The Impact of the "Three A's" (ADHD, Anxiety and Autism) on Spiritual Development in Kids
The Impact of the Three A’s (ADHD, Anxiety and Asperger’s Disorder) upon Spiritual Development in Kids Stephen Grcevich, MD President, Key Ministry Foundation Assistant Professor of Psychiatry Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine Senior Clinical Instructor, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine Presented at 2011 Children’s Ministry Telesummit April, 2011Key Ministry, 8401 Chagrin Road, Suite 14B, Chagrin Falls, OH 44023Stephen Grcevich, MD, President (440) 543-3400,firstname.lastname@example.orgWeb: www.keyministry.org
What barriers keep kids withhidden disabilitiesfromcoming to Christ or growing in faith?
Learning objectives: Outline challenges to church participation and spiritual growth in persons with ADHD, anxiety disorders andAsperger’s disorder Discuss interventions with children, teens and adults with common hidden disabilities in church settings to facilitate spiritual growth Identify gifts and talents often associated with ADHD, anxiety disorders andAsperger’sDisorder that may be channeled for Kingdom purposes
What is ADHD?: ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by an age-inappropriate degree of inattentiveness and disorganization, and in some, but not all instances, impulsivity and hyperactivity
Executive functioning as thefundamentaldifferencein persons withADHD? Executive functions describe a set of cognitive abilities involved in controlling and regulating other abilities and behaviors. Necessary in initiating goal-directed behavior, regulating emotions, delaying gratification, planning future behavior. Children with weaknesses in executive functioning have more difficulty foreseeing outcomes of behavior, adapting to new situations.Hathaway WL, Barkley RA. J Psychol Christianity 2003, 22(2) 101-114
How might ADHD affect one’s spiritual life?Children/teens: Adults: Inhibition: sitting through a Can I use the computer without worship service viewing pornography? Nonverbal working memory: Forgetting to register my kids for remembering my Bible when it’s the weekend retreat time to leave for church The ability to memorize and Verbal working memory: the meditate quietly upon Scripture ability to pray silently I scream and yell at my spouse Emotional self-regulation: and my kids, overreact when immediately react negatively to imposing discipline demands from authority Difficulty applying Biblical truths, Planning, problem-solving: I’m wisdom in daily life not going to youth group on Sunday night because my homework’s not done.
Problems with internalization offaith arising from ADHD: Persons with ADHD will have more difficulty maintaining a spiritually disciplined life, even when they desire to do so to honor God Likely to have more difficulty meditating quietly upon God More prone to give up on studying the Bible when it becomes tedious More difficulty delaying immediate gratification for very long-term spiritual outcomes Hathaway WL, Barkley RA. J Psychol Christianity 2003, 22(2) 101-114
Problems with stability of spiritual growth arising from ADHD: Less effective self-regulation results in greater vulnerability to negative environmental influences More likely to have intense spiritual experiences at VBS, camp, mission trips that fade when spiritual context is gone More prone to “roller-coaster” spirituality Miss out on volunteer, service opportunities if perceived as undisciplined, disorganized Drawn to religious contexts that are more participatory, action-oriented, relational Hathaway WL, Barkley RA. J Psychol Christianity 2003, 22(2) 101-114
Challenges presented to the church by persons with ADHD: Style of worshipneeds tobe engaging, but not overstimulating Kids (and some adults) find worship experiences unpleasant Children’s pastors, ministry leaders lack training, experience in working with kids with ADHD Church environments less structured than school Parents choose not to use, or physicians encourage discontinuation of effective medication on weekends Many activities occur when medication has worn off or rebound is occurringKey Ministry
Ministry strategies for persons with ADHD:EnvironmentsChildren/teens: Adults: Registration/sign-in needs to Is signage, direction clear? be orderly Use of music, technology Staffing for transition times Physical environment before/after services shouldn’t become a Use of color, lighting distraction Engaging, not overwhelming Flexibility in dress code Communication strategies… Simplicity in communication reinforce key point(s) Use of touch, nonverbal cues Family worship experiences geared to kids?
Ministry strategies for persons with ADHD:DiscipleshipChildren/teens: Adults: Church and parents as Connecting them with others partners in teaching kids in the church especially about God important They’ll learn and retain more Break Scripture into smaller, in 1:1, small group situations manageable parts Ministry resources need to be Small groups offer multiple sent directly to parents accountability partners Where can they be involved Where can they be involved in meaningful service? in meaningful service? You have to remind them if you want them to come
What can I do to help someone I lovewith ADHD come to faith, grow in faith?My child: My spouse, sibling, friend: Spend time with your child Invite them to church (or one on one or as a family remind them to come) praying together, studying the Go with them to a church Bible together where they’re more likely to Make Jesus, Scripture have a positive experience interesting by sharing from Pray, study the Bible, serve your experiences with them Seek opportunities for your Connect them to others in the child to serve in ways that fit church who will accept them, their talents, gifts follow up with them Attend church regularly
What advantages might ADHD providea follower of Christ? Willingness to take chances for God May be very energized by topics or ministry activities that capture the imagination May be very effective in ministry teams when others have complimentary organizational skills Ability to engage others may help in sharing the Gospel Good at scanning environment for trends Is ADHD over-represented among senior pastors?
How are kids with anxiety disordersdifferent from their peers? They misperceive the level of threat, danger in their environment They think too much…eventually to the point that academic performance, family functioning, friendships, extracurricular activities are compromised…rumination, perseveration, indecisiveness, perfectionism
Specific Anxiety Disorders in Children, Adolescents: Note: Kids may experience different manifestations of anxiety as they progress through developmental stages Separation Anxiety Disorder Specific Phobia Generalized Anxiety Disorder Social Anxiety Disorder Panic Disorder Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Selective MutismJ Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry, 2007;46(2):267-283
Impact of Mental Health Conditions onSpiritual Development:Anxiety Disorders: Child TeenagerWeekend In adult worship with parent Reluctant to attend without friendsWorship: Difficulties with separation Uncomfortable with attention of group Visiting church challenging Transitions from children’s, middle school ministry difficultChurch Reluctant to read Scripture out Disclosure in small groupschallengingActivities: loud, participate actively, avoid New, unfamiliar places, experiences may plays, performances be threatening…retreats, mission tripsSpiritual Prone to misperceive who God More prone to ritualismDisciplines is… Common obsessions- doubting salvation, Prayer, process of confession sinning against one’s will in some traditions challenging Group disciplines more challengingGrowing in Parents can model faith, Parents can sensitively expose teens tofaith at practicing disciplines as a new service opportunities, encouragehome: positive coping strategy spiritual relationships outside home
Tips for church staff and volunteers:Kids with anxiety Look for kids from established families in adult worship with parents Greeters can watch for problems when “drop-offs” occur Have a quiet place to meet with kids/parents in distress Monitor sensory stimulation level of kids’ ministry environments Leaders can watch for kids who are alone Offer to meet with parents when a child’s anxiety appears to interfere with ministry participation Explain that anxiety will decrease with experience, time (exposure) Possible areas of giftedness: Administration, organization, sensitivity to othersKey Ministry
How are kids with Asperger’s Disorderdifferent? Kids with Asperger’s Disorder have difficulties with reciprocal social interactions and restricted patterns of interests or activities Normal language development (in contrast to other kids with autism) Typically, average to high intelligenceKey Ministry
Impact of Mental Health Conditions onSpiritual Development:Asperger’s Disorder: Child TeenagerWeekend Sensory integration may be More difficulty navigating social aspectsWorship: problematic…bright lights, of worship, less likely to have friends, loud music can cause distress social networks to be invited to churchChurch Difficulties with transitions, Difficulty picking up on social cuesActivities: understanding expectations in difficult in small groups, very sensitive to church environments, may be teasing, rejection by peers, negative easily irritated by peers perceptions of church difficult to changeSpiritual May be less sensitive to Reluctant to experiment with newDisciplines needs of others, prone to very spiritual practices, disciplines, prone to mechanical spirituality legalism, avoidant of group disciplinesGrowing in Parents may struggle to Less likely to engage in family servicefaith at home: engage child in faith issues if experiences involving social interaction, not an area of interest church attendance following negative experiences may cause conflict at home
Tips for church staff and volunteers:Kids with Asperger’s Disorder Be aware of impact of sensory stimulation in ministry environments Partial inclusion an option May do better socially by serving alongside adults Opportunities to rehearse new situations, environments Disability awareness important in student ministry Areas of potential giftedness: Often dedicated students of the Bible, may become immersed in areas of ministry that stimulate interestKey Ministry
Conclusions: Kids with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder and other hidden disabilities can be welcomed into church activities without having to establish stand-alone programs or “buddy systems” The way we do church may inadvertently produce impediments tospiritual growth in kids with hidden disabilities Families of kids with conditions including ADHD, anxiety and autism spectrum disorders may represent the ultimate “low-hanging fruit” from an evangelism and outreach perspective
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