As Christians, we believe that our loving God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2 :3-4). 

Around 400,000 Australians are living with intellectual disabilities, so the question is… How does your church support and encourage these people, who are precious to God?

What are intellectual impairments? 

A person with an intellectual impairment will experience significant difficulty with thinking and processing – often leading to challenges with conceptual, social and practical skills.

They can experience difficulties around ‘everyday’ activities, including: 

  • Caring for themselves,
  • Keeping themselves safe
  • Communication and relationships.

People with intellectual disabilities may process information more slowly and have difficulty with abstract concepts (such as money and time). 

Thinking about how we run groups and services can make them more inclusive for people with intellectual impairments.

Ideas for including people with intellectual impairments 

People with intellectual disabilities will be able to engage more in your services—and feel more valued—if you can make some small changes:

  • Use pictures and photos, instead of lots of words
  • Repeat information and give examples
  • Think of opportunities to do hands-on, experiential activities, and
  • Always give lots of time for people to understand and think about what is being said.

Accepting people with intellectual disabilities also means making a mental shift in how we expect programs to run. 

We might need to accept behaviours that are a little different to what we are used to – as long as they don’t harm others and activities can still meet their goals.

Valuing the contribution of people with intellectual disabilities

On the other side, there are also things that immediately show when we are not valuing people with intellectual disabilities.

It’s important to always show respect and not speak to people with intellectual disabilities like they are children. Being respectful means never removing choices or independence from someone with disabilities. Try to be flexible, giving time and opportunities for people to make their own choices.

By learning different ways of communicating and making reasonable adaptations, people with disabilities can participate more fully in your church. 

Jesus calls people from all walks of life to belong. 

When we value people with intellectual disabilities in the same way, not only can they gain “knowledge of the truth”, but we benefit too—experiencing more of the richness of the redeemed community that God is gathering.

For more information

Learn more about how to include people with intellectual impairments in your church by reading our article, Pastoral Care and People with Intellectual Disabilities.