Serving the Amish: Your Questions

We’ll soon be having a Q-and-A with Jim Cates, author of Serving the Amish: A Cultural Guide for Professionals, a new book first mentioned here last month.

Jim is a clinical psychologist with extensive experience working with the Amish in northern and northeastern Indiana.

Today is your chance to ask questions of Jim, about the book and anything related to it. We’ll choose some of them to use in the Q-and-A.

As a bonus, if you ask a question, you’ll get an additional entry when we give away a copy of Serving the Amish. I haven’t nailed it down with Jim yet, but I expect we’ll run the Q-and-A and giveaway sometime next week.

From the book description:

Serving The Amish James CatesServing the Amish is a targeted guide for professionals who care for or interact with Plain people: doctors, nurses, law enforcement officers, judges, social workers, psychotherapists, and addiction counselors, among others. For these professionals, knowing the “what” of Amish life is not enough. They must go deeper, understanding the “why”—the ideologies that both drive and bind this community in a system of beliefs that seems alien to those who embrace the technological and social turbulence of the twenty-first century.

Donald Kraybill on Serving the Amish

We’ve also got another video from Jim’s interview series, available on the Serving the Amish website.

In the video below, Jim talks to Young Center series editor Donald Kraybill, who speaks candidly about how he does research, the Amish as an oral culture, ideas for outsiders working with the Amish, the importance of empathy, and the significance of the Amish extended family.

It’s quite an interesting discussion. This is Part 1 of 3. The rest you can find on the site.

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    1. Kim Shinn

      As an elementary school teacher, I have seen the number of children diagnosed with ADD and put on medication dramatically increase over the last 15 years. I am curious to know if many Amish children are referred for ADD evaluations or learning disabilities. I will be reading your book for sure!

    2. Ted Martin

      As a former teacher, I too would like to know about the Amish views of ADD. I do hope it does not follow the mainstream public school philosophies.
      I have seen case after case of students that are either slow learners or much too fast learners being classified as ADD simply because (I believe) teachers and administrators didn’t want to spend the extra time needed with those individuals, so they were given drugs ( Ritalin) or other tranquilizing drugs to control the students behavior, rather than utilizing the students unique abilities and behaviors.

      1. Jim Cates

        Amish Children with ADD

        I have observed in Amish schools, and one thing that strikes me is the relative difference in stimulation. Amish schools have fewer students, less noise, and hence less distractions. That said, “Blackboard Bulletin,” the Amish periodical on school issues, does address attention problems with “scholars” (the Amish term for students) from time to time. In my experience the use of medication for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder varies, not only from settlement to settlement, but within settlements that tolerate it, from family to family. Like so many questions about “the” Amish, an answer will vary depending on which settlement, church, or family is being discussed!

      2. Stacy

        ADD Question

        As a person who was diagnosed as ADHD when she was a child (1985), I agree with Kim Shinn and Ted Martin that 1) the number of diagnoses has increased dramatically over the years, and 2) that these diagnoses allow school systems to avoid addressing the needs of individual children, regardless of the children’s intelligence levels. I’m glad to see that others out there question the system!

    3. Mark - Holmes Co.

      I just picked up a copy of this book yesterday and started reading it. It’s interesting, but one thing I HOPE gets covered is diversity. Some of the things I’ve read so far only apply to certain groups and I’m concerned about readers lumping us all together… But again, I’m only starting it.

      1. ShipshewanaIndiana

        I haven’t read the book, so perhaps I should stay out of the conversation, but I would like to add to Marks comment. My wife is in the medical profession and we do home visits with the Amish. We currently service or have served children in six different Amish communities and there is a great degree of diversity in social norms. For example, women typically do not discuss their pregnancy with their children present in communities such as Adams County, Indiana or Arthur, Illinois while such subjects are freely discussed in Elkhart Lagrange or Nappanee, Indiana.

        1. Mark - Holmes Co.

          A very good observation and hearing it come from someone non-Amish who is familiar with various Amish communities will carry weight. I once heard an Amish man say that talking about “the Amish” in all except the most general terms is about as sensible as talking about “the Christians” and overlooking the differences between Episcopalians, Primitive Southern Baptists, and Italian Roman Catholics. Grouping Amish together by community or region might work when there is only one group living there, but here in our community where there are 11 kinds of Amish, you’re going to run into mistakes doing that. Then there is the differences between families, too.
          There is the other side to this — Amish people who will throw all non-Amish people into one big group as though “all English people” or “the non-Amish” and that bugs me as much as when writers do it about us. 🙂

      2. Jim Cates



        Your hope – my fear. I live in Fort Wayne Indiana. For those who are unfamiliar with Indiana geography (most of you, I’m sure) that places me by the Swiss Amish in Grabill, near the Swiss Amish in Berne, and the Amish in the Elkhart-LaGrange settlement. And here is where “diversity” is tricky. When I sat down to write “Serving the Amish,” I realized that while Grabill and Berne are both “Swiss,” there are very distinct differences between these two settlements. When I think of the Elkhart-LaGrange, Nappanee is on its fringe, but that settlement, although often considered part of the larger community, has its own character as well. And these are just the Amish with which I am most familiar! I attempt a book that can address common areas of concern for providers to all Amish – indeed, to many Plain people. Balancing in that way is a difficult task, and if it succeeds at all, I owe it to the expertise and guidance of Amish and professionals from many settlements who have been their with me over the years. Did I succeed? Readers will have to let me know!

    4. Margaret

      I know that Amish groups do not want continued education for their children, but I also know a few Amish that went off to get training in nursing or teaching skills to deal with challenged students, for example, and have gone back to the community to work — and they are welcomed back. Could this signify a change coming (albeit gradually) in Amish groups becoming accepting of continued education in cases like this?

      1. Jim Cates

        Changing Attitudes About Education

        In my experience, the Amish are open to change. It is simply a slower, more methodical and cautious process than we in “mainstream” culture experience. That said, is it possible that Amish attitudes toward education could change? Absolutely – if that change benefits their way of life without unnecessarily disrupting it. Whether Amish or not, I am reminded of the old saying “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” For that reason, it feels very difficult to look to the future and predict the trajectory of educational experience for the Old Order. However, my guess would be that some form of tolerance for more education than the 8th grade will slowly – slowly – take hold.

    5. MN Judy

      Serving the Amish

      Will there be a concerted effort to get your book, Serving the Amish, into medical schools, RN/BSN schools of nursing, health departments,and other specialized training/education fields, particularly where located “near” Amish settlements?. My husband taught in 2 BSN programs, and we are both now retired RNs, and I do not know of any special training/education in our area, though we do live within easy driving distance of an Amish community in both in MN and WI. I have not ever noted continued education presentations on the Amish! The best presentations of general knowledge re:the Amish I have attended were ones offered by Elderhostels in Lake Geneva WI,and Holmes County in Ohio. I eagerly await your book on this very important subject!It is badly needed.

      1. Jim Cates

        Continuing Education

        Thanks for your comment. You raise two intertwined but separate issues: basic curricula and continuing education. Having taught part-time for Purdue University in Fort Wayne for a number of years, I know the difficulty of choosing the most important topics as “basic” education for students. At what point have we crammed their heads full of enough knowledge to consider them ready for their fields of endeavor? It seems every year there is more they need to know, less time to prepare them, and less agreement among faculty on what constitutes essential knowledge. As to continuing education, if it is internal to an organization, the same issues I raise above apply. If it is “freestanding,” or offered to meet licensing or certification requirements, it needs to turn a profit to be offered. Against that backdrop, there has to be enough perceived need and/or interest in Amish services for the education to be offered. These are the tough realities (at least as I see them.)

    6. Alice Mary


      Do professionals (of any kind) tend to seek out Amish “clients” (whether they’re nearby or not–I’m thinking Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic as a couple of examples), or do the Amish themselves seek out professionals (via a sort of–for a better term–“Amish Angie’s List”) with whom other family members or friends have seen? I subscribe to The Connection and see some ads (medical services) advertising a particular practice…how much influence do such ads have on an Amish adult making a decision about what healthcare practice to use?

      I look forward to reading this book which will apparently fill a void that’s not necessarily apparent to most “English”.

      Alice Mary

      1. Jim Cates

        Seeking Referrals

        Certainly there is a keen competition among some large healthcare facilities for Amish patients. They pay quickly and without the demands of third party insurance as payers, the paperwork required is dramatically reduced, also reducing the costs for complex or multifaceted procedures. Smaller healthcare facilities (e.g., a small medical clinic or even a lone practitioner) may directly solicit Amish patients/clients as well. At times these are agencies situated in or near Amish settlements, making such advertising a logical extension of their practice outreach. At other times a practitioner may have Amish relatives or otherwise be involved with the Amish community. For the Amish, as with non-Amish, seeking healthcare and mental health services is more often driven by reputation than by advertising. When dealing with our health or our emotional well-being we prefer to place ourselves in the care of someone we feel we can trust.

    7. Im curious if this book covers any areas of hostility from one group to the other, such as dealing with a police officer who has a chip on his shoulder regarding Amish or vice versa.

      I think most people are happy to try to understand other cultures, but if you have someone and they have to deal with people they would rather not, I would imagine it could a very difficult situation.

      Im looking forward to reading this book as well. Im not in the “service” industry but I am deeply interested in sociology.


      1. Jim Cates

        Dealing with Cultural Hostility

        “Serving the Amish” does not deal with individuals who feel animosity. Too often, individual discomfort with a group is unique to that individual, and represents a personal experience, a mindset passed down by family, or a cultural “norm” that is difficult to change without understanding their personal history. The book does address more general aspects of social misunderstanding. For example, in the Elkhart-LaGrange settlement youth sometimes speak of being stopped by police for “DWA” – “Driving While Amish.” The term is humorous, but refers to the ongoing tension that exists between some law enforcement personnel and Amish youth who feel they are the unfair focus of traffic stops. Good question!

    8. Ed from NY

      I’ve a question. What is the best way to inspire or convince the Amish to change their behavior? Say, for instance, you are responsible for enforcing a government regulation or building code. Can the right approach result in a positive outcome and overcome initial reluctance?

      Are there any issues that the Amish welcome collaboration with others, that are good starting points for communities or individuals who wish to engage with their Amish neighbors?

      1. Jim Cates


        Ed, I see you’re from New York, so let me start with a disclaimer. I know there are several sects of Amish there, some much more conservative than others. The more conservative the group (in general) the more cautious they will be about change and compromise with outside entities. Further, my experience is primarily with Indiana Amish. Now, those “qualifiers” out of the way, let me say this. The Amish are willing to discuss any needed adjustment, modification, change, or cessation in their behaviors or procedures. IF – big, big if – if the person asking them about it is willing to listen – truly, deeply, and respectfully listen – to what that change means to their ideology, beliefs, and way of life. Then, having heard and understood what that change means, the person asking the Amish to change is willing to consider compromise, ways of working around the change, or means of accomplishing the same goal that do not necessarily disrupt their way of life. Sound exhausting? It is. Frustrating? It is. Worthwhile? Worth every minute I’ve ever put into it. If you have a specific situation you’re addressing and want to do so, I’d suggest you let Erik know through this blog, and he can arrange for us to email backchannel, and I can potentially give you some more specific help. Good luck!

    9. Some nice questions here, looking forward to this.

      On the diversity question, I don’t want to speak for Jim, but I think it necessarily approaches the subject pretty broadly, in terms of addressing the values and issues that most Amish share in common (understanding that Amish in general value humility in their discourse; how to address natural cultural barriers that you may see to varying degrees in different individuals/churches, etc).

      From what I remember from my read, I don’t think I’d say diversity is a primary focus of the book, but being in northern/northeastern Indiana (where he draws his primary experience from) Jim does have experience with both the more “progressive” and more traditional Amish in that part of the state, and is conscious of it–and obviously of the diversity seen across families and individuals that any psychologist has to be aware of.

      Maybe he can answer this better in the Q and A.

    10. Carolyn B

      I may have asked this question before. When Amish couples adopt from a county Children’s Services agency, are they required to let the child attend school as long as the “English” kids or once adopted, the child will follow the Amish school system and graduate after the 8th grade?


      1. Jim Cates

        Amish Adoption

        I can only speak for Indiana, but here a family who adopts a child is allowed the freedom to raise the child according to their religious values. With the Amish, that includes their lifestyle – which is education stopping at the 8th grade. I know of one situation in which an Amish family adopted an older child and the same rule applied. Whether that is true in every state, I cannot say. Good question!

        1. Mark - Holmes Co.

          It’s true in Ohio & PA as well.

    11. Loretta


      Hope your book can answer this question:

      Amish often have large families and children are considered a blessing from the Lord. What I haven’t understood is why it is hush-hush when the wife is expecting. We Englishe are anxious to share our news so that others can rejoice with us. For such a natural thing as having a child, why do they wait until they “show” before acknowledging the joyous event?

      1. Jim Cates

        "Hush-Hush" Pregnancies

        See the question from Shipshewana above as well, which pertains to this. My experience on this is twofold. First, much depends on the settlement. In some areas the pregnancy is announced much earlier than others. Second, when it comes to “news” among the Amish there is what is “known,” and what is “supposed to be known.” Not all that different from those of us who are not Amish, but it seems more strictly enforced in a collective society. So at times I have “known” that a wife was expecting, but did not yet “know” because I was told in deepest secrecy. My impression (although I can’t base this in fact) is that the Amish attitude of reticence toward discussing sexual matters leads to the reluctance to acknowledge another child until a woman is obviously pregnant. That may well be a question Amish readers want to address, and can address better than me!

      2. Linda

        Amish Pregnancy

    12. Mark - Holmes Co.

      It’s not the same in all Amish groups! Usually my wife hears the news at church or visiting and tells me later. We just heard the happy news about newlyweds in our neighborhood expecting their first and there is far from any “showing” there. I know it’s not the same in some other Amish groups or communities, but it’s not so for us.

    13. Jim+Cates

      Many Thanks for All the Questions

      To all the readers who asked questions, many thanks! You put my mind to work. Also my thanks to Erik for hosting this Q & A, and for highlighting the book. Take care, and the very best to all of you – Jim Cates

    14. Al in Ky

      There is an interesting post today on the Mennonite World Review
      blog. It is entitled “Five Discoveries About Amish Families, Communities” and was written by Jeanette Harder who is a Mennonite woman from Nebraska. She works with Doves Nest, a Mennonite-based organization that focuses on children/family issues
      and was invited by the New York Office of Children and Family Services to help them relate to the growing number of Amish and Old Order Mennonites in New York state. You may read the article by going to

    15. Jim Cates

      Mennonite World Review

      Thanks for pointing that article out to me Al. I think I commented on it – I got through my comment and submitted it, but I’m not sure it “took,” and there is a screening process. We shall see…