I am in the process of finishing up an article about faith formation in individuals with disabilities. For those who are not affected intellectually by their disability, perhaps most of the questions one might have about faith development are pretty much the same. There might be additional questions about God's sovereignity, about what might be expected of the Body of Christ in terms of support and understanding, and generally the social consequences of disability. These aspects of life need faith answers in addition to just life answers. When one is the recipient of negative social attitudes one wonders where God is in all of it. Even in the best of social situations, one wonders about the difficulties one faces on a daily basis, and leans heavily on God for support.
I have heard Joni Eareckson-Tada say something to the effect that when she wakes up some mornings, she prays hard that God would give her a smile to give to her care provider to start her day. That beautiful smile does not always come naturally and I think Joni would agree that at times it is the result of supernatural intervention.
So there are aspects of faith development that are unique to persons with disabilities that are not related to their intellect.
At the same time, as I have been thinking about faith development as it relates to people with intellectual disabilities, particularly severe disabilities, I have wondered about what the research literature sometimes refers to as the structures of faith. Faith development research often uses these structures to measure faith development. Lets put aside, for a moment, that these structures are somewhat generic which in and of itself may be problematic as they may imply that the content of faith is somehow less important in faith development than the structures are. Obviously for the Christian, nothing could be further from the truth. But what if you were really unable to comprehend the content of your faith or your faith group. How might one develop "faith" in these people?
As I have thought through this, I think that I have come to the position that I will work to develop faith structures as the focus of faith development for these individuals. What are these structures? Things like loving other people, participating in traditions, being a member/a part of a larger group, and receiving love and acceptance from people within the group. These things which are related to faith might provide the best evidence of whether one is growing. I will admit that one might grow in these areas independent of the content of one's faith. I will also admit that I trust God in the lives of persons with severe disabilities, and I try to understand the lesson of Luke 5:20's statement about Jesus seeing "their" faith and the impact of the faith of those around the disabled man on his own life. Perhaps in some way, the faith of the body impacts the development of the faith of the intellectually disabled person although it might only be measurable in faith structures.