Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Kingdom Sightings: Surprised by Disability

[My October column for Christianity Today has now been posted online. Here are the first few paragraphs.]

Surprised by Disability
Why the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensible.
When my wife, Ellen, and I received prenatal confirmation that our second son would have Down syndrome, we were concerned but also relieved. Why? Because a previous diagnosis was more severe: that our son's condition might have been, as the doctor put it, "incompatible with life." He told us that we could terminate the pregnancy, but we chose to "do no harm" and prepare for our child's birth, come what may. Several months later, we joyously and nervously welcomed Elijah Timothy Hsu into the world.

Life with Elijah has been challenging but not unmanageable. He has had his share of doctors and therapists. But for the most part, he is a happy and healthy three-year-old who loves Blue's Clues and Signing Time DVDS, roughhousing with his older brother, saying "No!" and giving hugs.

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, and the public needs to know that Down syndrome is not nearly as scary as many imagine. Recent articles in both the American Journal of Medical Genetics and Prenatal Diagnosis report that more than 90 percent of pregnancies prenatally diagnosed as Down syndrome are terminated. As prenatal testing becomes normative, expectant couples may be more likely to abort babies who are not exactly what they had hoped for.

Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche communities, which bring abled and disabled people together under one roof, warns in Living Gently in a Violent World that in a few years there may be no more children with Down syndrome in France because they will have all been aborted. In China, babies with disabilities are often abandoned. Extremist groups in the Middle East have even used people with mental disabilities as unwitting suicide bombers. The church must advocate on behalf of those most vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Care for the disabled is a global justice issue.

The 2000 U.S. Census found that 19.4 percent of the population is affected by physical or intellectual disability. One in 140 children now has an autism spectrum disorder, according to the 2007 Annual Review of Public Health. Cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injuries, spina bifida, Alzheimer's, and a host of other conditions affect millions. If you don't currently know someone with a disability, chances are that you will.

[Go here for the rest of the article.]


Foggy Blogger said...

Thanks for the beautiful article on disabilities. I have several family members that are disabled through either birth or accidents. Everyday life is a challenge, but as one disabled friend said, "it's better than the alternative...death!"

How has your son been received by your church? Do you know of any resources for sunday school teachers?

Al Hsu said...

Our church has been great. We were between churches when we were pregnant and got the diagnosis, so on top of all the usual questions we had while visiting churches, now we were asking, "Are we going to be able to find a church that is friendly to kids with special needs?"

The very first time we visited our (rather small) church, there was a family with a daughter with Down syndrome there, and we immediately sensed that this would be a safe place for us. We later found out that quite a number of folks in the congregation were therapists, teachers, social workers or some other kind of profession with experience working with kids with special needs. Our church was very much an answer to prayer, and we've been delighted by how Elijah has been welcomed and included in the church family.

Resources for Sunday school teachers: Let All the Little Children Come to Me is a good guide for ministering to kids with all sorts of disabilities. There's also a brief pamphlet called Children's Ministry Pocket Guide to Special Needs (it comes in 10-packs - you can't quite tell from the Amazon listing). Those are good starters. You can also find more specific topics (like autism) just looking around Amazon or

Mi Yun Lee said...

Hello, my name is Mi Yun Jeong, and I happened to run into your article on while looking for articles having to do with ethics and beauty for my contemp. theology and ethics class in seminary. I was very moved by the article and it provoked a lot of thoughts as I reflected on my part in children's ministry at my church. I'm writing a paper and I'm leaning towards writing on disabilities in the "consumer" age church, and the certain tensions that arise as a result of conflicting values. Would you be available for some questions and input on this issue? Please let me know. My email is Thank you!

Marvin J. Miller said...

Thank you for your article in CT. More and more people are beginning to understand the Luke 14 mandate. As a father of a DS 6 year old and a Christian leader, I am rejoicing at the greater awareness finally coming. Yet, there is a long way to go. Thanks to forward looking people like Joni, Steve Bundy, Jeff McNair (Cal-Baptist program is much further along than BIOLA's) NACSPED, Friendship Ministries, Special Touch Ministries, Lifeway's works, and theological works from Amos Yong and others, things are starting to look up.

May God continue to bless you.

Marvin J. Miller,
So Cal Coordinator - Special Touch Disability Ministires
Member, Board of Directors, Friendship Ministries.

Unknown said...

I was grateful for the article in the current Atlantic (Jan 2009) about "orchid children" because it's the first piece I've seen in general circulation media that suggests even mental illness (now genetically diagnosible) may have value. I've been so frightened that, as a culture, these new tools would become a new eugenics to eliminate the next Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill (major depression), Ted Turner or Vincent VanGogh (bipolar disorder), or Vaslav Nijinski or Brian Wilson (the genius dancer and the brilliant composer behind The Beach Boys, both of whom had schizophrenia).