healing begins with understanding…

Youth With Disabilities

Being Good News to LGBTQ Students


Adolescence is a time of significant physical and psychosocial development.  As youth develop, they are typically informed by and supported by their peers.  Experimentation, exploration, and risk characterize adolescence, and many engage in high-risk behaviors during this time.  Beyond the impulsive, risk-taking nature of adolescents their budding identity is being shaped as well.  This is often a difficult and exciting time of exploration but can be even more difficult for a self-identified LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Questioning) adolescent.  While all teens are at risk to some degree, LGBTQ students are at a higher risk by the very nature of their orientation. 

The following are just some of the reasons that LGBTQ youth are at a higher risk than the average student:

Alcohol and Drug Use in LGBTQ Youth

LGBTQ youth use alcohol and drugs for many of the same reasons as their heterosexual peers: to experiment and assert their independence, to relieve tension, to increase feelings of self-esteem and adequacy, and to self-medicate for underlying depression or other mood disorders.  However, LGBTQ youth may be more vulnerable as a result of the need to hide their sexual identity and the ensuing social isolation.  As a result, they may use alcohol or drugs to deal with stigma and shame, to deny same-sex attraction/feelings, or to help them cope with ridicule and antigay violence.

Stigma, Identity, and Risk

LGBTQ students have the same developmental tasks as their heterosexual peers, but they also face additional challenges in learning how to manage a stigmatized identity.  This extra burden puts LGBTQ youth at increased risk for substance abuse and unprotected sex and can intensify psychological distress and risk for suicide.  This is even more true when there are compounding intersections such as; being a minority, having a disability, etc.

Abuse and Homelessness

LGBTQ youth are at a high risk for antigay violence such as bullying (which is really peer assault and harassment), verbal, emotional, and social abuse.  Antigay attacks heighten an adolesent’s feelings of vulnerability, intensifies their inner conflict, and typically drives them further into isolation, reinforcing their sexual identity.

Homelessness is a particular concern for LGBTQ youth, because many teens may run away as a result of harassment and abuse from family members or peers who disapprove of the sexual orientation.  Still others may be thrown out of the home when their parents learn they are gay.  Like their heterosexual peers, LGBTQ homeless and runaway youth have many health and social problems, including mental health problems, high risk for suicide, and STDs (including being at high risk for HIV/AIDS).

*excerpts taken from SAMHSA: A Providers Instruction to Substance Abuse Treatment for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Individuals

So my question is this…How can the church (and our youth ministries) be Good News to these precious kids that are at such a high risk?

 


The Three R’s of Bullying Interventions


The issue of bullying just doesn’t seem to be going away so today let’s talk about strategies to fix what bullying does.  The following would be a great resource to put in the hands of parents of your students.  It is also good kindling for discussion on reconciliation.

Restitution, Resolution, and Reconciliation 

If student was a follower/supporter of the bully: 

  1. Intervene immediately
  2. Provide a system of graceful accountability while allow natural consequences to occur
  3. Create opportunities to “do good”
  4. Nurture empathy
  5. Teach friendship skills – assertive, respectful, and peaceful ways to relate to others
  6. Monitor/Criticize/Converse about TV shows, movies, music, and video games that reinforce violence against others
  7. Engage in more constructive, entertaining, and energizing activities 

If your student hurt others through gossip: 

  1. apologize to the child who was harmed by the rumor
  2. go to everyone she told it to and tell them it wasn’t true
  3. ask them to stop spreading it
  4. ask them to let everyone they told that she was a part of spreading the rumor and that she wants to correct it
  5. to the best of her ability, repair any damage done to the target by the act of spreading the rumor
  6. take the next step of building a new and healthier relationship 

Three principles that foster moral independence: 

  1. Teach your student that he and only he is responsible for the consequences of his actions (kids who accept responsibility for their own actions are more likely to live up to their own moral code) 
  2. Build your student’s confidence in his or her ability to make good decisions (Kids who have confidence in their own judgments are not easily manipulated by others) 
  3. Teach your student how to evaluate reasons on his or her own (Kids who have confidence in their own ability to reason are more questioning and more resistant to passive acceptance of orders.)

reference: Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystanders by Barbara Coloroso


Creating Caring Communities that Challenge Bullying


The following is a brief outline for creating an environment that leaves little room for bullying.  Whether your group is in a classroom, youth group room, large group meeting room, or small group this following principles will be helpful for the leader to cultivate a safe environment.  This can also be used in training volunteers as there is a Powerpoint Presentation that goes with it at the bottom of this post.

Four Key Principles 

  1. warmth, positive interest, and involvement from adults
  2. firm limits as to unacceptable behavior
  3. in case of violations of limits and rules, consistent application of non-hostile, non-physical sanctions (discipline as opposed to punishment)
  4. behavior by adults at home and in community organizations that creates an authoritative (not authoritarian) adult – child interaction

 Elements to Effective Anti-Bullying Policies 

  1. A strong, positive statement of the organizations desire to promote positive peer relations and especially to oppose bullying and harassment in any form it may take by all members of the community
  2. A succinct definition of bullying or peer victimization, with specific examples
  3. A declaration of the rights of individuals and groups in the community – students, teachers, clergy, LGBTQ, minorities, etc – to be free of victimization by others
  4. A statement of the responsibility of those who witness peer victimization to seek to stop it
  5. Encouragement of students and parents with concerns about victimization to speak with school/church/community leaders about it
  6. A general description of how the community organization proposes to deal with the bully/victim problem
  7. A plan to evaluate the policy in the near future

 Prevention Strategy 

  1. Gathering information about bullying in community directly from students
  2. Establishing clear organizational rules about bullying
  3. Training all willing adults in the community to respond sensitively and consistently to bullying
  4. Providing adequate adults supervision, particularly in less structured areas, such as playgrounds, parks, swimming pools, etc.
  5. Improving parental awareness of and involvement in working on the problem.

Bullying Training


Four Markers of Bullying


With every person we talk to about bullying we get a different definition of what it is.  There seems to be some difficulty defining what bullying is and what it isn’t.  Norwegian researcher Dan Olweus defines bullying as when the person is

“exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons.”

He defines negative actions as “when a person intentionally inflicts injury or discomfort upon another person, through physical contact, through words or in other ways.”

The following are markers that may help determine if an act of aggression is actually bullying or simply the result of conflict between two parties.

1. Imbalance of Power

The bully can be older, bigger, stronger, more verbally adapt, higher up on the social ladder, of a difference race, or of the opposite sex. Sheer numbers of kids banded together to bully can create this imbalance. Bullying is not sibling rivalry, nor is it fighting that involves two equally matched kids who have conflict.

2. Intent to Harm
 
The bully means to inflict emotional and/or physical pain, expects the action to hurt, and takes pleasure in witnessing the hurt. This is no accident or mistake, no slip of the tongue, no playful teasing, no misplaced foot, no inadvertent exclusion.
 
3. Threat of Further Aggression
 
Both the bully and the bullied know that the bullying can and probably will occur again. This is not meant to be a one time event. When bullying escalates unabated, a fourth element is added:
 
4. Terror
 
Bullying is systematic violence used to intimidate and maintain dominance. Terror struck in the heart of the child targeted is not only a means to an end, it is an end in itself. This is not a one time act of aggression elicited by anger about a specific issue, nor is it an impulsive response to a rebuke.

Faith or Rigidity (Help, I Have an Aspie in my Youth Group!)


Left to their own devices, children with AD will often go through life like a train on a track: one way, straight ahead, never varying, and avoiding the unexpected.  It is hard to live a life of faith without the flexibility to take-risk, something that is difficult for an Apsie.  Aspie’s need to learn how to go off-roading..  Telling the child – and showing them through many experiences over the years – that taking risks and steps of faith is a good thing and to not be controlled by fear.  Compliment the child when they are flexible, bending and changing and trying new things.

Youth workers can partner with the parents by helping these children develop skills at surviving in the world.  Plan to take them places they might enjoy, such as restaurants, on public transportation, and to age-appropriate entertainment during youth group outings but be aware, that too much pressure to read so many pieces of sensory and social information at once can be exhausting and stressful.  Plan you activities accordingly.  It is appropriate to increase your expectation as the child gets older and working in partnership with the parents makes discerning this easier for the youth worker. 

This really is an issue of teaching the Aspie how to have faith.  Faith is a gift that is given to some of us by the Spirit in a supernatural way but a child with AD may struggle with the flexibility needed to respond to Spirit’s promptings.  Walking with and modeling way to do this will reinforce in the Aspie a healthy expression of faith where one can take risks in following the God who loves them and allows them a seat at the kingdom table.


I Have An Aspie In My Youth Group!


In a setting which relies heavily on spoken and written words the Asperger’s child is at a disadvantage.  With a growing awareness of Asperger’s and its nuances youth ministries need to adjust some of their practices to make it more accessible to those who have traits of or a diagnosis of the disorder.

 There are three main interrelated general areas of functional liability in children with AD:

  1. Visual-spacial processing and sensory-motor integration
  2. Information processing and organizational skills
  3. Social skills and pragmatic language development

These areas will need to be discussed in greater detail by youth ministries as this is largely misunderstood people group that are not being effectively impacted with the Good News, not for a lack of want but likely from a lack of understanding and awareness on our part.  For the time being we’ll simply provide an overview of these three areas of difficulty and leave it up to you to contextualize in your ministry setting.

Visual-spacial processing and sensory-motor integration

Examples of visual-spacial skills include the ability to walk a narrow beam or to run while accurately throwing a ball to another person.  Most of us take these skills for granted.  You probably think nothing of the fact that you know the relative size of things.  When going to pick up a stack of books, you know that they will be heavier than the single book you just put down, and you’ll adjust your motor movement to account for that difference.  You take for granted that you can find your way from one place to another in a large building.  For youth with AD, the visual-spacial and visual discrimination skills required to accomplish all these activities are often impaired, contributing to a natural clumsiness and frequent experiences of getting lost.

Visual-spacial processing impacts learning in many ways and this has a direct impact on discipleship efforts, given that we primarily teach about our Christian faith like a classroom subject.  Students with AD find tasks such as handwriting, taking notes, and filling out forms and worksheets difficult at best and often impossible.  Given the difficulties these children have in visual spacial processing and coordinating sensory-motor integration, seemingly simple tasks are not simple and can impede their ability to grow and develop spiritually as their peers.  The problem is not one of failing to understand the task or not having the knowledge to complete the task (i.e., bible study); rather, the problem is that these youth have a specific disability that interferes with the processing of visual-motor and visual-spacial information.

Information processing and organizational skills

Processing the many forms of information that you encounter daily is dependent on a complex set of interconnections between multiple parts of the brain.  In students with AD this process is impaired, leaving them unable to easily or quickly make sense of simple day-to-day tasks (like homework or chores), or individual expectations (grooming or managing relationships).  The information goes in, but once it enters the labyrinth of the mind it becomes jumbled and their ability to organize, recall, or use the information is hindered by their cognitive processes.  Imagine trying to relate a parable of Jesus to a student with AD.  This can often appear on the surface to be oppositional in nature but upon further inspection it is simply the result of a complex cognitive process that has gone off the track.

Social skills and pragmatic language development

In the development of social skills and day-to-day language that conveys social meaning the AD child struggles.  This is partly due to the first two issues addressed above.  The student’s difficulties processing information and accurately comprehending the actions of others, along with spacial, motor, and organizational problems combine to create pain nd anxiety for the child.  Normal social interactions occur on so many levels at the same time, some overt (verbal messages) and some covert (hidden messages, tone of voice, nonverbal, gestures, body language, etc.).  Youth with AD do not fully grasp these nuances, missing social cues and implied meanings that others understand.  Aspies often take things at face value, interpreting statements literally, often missing sarcasm, subtly humor, or even threats. 

Just because a child has AD does not mean they will skip being a teenager.  The student is just as  likely to go through the normal variations of mood and personality as any teen; they just go through adolescence with more baggage.  The good news is that, developmentally, most of these teens are slower to become aware of adolescent issues of sexuality, drugs, or rebellion, but these issues will eventually come up  The social culture that our youth are a part of is difficult at best, and many of these teens are not prepared to deal with the pressures they face daily.  We have a tremendous opportunity to show the love of Christ to Aspies and their families by entering into the potential messiness of their day-to-day living and getting our hands dirty.  The message this sends when we seek to understand is that they matter.  They matter to us and more importantly, they matter to the God who created them.


Troubleshooting Guide for Difficult Students


We’ve all met those oppositional students from time to time.  Maybe they suffered from R.A.D. (reactive attachment disorder) or some extreme form of A.D.H. D. or just simply suffered from a serious conduct disorder.  Regardless, we can find ourselves in a “battle of the wills” with these students and often in the middle of small group.  The following is not an exhaustive list but serves as a troubleshooting guide for handling some of the more common problems with difficult students.

Won’t Speak To You…

  •  Try to help the adolescent realize that you have no interest in making them talk.  It’s always going to be more important that the student wants to speak that the adult is spoken to.
  • In the spirit of collaboration, invite the student to help troubleshoot the silence with you.
  • Give them permission not to speak.  This way the pressure to speak is relaxed.

 Is Disrespectful During Youth Group Meetings…

  •  Deflect or ignore the comment so it can’t be taken personally.
  • Without challenging him/her, point out their role in the deterioration of the conversation/meeting.
  • Do not use your position as leverage.  This is usually about exerting autonomy and control.  Don’t fight fire with fire.
  • Use empathy to diminish defensiveness on the student’s part.

 Tries To Pick A Fight…

  •  Try forecasting the inevitable, and troubleshooting for it together in advance, is a handy was of defusing anticipated friction between adults and students.
  • Don’t assume you know what’s driving the behavior but asking what purpose this behavior serves can generate a good discussion.

 Talks About Everyone Else But Himself/Herself…

  •  Discussing one’s friends is often a testing ground to see how the adult will react when they share something personal.  Be careful regarding what you say because you will expose your judgments and values and send a message to the student that you are either safe to share with or someone to be avoided.

 Tells War Stories…

  •  Comment on the effect that the student’s actions are having on your time together, or on you, not their purpose.
  • Point out the dilemma this kind of story telling puts you in, if you point out the negative in this story it will likely impact your relationship with the student.  If you don’t, you may be enabling the student’s sin.  Ask the student how they would expect you to respond to these stories.
  • Be patient and don’t reinforce.

Building Bridges (art of connecting pt. 1)


One of the Apostle Paul’s most famous speeches took place at Mars Hill, the Areopagus, in Athens.  He noted that they appeared to be a very religious lot of people due to the sheer number of statues they had to their gods.  In a brilliant move he identified the one statue that was for the “unknown” god and he saw his bridge.  Paul then launched into his epic sermon about the “unknown” God and described our Father to the Greeks.  He masterfully used a technique called bridge building to connect with his audience.

Kids today are completely enmeshed in pop culture.  We could, and should be aware of what is shaping our youth today and much of what we see and hear impacts them more than we know.  But I’m not simply talking about knowing what the newest Katy Perry song is blazing up the charts, what I’m talking about is building a bridge with a language of the soul.

In order to connect with young people they first have to know that you’re interested and trustworthy.  They are most likely already suspicious of adults anyway.  Too often we have an agenda for them and they know that.  It’s what drives them underground many times.  What we’re talking about here is a fundamental belief that we have something in common with the young people we love and hope to reach.

If we say things like, “Teens today are just so much more _________ than we were.” or “Kids today are just lazy and apathetic.” we create distance between us and them.  If we fail to see that they have the same longings that drove us then and drive us now there will be no bridge to walk across.  All we will have to work with is a shallow relationship and all the change we’re likely to affect is shallow compliance to an empty belief system.  We have to find common ground and that common ground should be our shared humanity.

In his ground breaking book Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers, Chap Clark identifies six intrinsic longings of all students.  Those longings are: to belong, to matter, to be wanted, to be uniquely ourselves, for a safe place, and to be taken seriously.  Who among us can’t relate to those longings?  I work with drug addicted emerging adults.  Daily they express to me their desire to satisfy those very longings and that much of their behavior was an attempt to do just that.

After some small talk I usually ask a student where in their life do they feel they belong.  Where do they and what do they do that makes them feel like they matter?  Who takes you seriously?  Where are the safest places for you to just be yourself?  These are the questions that matter to students even if they don’t have the language to articulate them.

What the Apostle Paul did was provide an opportunity for those in the crowd to have their longings satisfied in a permanent manner by depending on the One true God.  A civilization that worships everything is an empty civilization desperately searching for meaning.  They apparently hadn’t found that in the many false gods they worshipped.

We have the same opportunity to connect the kids in our community to the very God that Paul preached about to the Greeks but first we must take to time to build a bridge by learning about them and their longings.  There is ALWAYS a bridge and it’s up to us to find it.


The Art of Connecting with Kids on the Fringe


After a workshop I facilitated on working with kids who have been abused, an elderly woman approached me to ask me a question.  She shocked me with the simplicity and depth of the question.  Here’s what she said,

“I love the kids in my community but I don’t know how to connect with the.  I want to reach out but don’t know where to start.  How do you do it?”

I can’t really remember what I told her, probably an overly simplified answer.  I never thought about it to be honest.  I just did what felt natural when reaching out to others.  Plus, I have the added benefit of being pretty simple, if I didn’t know someone I would just introduce myself and talk to them.  It wasn’t until I talked to my wife that she opened my eyes to the idea that for some this comes easy.  For others though it is an anxiety inducing event.  Imaging, you long to reach out to this generation, a generation that is slipping through the cracks right before your very eyes, but the words escape you when needed.  You don’t know how to connect beyond a simple “Hello, how are you today?”

My wife and I talked about this for several hours over the next few days.  We explored what is involved in connecting with these kids that seemed so different from us.  Asking me how I connect with fringe kids is like asking a fish to describe water.  I spend so much time out there on the fringe that it has become normal.   I have developed, over the years, skills to navigate those waters.  But many others haven’t and don’t know where to start.  That’s what this series in aimed at doing, equipping willing adults to connect with a generation where the gap is ever increasing.  Our thoughts are not exhaustive and it is my hope that other voices will chime in with their experience, wisdom, and insight.

We will cover the following over the next several weeks:

  • Bridge Building – How to make that initial contact in a meaningful way?
  • Cultivating a spirit of learning – Curiosity is key in connecting with others.  How do we foster a spirit of curiosity?
  • Law of the Lid – We will explore our preconceived expectations of these fringe kids and how they impede our interactions with them.
  • The Culture of an Individual – Each student is a culture unto themselves.  We will discuss how to explore that culture as it relates to effectively ministering to them.
  • Doing away with my Agenda – How my agenda actually breeds a distrust that is nearly impossible to overcome.
  • What is our Purpose of our Interactions – Moving from meaningless to Meaningful interactions.
  • Checking our Personal Bias at the Door – Often our personal biases impact how well we connect with others, especially those different than us.
  • Finding Common Ground – Discovering shared experiences, dreams, fear, and failures.
  • What is being said without Words – What story are they telling with their clothes, hairstyle, and nonverbal communication.

I hope you will contribute to this discussion because at the end of the day it will close the gap between us and the adolescents that reside in the world beneath…


Disabled Youth and Youth Ministry Gatherings (pt. 6 – marketing to disabled youth and families)


It is not enough for a youth ministry program to simply be ready to serve the Disabled Youth Community.  Rather, the ministry should be proactive in making the Disabled Youth Community aware of it’s accessability.  It is hoped that any ministry targeting  youth with disabilities will be in contact from the outset with any known families or organizations serving them. It would not be a bad idea to contact such agencies to present your willingness to provide ministry opportunities for students and families that are interested, thereby providing a person contact for any of the referring staff.  Of course, the best promotion for your youth group are students with positive experiences of interacting with your youth group. 

Outreach

Outreach material should assure potential students that your ministry gatherings are able to provide accessible, age appropriate youth ministry experiences for persons with a disability.  In addition to stating that accommodations and alternative communication strategies can be provided as needed, you may wish to assure the students with disabilities that they are welcome by including the universal accessibility symbol on your literature or website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are many facets of an outreach ministry that can be modified to accommodate the needs of youth with disabilities:

  • Tailor marketing materials, including signage, messages, brochures, website, and yellow pages ads to people with disabilities.  Have all such material state that accommodations are available.
  • If the ministry is committed to serving persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, have a dedicated line for a TDD, and have that TDD number printed on all outreach communications.
  • Provide a sign interpreter if one is available.
  • Create and use mailing lists of organizations that serve people with disabilities.
  • Conduct specialized training and presentations (include students with disabilities in the creation of) for adult volunteers and student leaders.
  • Adapt conference trips, camps, retreats, etc. with the disabled youth in mind.
  • Recruit students with disabilities to the student leader team or hire an intern/staff with a disability.
  • Work with family and support agencies (if necessary) to determine style of learning for students with cognitive impairments.
  • Link with particular disability groups for their expertise and to create staff training opportunities.
  • Be conscious of intersections (e.g. Latino youth who is gay and disabled)

Every ministry should expect to have students for whom they will have to make accommodations, but many of these accommodations will not require extensive or expensive changes.  Perhaps even more importantly, making accommodations and adapting your ministry for youth based on their functional limitation should create and environment in which they can be restored to community.  Often these disabilities carry with them stigmas that separate and isolation occurs.  God’s purpose for all of us is to participate in the restorative activity of God in this world.  This is just one of many ways we can do that.

 


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