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Helping Kids With the “3A’s” - ADHD, Anxiety and Asperger’s Disorder to Thrive at Church


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This presentation offers a more in-depth look at the challenges families of kids with ADHD, Anxiety Disorders and Asperger's Disorder encounter in attending church and promoting the spiritual growth of their children.

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Helping Kids With the “3A’s” - ADHD, Anxiety and Asperger’s Disorder to Thrive at Church

  1. 1. Stephen Grcevich, MD Director of Strategic Initiatives, Key Ministry Presented at An Inclusive Children’s Ministry Conference Christ Church Louisville, Kentucky November 7, 2015 Helping Kids With the “3A’s” - ADHD, Anxiety and Asperger’s Disorder to Thrive at Church
  2. 2. Learning Objectives:  Identify obstacles to spiritual growth for kids with common mental health disorders…ADHD, anxiety disorders and Asperger’s Disorder  Explore ideas for promoting inclusion of kids and teens with mental illness and their families at church  Discuss strategies for parents/caregivers to promote spiritual growth at home when kids struggle with mental illness
  3. 3. The barriers to church participation are different for kids with mental illnesses and their families!
  4. 4. Do our strategies for helping kids grow spiritually work if they have mental illness? An individual with a disability is defined as a person who has a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. Americans With Disabilities Act (1990) If a mental or physical impairment substantially limits a person’s ability to pursue spiritual growth and participate in a local church, is that person “disabled?”
  5. 5. Barriers to including kids with mental illness at church… Church… Where does she fit in?  Social isolation  Fear/anxiety  Social communication  Capacity for self-regulation  Sensory processing  Reluctance to self-identify  Stigma  Parents with mental illness
  6. 6. 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
  7. 7. Executive functioning as the fundamental difference in persons with ADHD  Executive functions…cognitive abilities involved in controlling and regulating other abilities and behaviors.  Necessary to initiate goal-directed behavior, regulate emotions, delay gratification, plan future behavior.  Kids with executive functioning weakness struggle to foresee outcomes of behavior, adapt to new situations. Hathaway WL, Barkley RA. J Psychol Christianity 2003, 22(2) 101-114
  8. 8. Key executive functions in ADHD  Behavioral inhibition  Verbal working memory  Non-verbal working memory  Emotional self-regulation  Reconstitution Poor executive functioning leads to behavior we call “sin”
  9. 9. How might ADHD affect one’s spiritual life?  Inhibition: sitting still through a worship service  Nonverbal working memory: remembering my Bible when it’s time to leave for church  Verbal working memory: the ability to pray silently  Emotional self-regulation: often demonstrate immediate negative reaction to authority  Struggles with time management, prioritizing: I can’t go to youth group on Sunday night because my homework’s not done.  Avoiding pornography on the computer  Forget to register their kids for VBS or the weekend retreat  Struggle to memorize and meditate upon Scripture, remember devotionals with their kids  Scream, yell at spouse and kids, overreact when imposing discipline  Difficulty applying Biblical truths, wisdom in daily life Children/teens: Adults:
  10. 10. How does ADHD present challenges to internalizing faith:  May have more difficulty maintaining a spiritually disciplined life  May have more difficulty meditating quietly upon God  May give up on Bible study when it becomes tedious  More difficulty delaying immediate gratification for long-term spiritual outcomes Hathaway WL, Barkley RA. J Psychol Christianity 2003, 22(2) 101-114
  11. 11. Unique challenges presented to the church by kids with ADHD:  Church environments less structured than school  Church staff lack training, experience with kids with ADHD (unlike the schools that they attend all week)  Parents choose not to use, or physicians encourage discontinuation of effective medication on weekends  Many church activities occur when medication has worn off or rebound is occurring  Dichotomous thinking…Can they or can’t they control it?
  12. 12. Child/Teen Possible Solutions Large group activities (worship, education) Small groups Church activities Parental challenges in promoting spiritual growth ADHD: Challenges, solutions in our most common ministry environments
  13. 13. Strategies for promoting church involvement, spiritual formation for kids with ADHD:  Ministry environments designed to be engaging, not overwhelming  Group leaders, mentors offer accountability, encourage use of gifts, passions for Kingdom purposes  Active learners may do better talking while doing  Share your stories!  Resource parents for 1:1 conversations
  14. 14. What advantages might ADHD provide a follower of Christ?  Willingness to take chances for God  Often energized by ministry activities that capture their imagination  Effective in ministry teams when others have complimentary organizational skills  Good at scanning environment for trends  Over-represented among senior pastors? (clearly over-represented among student pastors!)
  15. 15. How are kids with anxiety disorders different from their peers?  They misperceive the level of threat, danger in their environment  They think too much…often to the point that academics, family functioning, friendships, extracurricular activities are compromised  Prone to rumination, perseveration, indecisiveness, perfectionism
  16. 16. How anxiety manifests in children, teens 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  Selective Mutism  Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)is closely related to the anxiety disorders, but was placed in its’ own category in DSM-5 J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry, 2007;46(2):267-283
  17. 17. Spiritual challenges for kids and adults with anxiety  Propensity to misperceive God’s character, intentions  They frequently need to be “in control.”  Predisposed to focus on their performance for, as opposed to their relationship with God  As rule followers, may be drawn to legalism  Often susceptible to questioning their faith, salvation  Spiritual concerns not infrequently become fodder for obsessive thinking, compulsive behavior But… for some, God may use anxiety to draw them into a deeper relationship with Him
  18. 18. When is anxiety most likely to cause problems with church participation?  When parents are dropping off kids at age-appropriate programming  If they find themselves the focus of attention  Activities not part of the weekly routine (mission trips, retreats)  Transitions between age- group ministry environments (elementary-middle school, middle school-high school ministry)  Small groups with expectation for self- disclosure
  19. 19. Child/Teen Possible Solutions Large group activities (worship, education) Small groups Church activities Parental challenges in promoting spiritual growth Anxiety Disorders: Challenges, solutions in our most common ministry environments
  20. 20. Strategies for promoting church involvement, spiritual formation for kids with anxiety…  Preparing kids for new experiences (includes pictures, video)  Anticipate response to anxiety-provoking situations  Familiar people help transitions to new experiences, activities  Anxiety as a signal to draw closer to God?  Parents with partners in reinforcing lessons learned at church
  21. 21. How are kids and teens with Asperger’s Disorder different?  Difficulties with reciprocal social interactions and restricted patterns of interests or activities  Verbal language development is typical (in contrast to other kids with autism)  Sensory processing issues  Average to high intelligence  High rates of ADHD, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)  Many are desperately lonely and desire friends, but they also frequently prefer their own company
  22. 22. Issues seen in kids with Asperger’s Disorder:  Intense preoccupation with topics, objects, activities  May struggle with motor skills, coordination  Difficulty with pragmatic language, differences in intonation, pace, volume, pitch (monotonal)…difficulty with implied meaning, figurative speech, will struggle to find right words in unfamiliar situations  Difficulties identifying with experiences of others (empathy)
  23. 23. Spiritual challenges common to persons with Asperger’s…  May focus on mechanics instead of meaning when asked to “invite Jesus into your heart.”  May experience more difficulty grasping empathy… “putting themselves into someone else’s shoes”  Vulnerable to faith becoming excessively ritualized, manual  May be resistant to trying new spiritual disciplines, experiences  May have more difficulty moving on from hurts  Hypocrisy from Christians too often hardens hearts against Christianity
  24. 24. Child/Teen Possible Solutions Large group activities (worship, education) Small groups Church activities Parental challenges in promoting spiritual growth Asperger’s Disorder: Challenges, solutions in our most common ministry environments
  25. 25. Strategies for promoting church involvement, spiritual growth for kids with Asperger’s  Provide opportunities to rehearse social skills for new situations, environments  Evaluate sensory stimulation in ministry environments  Bullying education, disability awareness especially important for peers in student ministry  May do better serving alongside adults  Placement  Tap into areas of potential giftedness
  26. 26. Defining the “win”  Whenever a child with a disability or any family member experiences meaningful interaction with a local church
  27. 27. Takeaway points…  Kids with ADHD benefit from environments designed to optimize capacity for self-control and relevant, engaging teaching on the most essential truths of our faith  Kids with anxiety can have excellent church experiences with appropriate preparation, gradual exposure to threatening situations and sensitivity to their need to not become a focus of attention.  Kids with Asperger’s Disorder need sensory-friendly environments, authentic relationships with accepting peers and adults and individualized support of spiritual growth.  Kids with mental illness and their families represent one of your church’s greatest outreach opportunities.  No church can do everything, but every church can do something!
  28. 28. Additional Resources:  Resource page on ADHD and spiritual development (includes video from Dr. Russ Barkley) and-spiritual-development/  Resource page on anxiety and spiritual development and-spiritual-development/  Resource page on Asperger’s Disorder and spiritual development (includes video of 2012 Children’s Ministry Web Summit presentation) and-spiritual-development/
  29. 29. Questions?
  30. 30. Key Ministry promotes meaningful connection between churches and families of kids with disabilities for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. Free training, consultation, support and resources What Does Key Ministry Do?
  31. 31. Stay in Touch! Key Ministry Website: Church4EveryChild…Key Ministry Blog: www!/drgrcevich!/KeyMinistry
  32. 32. Additional Slides
  33. 33. Ministry strategies for persons with ADHD: Environments  Registration/sign-in needs to be orderly  Staffing for transition times before/after services  Use of color, lighting  Engaging, not overwhelming  Communication strategies… reinforce key point(s)  Use of touch, nonverbal cues  Family worship experiences geared to kids?  Is signage, direction clear?  Use of music, technology  Physical environment shouldn’t become a distraction  Flexibility in dress code  Simplicity in communication Children/teens: Adults:
  34. 34. Ministry strategies for persons with ADHD: Discipleship  Church and parents as partners in teaching kids about God  They’ll learn and retain more in 1:1, small group situations  Ministry resources need to be sent directly to parents  Where can they be involved in meaningful service?  Connecting them with others in the church especially important  Break Scripture into smaller, manageable parts  Small groups offer multiple accountability partners  Where can they be involved in meaningful service?  You have to remind them if you want them to come Children/teens: Adults:
  35. 35. What can I do to help someone I love with ADHD come to faith, grow in faith?  Spend time with your child one on one or as a family praying together, studying the Bible together  Make Jesus, Scripture interesting by sharing from your experiences  Seek opportunities for your child to serve in ways that fit their talents, gifts  Attend church regularly  Invite them to church (or remind them to come)  Go with them to a church where they’re more likely to have a positive experience  Pray, study the Bible, serve with them  Connect them to others in the church who will accept them, follow up with them My child: My spouse, sibling, friend: