Church, Kids, and Sensory Issues (SPD): Not a great mix, but a blessing

Pumpkin bars with icing, soft caramel brownies, juice, water, and coffee.  The perfect post-Sunday worship snack.

The kids had managed decently well through the first half of worship at a church we were visiting.  One loved the band playing classic Orleans jazz, while the other covered his ears because it was too loud.  They both thought directing the pastor as he closed his eyes and walked down the aisle and back was amazing.  And they jumped at playing in the nursery instead of listening to the sermon.  Rather typical behavior of 3 and 5 year olds.

However, the time in the nursery with some other active boys and then (yes, my fault) too many post-worship treats, along with a new place and lots of new people led to an overstimulated 5 year old boy.  Other times we have had the opposite, where a calm and familiar atmosphere for Sunday school leaves acceptable participation in worship impossible, as he ends up under-stimulated.

Where as my husband got frustrated as I chatted and the kids ran around like crazy, I went into explanation mode.

“We are dealing with some sensory issues right now.”

Our reasons for visiting this particular church were somewhat “professional” for me, so in a way, I was “working”.  Talking to folks was both fun and work, and I could have stayed another hour.  But with one kid going a bit crazy, well, we had to go.  But I couldn’t fully ignore his behavior – even if I was leaving it to their Dad to corral them.  So, I had to point out the unseen medical issue.

“It’s really not him and we really aren’t bad parents…we just have this thing to deal with.”

Most of the time, they have never heard of it: Sensory Processing Disorder

And most of us have never heard of it.  We hadn’t until last fall.  But the number of kids (and adults) with SPD has to be huge.  Many are misdiagnosed with ADD/ADHD.  Others are relegated to the “bad kid” category.

Yet here we were, at a “new” church and an overstimulated child, far past any calm means of reeling him in.  Once again we were in a situation which I should have predicted and taken control of differently, but instead my motherly and ministerial roles collided.

Fortunately, I stick around and get through it because this is my life…I’m a wife and mom in ministry.  Not sure why my husband does.

Yet, if I didn’t have such a life, I can tell you we probably wouldn’t darken many church doors.  Leaving the house can be a major energy drain at times, and some days just getting by without major mishaps is a major victory.

So I am forever thankful for the people at churches who help us get through it:  the other mom who has a son with sensory issues too; the “grandpas” and “grandmas” who step in to help distract or share some words of uplifting encouragement; the usher who doesn’t mind us going in and out the sanctuary door; woman who weekly setup a kids sized table with surprises not far from the donuts; the Sunday school teacher who is willing to tweak the class; and the ability to make the church a safe and fun place.

We are blessed by their support when we ask for changes, allow the kids to run a bit wild, and as parents, are provided with encouragement rather than shame inducing glances and comments.  Yet, I know not every church is like that…

As ministry “professionals” and volunteers:  We need to educate ourselves about the mental and physical realities of the people in our midst.  We need to inquire with parents/guardians about the kids, and make necessary changes or arrangements.

As parents/guardians/grandparents/etc.:  We need to advocate not only for our children, but ourselves.  Being part of a church community isn’t just about teaching our kids about Christ, but also about us as individuals and parents being supported.  Speak up!  Don’t have the energy or time?  Give your staff/volunteers information for them to study, and just let them know you need help.  And in the mean time, do what you need to make whatever level of participation you are seeking a life-giving experience.

Yes, I wish I didn’t have to explain why my son just can’t sit still or is stressed by seemingly normal occurrences, but we all have to learn together.  Sometimes we are the student, other times the teacher, but most of the time, we’re both.

Gracious God, You created us all – as a community – in Your image.  Help us see the reflections of You in all of us.  Keep our eyes and hearts open to opportunities to learn and teach – with an emphasis on the learning part.  Amen.


If you are in the Twin Cities area, Under the Trees is a welcoming and supportive place!  

About SFriant

I live to walk with others on their journeys - because everyone needs to know that they are loved, that they matter, and that they are doing amazing things. I'm a lot like our two kids: obsessed with learning, and constantly creating.
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3 Responses to Church, Kids, and Sensory Issues (SPD): Not a great mix, but a blessing

  1. Pingback: Use Your Words: A Book Review | Sisters Under the Trees

  2. snoners says:

    I know this comment is quite some time after you originally posted, but let me say it is very refreshing to stumble across this post. I work as a nursery coordinator and also have a son who has SPD. I continue to struggle in making it work for him, I am afraid my failure is beginning to show. The up side is he isn’t like this every time we are there, but it does occur often.

    I am in the beginning steps of trying to enlighten others at the church, be it staff, volunteers and potentially, the congregation. However, I feel inadequate. Even though I know I am not.

    If you read this and are able to offer any other words of encouragement, a person to speak with who runs the children’s room at Church, or some other valuable resource, I would appreciate it from the bottom of my motherly heart.

    Take care and God Bless ❤

    • SFriant says:

      Amy Fenton Lee’s Leading Special Needs Ministry is a good resource. I have not gotten through it all, but it is very comprehensive. My first suggestion would be talking with the parents of the special needs kids and seeing what they need. Even putting together a church version of an IEP – how the church can accommodate each child, would be a wonderful first step. Just making a few accommodations for a specific kid helps!

      Not everyone in your church will believe or understand these issues. But the parents will know what their kids need – and what they need. For kids who are not diagnosed (or parents are not fully meeting their needs), experiment with the kids and see what they need.

      Expecting any kid to sit through an hour of worship doesn’t work….our daughter dances during the songs and our son works on suduko or math workbooks (for fun!). Sunday school is interactive, but not overwhelming.

      Oh, could also join various FB support groups on SPD, ADHD, etc. and ask parents there. I have seen many discussions of how going to church doesn’t work because they are not accommodated. I work with young adults who don’t go to church because their ADHD and sensory issues are an issue as they are supposed to be an “adult” in these situations without issues.

      Prayers and thank you for your ministry!!!!

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