, one of the first challenges a family will face is the multitude of questions that come to their minds, and they can't always find the answers right away. Also, floods of emotions that they have to deal with. Mothers and dads face different fears and concerns related to these unknown. Typically a mother thinks about the details of the here and now today. But dad, he may be thinking about the future, planning and thinking about the problems with caring for that child, even in the future when they might be gone. What's going to happen? These are two different perspectives, and sometimes it causes problems in their marital relationship.

Jocelyn: And when we were dealing with our kids while they were in the NICU, at the two different times of the years that they were born, I struggled at different times than my husband struggled and for different reasons than my husband struggled. Our displays of emotions looked really different. it was very individualized processing of that situation.

Janet: When you think about there's a grieving there's a death to what you thought your life was going to look like.

Jocelyn: Especially if this is a first time parenting situation. We didn't have any experience parenting. Then when you through a special situation to that, we really had no experience. We had never thought about what it would look like for it to go any way, other than our version of normal inside of our head.

Rita: Well, the parents will face many sacrifices. And one is their time as it will be used for doctor's appointments and therapies, giving up hobbies to serve their child, giving constant attention and possibly meeting their round the clock needs. They'll need the body of Christ to be prayer partners with them. Someone who will walk with them on this journey. Someone who will listen to them as they process their emotions. One who will consistently point them back to Jesus. They will need friends they can text or call at any time, especially when they are having a difficult day.

Jocelyn: That's a great point. A very great point.

Rita: Secondly, they'll generally have to sacrifice social life as they had previously known it. Investing their time in their special needs child, in their spouse, and the other children, perhaps in the family, will occupy all the of their time.

Jocelyn: There are several families in our church, who God has given them a special needs child, and that is exactly what their life looks like. Their entire life has become consumed in providing very solid, loving care for a child that is completely dependent on them to stay alive. It becomes their whole life.

Rita: It does become their whole life. And the third point, I think that is important here is the finances. They may be tight as they invest in special diets, in supplements, in therapy sessions that are not covered by insurances, for special equipment, and even the specialty vehicle, sometimes it's necessary,and on and on the financial part of it goes.

Jocelyn: That's true. It's a life that no one ever plans for.

Rita: Nope.

Jocelyn: But it's obviously God's sovereign plan because it is what He allowed to happen. That's a very different outlook on life than what you might've thought it would look like when you first had kids. So are there some daily struggles the parents will experience?

Rita: Most certainly. One struggle is that special needs children often do not sleep well. So their parents will experience interrupted sleep every night.

Jocelyn: That would be so hard.

Janet: A constant newborn, and you know how you're tired during that season.

Jocelyn: All the time I felt like my brain never worked when I was getting up every two hours to nurse a baby.

Rita: Right.

Janet: So I don't want to get ahead of myself. I'm already thinking, as you share these things, Rita, my mind starts going, there's ways we could help. Oh, I already have an idea. So I'll be excited to get to that.

Rita: Sometimes a child will need to be repositioned throughout the night, especially if they have muscle or joint issues and can't turn themselves over.

Jocelyn: You know that's something I would have never thought of. I would've never thought not only do I have to wake up, I have to get up and go do something with a coherent mind.

Janet: right.

Jocelyn: That’s intense.

Rita: Yes, some require medicines given throughout the night. And often an upset stomach is common for special needs children causing pain and extreme crying throughout the day and night.

Jocelyn: Oh, that’d be hard.

Rita: Often times these kinds of problems never improve even as they get into their teen years and beyond. Special diets or limited food intake is another thing that is dealt with daily. Many times special needs children will only eat a few foods because of texture. So meal prep for the family can get complicated. Sometimes foods have to be prepared in a special way. So much thought, planning, and time has to go into daily food preparation just for the special needs child. And they're still meal planning for the rest of the family. Frequently, special needs children have to eat smaller meals several times a day instead of the three meals a day, like most families, making family mealtimes an issue.

Jocelyn: That would be really hard like for our family, family mealtime is one of our times that brings us together. And it sounds like in that situation, mealtime could actually be something that separates.

Janet: Another pressure

Jocelyn: And another stressor. That would be so challenging.

Rita: Yeah. Another daunting challenge is the daily schedule. Keeping track of medicines and supplement, and the times that they're taken throughout the day, and even throughout the night is challenging. Scheduling doctor's appointments and therapies from week to week, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and other specialty kinds of therapies may need to be required for a number of years. Lifting children in and out of the car to get to these therapies can be a big issue.

Jocelyn: I even know some families in our church that have several children with special needs, and my mind just is an awe of the moms that can coordinate multiple appointments for multiple children. It's their full-time job. It is simply coordinating the care for their children. That's a lot.

Janet: As you were saying that I was thinking, and for some people. It's a lot of work for anyone. For some people, they tend to be more organized and that might, if they had a full-time job outside the home, they might do something like that. And then there are people that's not their gifting. and yet they have to coordinate, to think about how hard that would be to learn to be an organized, structured, scheduled person, if you're not. You have to, because your family needs you to.

Rita: Another area where people from the church, can it be helpful?

Janet: Yes!

Rita: Just teaching them how to do all that scheduling.

Jocelyn: Exactly. That's what I was thinking. If you are really organized and someone is to give them. Exactly.

Janet: What a gift that you could give them.

Jocelyn: What a gift to help them to figure out a system that might work.

Janet: That might feel overwhelming until they can see it and get some help with it. Yep.

Rita: So you can see transporting these children multiple times a week can be quite exhausting. This may be an area where you as a church member can help just to go with them and help them with that lifting from time to time.

Jocelyn: What a great idea.

Janet: Yes.

Rita: The challenges are ongoing and mostly for a lifetime for these families with no relief in sight for the parents, but God never intended us to suffer alone. 1 Corinthians 12 discusses, "God's children being baptized into one body yet having many members". So if one member suffers, all members suffer with it. We are to bear one another's burdens.

Jocelyn: And I can even imagine, like you said, no relief in sight for these parents. It will probably go on for the rest of the parent's lifetime, but it would also be an added stressor to think that when the parent dies, the child will still need to be cared for. So thinking about long-term care for a child, even beyond our years on earth, that's just so much, and I'm so glad that God organized the unity of the body of believers so that we are affected by each other. So that we are able to see practical ways that we can really step in and serve each other in our own congregation.

Janet: it's so important. I mean, it's clear in scripture, Rita, what you're saying. Then I look at our culture and we tend to have great energy to help people short-term.

Rita: Yes.

Jocelyn: Definitely.

Janet: Okay. So they've got someone in the NICU, we will gather around. We'll do all the things and three months later, you're on your own. Then to think even what a picture it is to the world, when long-term faithful, sacrificial love to someone like this to not just say I'll do it for a year, but long-term, yes, I'm in it with you.

Jocelyn: So what would that look like, Rita, if we really thought about one another care, and what that could look like for families that have special needs children?

Rita: Well, first of all, just be their friend. A real friend because of the rigorous schedule required to parent a special needs child, many parents feel isolated.

Jocelyn: I’m sure.

Rita: Often friends don't know what to say and do, so they fall away rather than supporting the family that has those special needs children. This can lead the parents heartbroken and feeling all alone with their struggle.

Jocelyn: It's hard enough to adjust to special health needs situation, and then to lose your friends on top of it, that would feel it would feel devastating.

Rita: Also many times they are unable to attend church regularly, so they don't get the fellowship at church either.

Jocelyn: That's tough. It's so sad because when someone is trying to adjust to caring for a special needs child that's when they need their friends the most. When they're struggling even, I'm thinking about some situations where I was struggling with some things, I was thinking about in that moment, it would have just been helpful to be able to talk to someone because if I had talked to someone, they would say, oh, you're worrying like those things that you're thinking about, those are not logical. That's not really likely.

Janet: It's not true right now.

Jocelyn: It's not true in this moment, maybe potentially true, but it's not actually happening. Because I was very alone in that moment, I didn't have anyone to talk to, and that made it hard. So what could we do? Like, what are some practical things that church members could do to support parents in that situation?

Rita: Well, the scriptures say that Jesus grew in four ways. These are the areas, I think our church ministries ought to be supporting each other. Luke 2:52 says, "Jesus grew in wisdom". That's intellectually. In stature, that's physical growth.

Jocelyn: Okay.

Rita: In favor with God, which is spiritual growth, and in favor with man, which is socially.

Janet: I have never thought about that before.

Jocelyn: I use Luke 2:52 in the Five Point Journal all the time. That's one of the basis for one of the tools I use in counseling all the time.

Janet: I love that.

Jocelyn: So, okay, let's think about this. How can we support parents intellectually? What can we do to help them in that area?

Rita: Well, parents with special needs children often, not always, but they often look at the future and become more discouraged.

Jocelyn: I can understand that.

Rita: We can serve them by helping them focus on one day at a time as they serve their child with special needs. Living with disabilities doesn't require having the strength for tomorrow, today.

Jocelyn: Very true. Very true.

Rita: The scripture says don't worry about tomorrow. Each day has enough trouble of its own. God tells us not to worry, but to faithfully serve the One who gave us life. Finding peace in the midst of the responsibilities that comes with disability means learning to live moment by moment in God's strength, being faithful today to our responsibilities gives God glory.

Jocelyn: Just think of how much that would give someone strength. If you were just struggling to work through the requirements of a day, to have a friend who knows you well enough to say this is a day where she looks like she's feeling discouraged and to be able to remind of that, very pointed truth. There's not anything we can do about tomorrow's worries, but we can be faithful today.

Rita: Yes, and in my experience, special needs families need that reminder often.

Jocelyn: Okay.

Rita: We can all do that.

Jocelyn: Good to know.

Rita: We can be that encourager. We can minister to these families like Christ did weeping with those who weep. Share with them from the Bible. The Psalms are full of lament and lamenting is okay. God hears our prayers of lament over situations He has given us for our growth and His glory. Psalm 102:2 says, "Do not hide your face from me on the day of my distress! Incline your ear to me; on the day when I call, answer me quickly So we need to pray with them about these crushing issues.

Jocelyn: I agree. There have been some difficult situations that I've been involved in lately, where part of the way that I served my friend was to lament out loud with that person in the moment because when you're in it, sometimes it hurts too much to know what to do. I'm so glad you talk about the appropriateness of lamenting difficulty. It's appropriate for us to do.

Janet: Yeah.

Rita: Very true. In Philemon 1:7, Paul writes, "For I have had great joy and comfort in your love because of the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you".

Jocelyn: That’s a cool verse.

Rita: Even in the parents' distress and busy-ness of life, they can find joy and refreshment as a result of the service of the church members. You can be the instrument of joy to them. Reminding them of God's love, God's faithfulness, and helping them focus on God's Word is a vital part of the church coming around and loving them.

Janet: And I think for some of us, it feels like, well, is that just going to sound trite? Because I haven't been through it and to realize no, these things are true. It really can be a source of refreshment for me to talk to my weary brother or sister in Christ and remind them of something they probably already know, but in the moment, they're not remembering.

Jocelyn: It’s easy to forget.

Janet: Yeah. So I don't have to think, well, I'm sure they already know that. I think that's the temptation. I don't wanna be that person that just says well, but they might just need to be reminded of those encouraging truths and we can do that.

Jocelyn: Yeah, very true.

Rita: Being grounded in God's word is the only relief that will last and is one of the best ways we can support them intellectually. " The precepts of the Lord are right", Psalm 19:8 says, "Rejoicing the heart. The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes". Help them keep their mind on the One who gave each of us life, as well as all we need for this life.

Jocelyn: What great advice. So let's think about how we could physically support parents in this tough situation. What might that look like?

Rita: First of all, don't leave them alone. They need our friendship. The least you can do is call them, send cards of encouragement, pray for them, and more specifically with them.

Jocelyn: I love that advice.

Rita: Even if it has to be over the phone, we need to be praying with them. However, if you do call, be sure to ask if it's a good time to talk because of their terribly busy schedule.

Jocelyn: Good to know. That's a good thing to think through.

Janet: Right.

Rita: And if it is not a good time, ask when it might be better.

Jocelyn: Okay.

Rita: Proverbs 12:25 says, "Anxiety in a person's heart weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad". Church members should be the ones to carry that good word to them. Proverbs 15:23 says, "A person has joy in an apt answer, and how delightful is a timely word".

Jocelyn: It makes me think of the apt answer. I think sometimes we get so frazzled by our friends hurting, we just want to give something to them to make them feel better. You can do this. You're strong enough. You know, some of those answers are actually kind of trite. They're not really very helpful and they're not accurate. It's not going to get better. It actually might get worse, but knowing all the previous stuff that you've said today, like God is sovereign. He's walking with them through this and it's, you know, this so much sickness and bodies not functioning properly. It's a sad result of the curse of sin, but it doesn't mean we're ruined and not able to handle it. God is in this moment, in this pain conforming us to the image of Christ. That is real comfort that though the promise is not that God is going to take this suffering away right now. The promise is that God is refining us through it and walking with us in it. That's a real comfort. That's an apt answer, not just a trite little saying that will just be annoying for them, if they have to keep listening to people saying stuff like that all the time.

Rita: They have to know that God is faithful, even in this. Another physical support might be offering a hug just to someone who is weighed down and sad, along with our words of encouragement. Maybe you could sit with someone who needs a good listener, and reassure them of God's faithfulness from His word. Deuteronomy 7:9 is a good place to begin, "Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps His covenant and His faithfulness to a thousand generations for those who love Him and keep His commandments". I think we need to study and have a list of verses available to us to share with them. One verse at a time. We don't want to overwhelm them with a list or a lecture, but when we're prepared with encouraging verses from God's word, we can be an encouragement to them daily in a different way.

Jocelyn: That’s great advice.

Rita: Although the family will not tell you raising a special needs child can be very expensive and drain the family finances. So grocery or restaurant gift cards might be a good way to encourage them. A gas gift card to get back and forth to all these therapies or cash can even be an encouragement to them from time to time.

Jocelyn: What great ideas.

Rita: You might provide an occasional meal to ease their load of providing for the other family members as well. Offering to do laundry, ironing, cleaning their house, all of those daily tasks that you and I do in our own homes are very appropriate to help with.

Jocelyn: They still have to be done even while all the other appointments are happening. We still have to have clean clothes. We still have to have food in the refrigerator. There's lots of stuff that just has to be done every day

Rita: Or you could even just offer to clean the bathroom that could just be a big help and even a relief for them. Also, the men in the church can be an encouragement to these families. They can help with car maintenance, with yard upkeep, such as mulching and mowing, raking. They could help with playing with the other children in the family. Helping to organize the garage or doing some home repairs, painting interior and exterior. Teaching a skill to the other children or cleaning the outside of the windows. Sometimes it just takes that to be a help and an encouragement. These are just some ways that men can help serve as well.

Jocelyn: And there's thousands of other ideas. I think this is one of the really cool opportunities where we have to image the creativity of God. He was infinitely creative. He made a very creative world and we can mirror that creativity when we dream of ways to serve other families. Especially families who are under a burden of stress.

Rita: That’s so true.

Jocelyn: What would it look like to be spiritually refreshing for families with special needs children?

Rita: Well, we need to be praying, praying, praying for them and with them that they would keep their priorities in order with God at the head of their family. Pray for their stamina, for energy, that's going to be required to get through the day, for wisdom, for patience, for godly attitudes and thoughts, for rest, and for the joy of the Lord. Pray for wise decision making for them, lasting friendships that don't just fall away. Pray for appropriate parenting, and especially for their spiritual journey. Pray with them that God would help them discern sensory or other related special needs issues from discipline issues.

Jocelyn: That's such a good point.

Rita: That is a hard one.

Jocelyn: Oh, we really struggled with that topic as our little ones who had been born so early, did need learn how to be disciplined. Some of their struggles were made more difficult by sensory processing disorder, and it was very difficult to figure out which fit into a lack of discipline and which fit into like their body is just hurting right now, and they need to get some help to organize themselves before we can move forward.

Rita: It's very true, and that's a hard discernment. They need much prayer around all of that. We also need to pray that they'll have a strong marriage. That's more important and beneficial than any treatment program we'll find.

Jocelyn: It’s very true.

Rita: They need God and they need each other. Colossians 1:9 says, "For this reason, we also, since the day we heard about it, have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding".

Jocelyn: One of the tough statistics that I know about is that many marriages suffer when a special needs child is introduced into that family. I think that's a specific way that we could be encouraging our friends spiritually is, if we know that statistic, then we need to seek for ways to encourage a godly marriage, and to do what we can to support them, solving problems and having time together. I'm really glad you brought that up. That's just a huge area of need.

Rita: Another way we can support them is reading scripture. Even if they can read those who are weary, sometimes it's just helpful to hear God's word rather than having to read it themselves. Encourage them by acknowledging a job well done with their child.

Jocelyn: That’s a great idea.

Rita: Using spiritual thoughts and words from the Bible. 1 Corinthians 2:13 says, "We also speak these things. Not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words".

Jocelyn: That’s a cool verse.

Rita: The Psalmist says, "This is my comfort in my misery, that Your word has revived me". It is God's word that revives us and gives us hope.

Jocelyn: What great practical advice. That is really good advice to think about reading scripture to those who are weary and not just only texting it to them or sending it in a card or something, but actually ministering to someone with specific words from God.

Rita: Because of the needs of their special child parents seldom get to attend worship services or at least seldom to attend together.

Jocelyn: Very true.

Rita: So providing a safe place for their special needs child during the worship service would also be such a blessing. You might even learn how to teach that child about God at their level of understanding during that time.

Jocelyn: That's so cool. When we had our first daughter at 27 weeks. She was in the hospital for almost three months. When she finally got to come home, she came home on a heart monitor that scared us and everyone around us because a heart monitor is there to monitor the heart and you don't want the heart to stop beating. If it doesn't beat appropriately, it beeps very loud. It sends off a big alarm. You know we had protocols that we had to do if her heart monitor went off. One of the really difficult things for us was that that meant we were the only people really allowed to care for our child, which meant we couldn't take her to the normal nursery. So one of the gifts that our church did for us was they connected us with a nurse who would care for our child the entire time we were at church so that we could go to church. It was a very big struggle for me on many different levels to learn how to function after the medical situation that we had just gone through. I ended up in a really difficult place. I can't imagine if I also had not been able to go to church at that time. So it was so comforting to know there is a nurse, someone who was trained as a nurse, she's watching our baby. I don't have to worry about our baby while I am going and being fed. I know we're not the only family that has experienced that at our church. There's several different situations where they needed a special childcare provider, not just a nursery worker, but someone who knew how to intervene in that moment and they were trained to do so. It was such a gift to be able to worship.

Rita: Isn't it a blessing to have all of those skills within God's local church?

Jocelyn: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Rita: But you know what? We don't often think about how we can use our skills within the church like that. You know, we think of it as a profession and let it stop there. So our listeners who have those kinds of skills and degrees need to be looking for opportunities to use them within the church.

Jocelyn: What wonderful advice. We all have something that we're good at. We just don't know exactly who needs the gift that God has given us.

Rita: Right.

Janet: Well, we've mentioned earlier about the organizational skills, so somebody might think, well, I'm not a nurse. Yeah. But if you're a good organizer, that's a blessing for someone in this situation. So whatever your gift is, how do I then say, that's not my profession. It's now a way that I serve.

Jocelyn: I was thinking about this earlier. One of the things that was the biggest blessing to me when I was very struggling was someone came over and did laundry for me. God bless you for loving to fold laundry because I was so overwhelmed and that what they did for me was the biggest gift. Lots of people know how to fold laundry. We just chatted about mother stuff while we did it. It was such a gift to me, and all it was, was folding laundry.

Rita: Very good. Well, another way we can serve them is to offer these parents a retreat time. Raising a special child with all of their needs puts a strain on a marriage and many marriages end in divorce like we've mentioned before because of lack of time and energy to build that relationship. They are the team God put in place to raise their special needs child, but they need to keep their relationship to each other vibrant and healthy too. Just to get out of the house for a while together will do wonders to their minds and to re-energize them to get back into the battle.

Jocelyn: That's a wonderful suggestion.

Rita: So we, as local church members can offer to sit with their child to allow the parents have regular time alone together. That's always helpful. Their marriage must still be their first priority under God, and we can help them by being available, by providing babysitting, gift cards, even offering a place for a retreat, perhaps even for a weekend.

Jocelyn: And that, you know, just think about the number of hours that are devoted to caring for a special needs child. Building a marriage takes a lot of time too. So it can start to feel like the special needs child or the medical situation is the biggest priority because it's so urgent, but it's such a good reminder that you're helping us remember the priority relationship is the husband and wife. That has to stay strong for all the other relationships to be appropriate and to be balanced and to be biblical. What are some ways that we could think about serving them socially?

Rita: First, we have to grow in getting to know their family. Perhaps you could do a family vacation or a long weekend, or just an afternoon together. One example could be an overnight going to an amusement park. Perhaps another could be organizing a special party at a bowling alley or a play place, providing a ride, and accompanying to doctor's appointments is another way. Therapy appointments and grocery stores, department stores, just for the fellowship that they can have with other believers.

Jocelyn: That's a cool idea. You're getting fellowship while you're doing something you have to do anyways.

Janet: I think it's important because you might be able to think I could watch their children so they could do all of that, or I could have somebody watch their children and I could go with them. Even if they don't "need me", they can grocery shop on their own, but it could also be an encouraging social time.

Jocelyn: Yeah.

Rita: That's true. If the children do go with them, if you're the driver, you could drop them off at the door and pick them up at the door. Not to have to get through the parking lots and enter the stores alone can be such a help. You might offer to pick up groceries for them so they don't have to go out or pay for a delivery service.

Jocelyn: In the world that we live in now, there's all sorts of great delivery services. What a great idea!

Rita: Because of special needs child requires so much time daily, often the other children feel left out or ignored. We can serve the family by inviting the siblings for a play date or taking them on a special outing. It would be good if we could organize it so this happens with families that have children their age, and do it at least quarterly.

Jocelyn: I'm really glad you brought that point up because I have served in several counseling situations where the child who is healthy, unfortunately suffered, but it happened silently because they didn't have such pressing needs that they had to receive attention. So I'm really glad that you're bringing this to our attention.

Rita: I know we've talked about helping to clean before, but socially we can get our friends together and offer to clean their house as a ministry, perhaps even monthly, and have that social contact with more than one.

Jocelyn: I the love the ideas that you're bringing of just doing life together because I think sometimes we have this idea that everything has to be perfectly planned and has to be an event. Some of the most relational building times that I've had with other people have been when we're just doing something at home together. Janet has talked about that a lot too. Just like having college kids over and folding laundry.

Janet: Right.

Jocelyn: While you're talking to them like that's just life. It has to get done. You're building relationship building time into the stuff that has to get done anyways.

Rita: That’s true.

Jocelyn: So you've had a lot of really great ideas for ministering to parents. How can we think about ministering to the actual child themselves? Is it appropriate to serve that special needs child? What could that look like?

Rita: Well, special needs children have varying degrees of disability. So it will be different for each family. Those who have more severe disabilities still need us to be friends and talk to them directly, not shy away from them. Many people will see them and walk right by them, speaking only to their parents. We need to bend or squat down at their eye level and to speak to them. Even if they can't respond, they may or may not be able to communicate with us, but that should not stop us from communicating to, and with them.

Jocelyn: That's a lovely thought. I'm so glad you brought that up.

Janet: And it is so important because if they can't communicate, it's very tempting to just talk to the parents.

Jocelyn: Right, and just cut them out.

Janet: Right.

Jocelyn: That they even exist.

Janet: Right.

Rita: That’s right.

Jocelyn: They're a valuable person. I think that's a whole theology of special needs children that we haven't really talked about today is even someone who is scarred by a disease or is incapacitated by a physical disability, they're still made in the image of God. Our love for them mirrors that not their ability to function within our relationship with them. So we're honoring the image of God that was born in them, and the fact that God allowed their life to be something that we can celebrate and really enjoy being involved in.

Rita: That's true. You could also go on an outing with the child and their parent to have extended fellowship and learn about the needs of that child. Especially if you have a child about the same age. Teach them to go along and serve as well. All children need to learn to regard one another as more important than themselves and not to merely look out for their own interests, but also the interests of others. So it's a family opportunity to serve.

Jocelyn: That is a great reminder.

Rita: Then there are those children or teens that have more mild disabilities. They may be able to go out with you and your children with or without their parents. Bike riding, going to a park, going for ice cream are all fun activities, especially if it includes children their ages as well. Learning about the interests of the special needs child, and then incorporating an activity to include their special interests would be great. I knew a child that loved horses and another one that loved bears. Going to a zoo or a horse barn because of their interest would be so exciting for them. Another child loved her trampoline. So planning a play date at the nearest jumping place, such as get air trampoline or elite air would serve that child well. Again, just be around the family with the special needs child or children, and learn about the interests of the special needs children. Then plan a play date around them and what will make them happy, including your children, of course. Another area that breaks my heart is special needs children are very seldom if at all, invited to birthday parties.

Jocelyn: I never thought about that.

Janet: No, I hadn’t either.

Rita: That was one thing my children always looked forward to.

Jocelyn: Wow.

Rita: So I'm just asking that we would consider inviting them to your child's birthday party. Even if they can't participate in the activities, they just love being with the other children close to their own ages. Make opportunities during that time for the other children to communicate with them throughout that party time.

Jocelyn: Great idea.

Rita: As we serve these families and get to know them, we will be better able to discern their individual and personal needs. Not all of the things you will try will be successful.

Jocelyn: That's good to know ahead of time.

Janet: I know don't let that stop you.

Jocelyn: You're going to make mistakes.

Rita: The big issue is not to give up trying just because it didn't work this time. Continue being alert to their needs and spending enough time with the family to know about the children's interests. This will help you learn to serve them more successfully over time. Being around them causes us to be more willing and even creative and how to meet those needs as we ask the Lord for wisdom and guidance. Ephesians 1:3 says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ". God has blessed us with the tools to be His servants in the lives of all those He places in our path. He has given us everything we need for this life as well as for being godly. So we are all equipped to serve the Lord by serving those in our midst. What a blessing you and your family could be to those with special needs children. Will you answer the call in your church family?

Jocelyn: Rita, I am just so thankful to have had you here today to help us think about this. You have a lifetime experience serving children who were struggling in school and serving those with diagnosis that were difficult. There's just so many things I would have never thought about. They're not experiences that I have ever come across. So I'm very grateful for you widening our perspective and thinking of practical ways to be serving those that God has placed in our church. I would hate for a situation where someone who already has this stress of a medical situation that's challenging or a lifelong special needs circumstance in their family to feel like they've been forgotten. What a terrible place that would be for the families in our church who are already burdened and already stressed to feel forgotten by the friends that used to be such an active part of their life.

Rita: That's true.

Janet: Yeah. As we think about bringing this to a close, I think about I've got some special friends, that one in particular, that's walking this journey now with a precious child and watching her choose to trust the Lord in this situation. It is beautiful and it does shine for the Gospel in that. I think one of the things we can be thinking about are we going to be able to really minister as well as we could, if we're not thinking biblically about this area. Do I look at them and think, oh, now I can think this is hard and I can lament with them, but do I think, oh, your poor other children, you're never going to have a normal life, you'll probably never get to go to Disney all as a family, whatever. And maybe you will, who knows, but to realize

Jocelyn: Or to think what a shame. What a shame that God decided to do this.

Janet: Do I realize the God who allowed that loves all of them, and apparently this is what's best for their other siblings. This is what's best for the grandparents. This is what's best for all of the extended family who may have to change how they vacation. This is good for each of them. It is God's plan that this precious child be used to refine all of those people to care about more what He cares about. One of the things that we've talked about her doing cause I think we can lose sight of that, especially when you think, man, I hate it for my other children.

Jocelyn: Right.

Janet: But God doesn't hate it for your other children. Just an exercise that might be helpful is make a list of the Fruit of the Spirit, and then think as a result of having this precious child in our home, how is God in my life and my spouse's life, in my children's life, in the grandparent's life, how is God developing these things that matter to Him?

Jocelyn: Yeah.

Janet: Because of this, not in spite of it, and I think if we're thinking that way, then we can give that kind of hope.

Jocelyn: Absolutely. The words that come out of our mouth are going to give away what's in our heart, what we really believe about situations that are challenging like this. God says He redeems suffering and we can't be so afraid of not knowing what to say in difficult situations that we choose not to be involved. So I think our theology is going to become apparent as we love people around us, whose children are suffering, and God is going to give us opportunities to grow as we think about how to love and support the families in our church that have special needs children.

Janet: Absolutely. Well, thank you, Rita. Thank you so much for coming to share with us today. Who knows, we may be doing another podcast at some point on just the biblical philosophy of special needs. 'Cause I've heard you speak on that, and I know it has really blessed my heart.

Jocelyn: There's a lot of theology behind all of what we're talking about that we barely even scratched the surface on.

Janet: right.

Rita: It's true. Thank you for the opportunity.

Janet: Absolutely. So thank you for coming. Thank you for those of you who were able to listen today. I pray that you will join us again for our next episode as we enjoy the journey, serving God together.

To keep from missing any future episodes, please sign up for our newsletter on our webpage joyfuljourneypod.com. From there you can also subscribe to this podcast on Apple, Google, or Spotify. You can also visit us on our Facebook page or Instagram at Joyful Journey Podcast. If you have questions or comments for us, you can email us at joyfuljourneyquestions@outlook.com. Joyful Journey Podcast is a ministry of Faith Bible Seminary. All proceeds go to offset costs of this podcast and toward scholarships for women to receive their MABC through Faith Bible Seminary.

Host Janet and her husband, Brent, also speak at a variety of conferences as a way to raise money for the seminary. If you want to look at what they offer or book them for a conference, go to their website.



Janet Aucoin

Bio

Janet is the Director of Women's Ministries at Faith Church (Lafayette, IN); Host of the Joyful Journey Podcast (helping women learn that when you choose truth you choose joy); ACBC certified; teacher in Faith Community Institute; Coordinator of FBS seminary wives fellowship, retreat and conference speaker; B.S. Human Resources, University of South Florida.