How can we help people with communication difficulties to integrate into the family of God?
One young man came into church where LCM Missionary Jayne Kinghorn worships. He appeared to be struggling a little, and in the course of conversation she asked him about his friends.
He replied straight away, ‘I don’t have friends’. She probed a little deeper, asking why he thought that was. ‘Because I’m annoying’, came the blunt reply.
This young man couldn’t judge things such as appropriate personal space, so in conversation, he’d be talking right in your face, Jayne says.
How successful we are in our relationships depends on social skills. Integrating into any group requires self- confidence, and awareness of others.
Any kind of disability has an effect on a person’s ability to communicate with others, and that in turn affects their ability to function well in society.
For example, a 2007 report into a study of 58 young offenders revealed that 60 per cent of them had speech and language difficulties, compared to around 10 per cent in the general population.
That’s due in part to the difficulties of navigating complex social situations. Imagine appearing in court struggling to understand the terms commonly used in the justice system: ‘victim’, ‘breach’, ‘guilty’, ‘liable’, or ‘remorse’, or ‘conditional’.
Jayne is a speech and language specialist. She asked the young man if he had ever had communication difficulties, and it turned out that he had a diagnosis for Asperger’s.
A person with an autistic spectrum disorder sees, hears and feels the world differently to others. They may have same emotions as anyone else – but can’t frame an appropriate response that is easily understood by others.
Having an additional need should not prevent someone from hearing or receiving the gospel. After all, throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus showed a remarkable capacity to see and respond to the needs of people who didn’t fit the norm – the demon possessed, crippled and blind.
He appeared unconcerned about the consternation of a large crowd brought to a standstill as he conversed with a noisy blind man.
In the normal run of things we don’t naturally respond to people well when their needs are very different from our own.
More than anywhere else outside the home, church should be a safe haven for people of all kinds of additional needs.
The young man Jayne met continued coming to church, where he found that he was accepted as he was. When he came to the LCM-run youth groups, people found him challenging, but he did make friends.
With a little encouragement and willingness from the church to take a little extra time and effort to communicate, the young man has been integrated into church, and has flourished in the body of Christ.
The young man has since left – gone from London to college in Norfolk, and his London church is praying that he will find a church community that will give him the time and space that he needs to settle.