The C3 Relational Model (Comfort)

overlapOne of the primary outcomes for each team member in our Special Friends Ministry is to develop relationships with each and every child and adult with special needs that we minister to. The process that we use to develop a relationship is called C3 (Comfort, Confirm, Challenge) and is derived from the many interactions between Jesus and people with disabilities in the Gospels.

It’s been my experience with my son who is on the severe end of the autism spectrum, and other children with special needs, that developing a relationship with a child on the spectrum can be challenging (but worth it!).

The most striking feature of autism is social disconnection. Children with autism appear neither to be interested in nor able to “read” the social world. It is as though they are “blind” to the sometimes complicated, emotionally loaded give-and-take of human interaction. Writing of one of the boys in his study, Leo Kanner (known for his work related to autism) stated:

  • “He paid no attention to the persons around him. When taken into a room, he completely disregarded the people and instantly went for objects, preferably those that could be spun. Commands or actions that could not possibly be disregarded were resented as unwelcome intrusions. But he was never angry at the interfering person. He simply pushed away the hand that was in his way or the foot that stepped on one of his blocks…”

The boy in Kanner’s study pushed away interfering body parts without seeming to understand that they were attached to a whole person – a person with his own intentions and desires. They were just objects that happened to be in the way. This is very typical of some children on the autism spectrum.

However, our Special Friends Ministry team is determined to create and maintain relationships with our children on the autism spectrum. Christianity is about entering into relationships with people…ALL people. And in order to be able to do that, it’s important to be familiar with how the Master of developing relationships interacted with people. That’s why we use what I call the C3 model: Comfort, Confirm, Challenge that’s based on Jesus’ interactions with people with disabilities.

The first “C” in the C3 model is “Comfort.” Creating a mutually valued relationship means that we need to help a child (or adult) with autism feel safe and secure with us. We have to be careful that our physical presence does not signal fear or create anxiety for a child with autism. The acceptance of human presence and engagement with others are the cornerstones of relationship. Learning the meaning of human presence, engagement, and unconditional love leads to mutual and potentially reciprocal feelings and interactions that signal respect, worth, and sharing.

Here’s the Special Friends Ministry On-Demand training presentation on how to develop comfort with a child with special needs who is, to some degree, socially disconnected:

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About Michael Woods

Christ-follower, husband, chocoholic, and peanut-butter lover! I'm a father to triplet boys...each on the autism spectrum.

View all posts by Michael Woods


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  1. Comfort, Confirm, Challenge – a relational model? | includedbygrace - April 5, 2013

    […] Confirm, Challenge – the 3Cs model of relationships from Special Friends Ministry  ( […]

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