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Cardiff church project addresses sensory needs of children

03 March 2023


A CHURCH in Cardiff has launched a project to meet the sensory needs of children with autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, and anxiety, who often feel overwhelmed by the bustle of busy places.

St Mark’s, Gabalfa, has signed up to the Sensory Healthy Church programme, which is run by Christian Occupational Therapy Support, to help it to welcome children with sensory needs. As part of the scheme, the church will provide ear defenders, weighted toys, sensory lights, and wobble cushions which have tiny bumps designed to stimulate a child’s sensory receptors while they are sitting. The aim is to remove barriers that prevent families with neurodiverse children engaging with church.

“It’s time for the Vicar's sermon, can I borrow the ear defenders?”

It will also create a sensory profile which will help families to understand the sensations and experiences they can expect in church, which will help them to manage sensory overload.

“We explain how they will be greeted; the seating arrangements; which rooms have music and lights; and where our safe sensory space is,” St Mark’s children and families pastor and project lead, Becky Heaps, said. “We want to create an environment where children and families can be themselves when they are here.”

The team at St Mark’s developed the scheme after noticing an increase in the number of families with additional needs coming to church after the lockdown.

Christoph Auckland, whose son Arthur is a wheelchair user, and has complex additional needs, said: “Church can be a challenge: from the initial anxieties of attending to the noise and activity of the service, it can be unusual, overwhelming, even frightening.

“We’ve had incidents where we couldn’t even get into the church, or find a place he could sit comfortably. But, when mitigations such as a sensory profile are in place, those anxieties and barriers are changed, and the sights, sounds, and smells become calming and familiar. And, for Arthur particularly, the rhythm and familiarity of the liturgy transforms church into a place of community and comfort.”

For more information about Christian Occupational Therapy Support, visit chots.co.uk/church.

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