The DiToro family in Westbury, New York, is among many that have felt rejected by churches incapable or unwilling to handle the challenges presented by their children with special needs.
Edward and Jessica DiToro and their 7-year-old special needs son, Samuel, say they were turned away and rejected from a local church. They claim that their son was not welcomed in, wrongfully judged and misunderstood.
The DiToros, both in their 40s, told The Christian Post that they left their previous church because they did not like the way the Sunday school nursery teachers treated their son.
The teachers reportedly told the couple that their son “should walk and talk like the other children” and “should be more social with the other children.”
Samuel was often told to leave the nursery when he would hit another child and the teachers reportedly never took preventive steps to prevent the incidents from happening in the first place.
“I believed that the nursery teachers felt that our son had to fit the same phenotype as the other children in the nursery,’” Edward DiToro recounted. “I also don’t think that they spoke to him to make sure Samuel felt like he was welcome there. He was just thrown in with the other kids and expected to behave like them.”
“All they would do was say that Samuel did something wrong, whether it’s hitting a kid or soiling himself or having a temper tantrum. And there was never any positive feedback given on any week, nor did anyone work one-on-one with Samuel,” Jessica DiToro added.
The DiToros said the church’s congregation often avoided Samuel on multiple occasions and the pastor treated Samuel differently for years.
Eventually, in 2019, the family switched to another church called Point Lookout Community Church in Point Lookout, New York.
They said that their son is constantly engaged in an activity at their new church, whether coloring pictures or reading.
Like DiToro’s, many parents with special needs children are searching for in-person or online ministries geared towards meeting their children’s needs or even having the ability to attend a church that welcomes and loves their special needs children.
For some, such ministries helped them overcome their painful experiences in their previous churches, but it has also helped them remain hopeful amid the challenges they have faced during the pandemic.
The youth ministry curriculum developer Orange published a recent article titled “How to Start a Special Needs Ministry at Your Church.” The piece details three ways any church can learn and meet the needs of special needs children with ministries designed explicitly for them.
The author, Rev. Meaghan Wall, has lead the special needs children’s ministry at Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas. She is the lead pastor of the special needs ministry for dozens of kids of all ages called “GIFT: God Is Faithful Throughout.” The ministry aims to nurture special needs students by encouraging their desire for a Savior and developing their faith.
Having heard countless stories of church hurt from hundreds of families involved with her special needs ministry, Wall said she felt led by God to write the article because she truly believes “all special needs children are made in the image of God and are created with great purpose.”
“Because God has a plan for them and churches can potentially harm family generations by turning families with special needs children away from the church,” she told CP in an interview.
“Some churches put up barriers because they don’t think God has it in their plan to serve the special needs population, and they don’t take the time to learn how to meet the needs of special needs children,” Wall added. “How will the family members of these special needs children view the church as a whole if their sibling or child has been turned away from the church?”
“When they see their special needs sister or brother was wrongfully rejected, they are likely to turn away from God,” she continued. “[A]nd when these siblings get older, they will raise up children that also don’t believe in God, and the cycle goes on and on for generations. …”
Many of the parents Wall works with have previously attended churches without special needs ministries, and some were asked to leave. Others were given ultimatums that involve choosing to follow strict stipulations for their special needs children or not return to the church.
The pastors of these churches, she said, often demand the parents to have their special needs children sit very still, quiet, remain separated from the other children, or even stay monitored at all times by a caregiver in addition to the Sunday school teachers.
“It takes a lot for families to come back to church when they’ve been hurt and told, ‘your child can’t be handled,’” Wall said. “We have to serve and love everyone and point everyone to the Gospel. Every church should have a special needs ministry, and every seminary school should teach special needs instructional classes to raise up generations of pastors who can meet everyone’s needs.”
Wall said that “there is no excuse” for pastors and church leaders not to be educated on working with special needs children. Wall contends that pastors can “take a class, read a book, or an article online.”
“Pastors can even go to their special needs teachers in the school districts in their communities and learn a thing or two from them,” she added.
Since the pandemic hit, Wall said, she has seen an increase in the number of people who attend her virtual special needs ministry classes from other countries.
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(c) The Christian Post, used with permission.