ECI Guest Blog: ECI and Faith-Based Connection
Suzanne Potts, LMSW, MPH
Austin Interfaith Inclusion Network, Autism Society of Greater Austin
March 31, 2014
As part of the Austin Interfaith Inclusion Network (AIIN) in Central Texas, I work with many faith-based and disability advocates to identify opportunities for full inclusion within a faith-based setting. Many of our churches, synagogues, mosques or temples offer secular programs that support their communities. Food pantries, shelters and childcare programs are often operated at a house of worship.
Some faith communities do not know where to begin when thinking about where to find community supports for a person with disabilities. The needs of the individual may seem greater than the faith community can address. Many of our faith-based partners have asked about tips or resources when working with families who have a child recently diagnosed with a disability and are referred for Early Childhood Interventions (ECI). The AIIN has worked with disability advocates and faith-based partners to identify information and resources for faith-based organizations that are interested in supporting people with disabilities.
But what happens when a child participates in a program and they suspect a disability or notice delays? What kinds of supports can faith-based partners provide when working with children who may show signs of an intellectual or developmental disability?
For faith-based groups that work with young children, here are some tips that we offer our faith-based partners to consider if you suspect a delay:
- Become familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Identify community resources for local disability organizations
- Identify a disability or inclusion committee to assess existing accessibility or recommend specific actions and policies
- Learn about various developmental disabilities
- Seek training for staff on appropriate developmental milestones
- Establish communication with parents regarding concerns or delays
- Document child’s progress, strengths and challenges
If a child is diagnosed and participated in ECI:
- Engage the ECI team as part of your program
- Ask questions
- Provide feedback to the ECI team and parents-you are a key piece of the support team!
- See the child first, then the diagnosis. Help identify strengths for that child.
- Practice patience. Every child develops at different rates so milestones for one child may vary greatly than another child.
- Serve as a support to the families. It may be difficult to process the diagnosis or they may have grief and loss over the diagnosis. Allow parents to grieve
- Provide a chaplain, clergy or pastoral care team member to be a support as well.
Faith-based partners are crucial to our community's spiritual and healthy well-being. They may often play a key role in identifying and understanding childhood developmental delays and referring to ECI.
“People with disabilities are our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and neighbors. By welcoming and creating inclusive spaces for them in our faith communities and in other areas of our society, we develop a society that values all persons, regardless of their abilities.” Martin Kareithi, AIIN member
Bio: Suzanne Potts, LMSW, MPH (left) is a consultant and convener of the Austin Interfaith Inclusion Network and is the Interim Executive Director of the Autism Society of Greater Austin. She teaches at the University of Texas, Austin, School of Social Work as an Adjunct Faculty and has two sons, one of which participated in ECI and was diagnosed with autism. She is a disability advocate, mother, wife and proud Texas native.
Get Involved Spotlight
"Disability Issues" covers a lot of ground, and CTD works year round to bring about positive change in as many policy areas as we can. Tell us where you would like to be more involved, and we'll keep you informed about opportunities to support your highest priority issues!
- Alice Bufkin (Texans Care for Children)
- Leah Rummel (parent, advocate)
- Evidence-Based Practices (Chrystal Jansz Rieken, Burkhart Center for Autism Research and Education)
- ECI and Faith-based Connection (Suzanne Potts, Austin Interfaith Inclusion Network)