The same was true for Chip and Andi Borkowski, who attended another church but couldn't worship together because of their son Bennet who is developmentally delayed. Says Andi, "Not every church you walk into thinks Bennet's dancing around during the service is cute."
When it comes to kids in church, we're all guilty of a little intolerance. And we've all probably been on the receiving end of a few glances and glares when our own children act up during the sermon. But for the parents of a special-needs child, those looks of agitation and disapproval can make a lasting impression, one that could send them scurrying out the door for good.
Here in the Chicago area where I live, there are more than 500,000 people who have a physical or mental challenge. Of those, only 20 percent attend a church of any kind. Physical handicaps and church inaccessibility may be one reason for nonattendance but for families with special-needs kids, the main reason is quite simple?they don't feel welcome.
For parents with special-needs children, church isn't the only challenge of the week. Every day, every situation presents unexpected struggles. For Scott and Rosemary Macdonald, parents of 10-year-old Claire, simply trying to socialize with other families has lead to near tragedy. "Claire has PDD. When we take her to friends' homes that aren't 'Claire-proof,' we're often preoccupied with making sure we know where she is and what she's doing," says Rosemary. "On a vacation one year, Claire wandered into a room, took some prescription pills from a friend's purse and swallowed them. She was okay, but things like that stick with you and make you wary of taking your eyes off your child." The result is that the Macdonalds, like other special-needs parents, find themselves hesitating to accept social commitments. "It would be easier to not accept invitations, but that wouldn't be fair to Claire. She's very social and needs to be with people."
The same holds true for the children themselves. "Timmy is very sensitive in social situations or when other children are present," says Judy Barg. "Any dispute at all can cause him to become volatile. We often have to intervene and pull him away from a situation. We are so hesitant to leave Timmy with other children, especially if we're not around."