Will Your Church Care for the Special Needs Child?

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of god and knows God.”  I John 4:7

In schools across America, every teacher’s goal is to help each child become the most successful they can be in the classroom.  Sometimes a child has special needs which require them to receive extra help.  These needs are addressed by creating an individual education plan for that child with accommodations and modifications to apply in their classroom environment.  The individual education plan is created and monitored by a team of people which includes teachers, specialists, school administrators and the child’s parents.

My question I now pose to you is: if worldly schools devote extra time and resources to helping children with special needs, then how much more should we as the Church devote to caring for these children?

Many people unfamiliar with special needs children shy away or find it easier to remain ignorant of how to provide extra help.  Yet the Church should be a place where these children receive more love, care, concern and acceptance than anywhere out in the world.  These children could be affected by physical disabilities or have unique learning challenges.  If this child’s school is making strides to help them succeed in the classroom, then shouldn’t we strive to help them learn about the Lord in the best way they can in our churches, too?

If you have a child with special needs in your children’s ministry, then I propose you try these three simple steps. There will be more you can do, but this is a starting point.

1.  Parent Communication

Ask their parent what you can do as their teacher at church to be of help to their child.  Make an effort to understand the child’s needs and brainstorm with the parent how you could help accommodate these needs in your classroom on Sunday mornings.  This can be done through a series of casual conversations when the child is dropped off and picked up.  It could be a simple phone call during the week.  Or the parent may prefer a meeting where they can have adequate time to collaborate with you.

2.  Be Persistent in Caring

Be diligent to try the accommodations agreed upon by you and the parent.  Give the accommodation time even if it may not seem to work at first.  Remember that by trying these adjustments you are showing love and care not only for the child, but for their parent, too.  You may find that over time your lessons will run more smoothly because you are making an effort to give this child the little extra help they need.  You will also feel more competent to teach because you understand what they need from you.

3.  Follow-up

Be sure to communicate regularly with the parent to check how things are going from their perspective and make adjustments accordingly.

An excellent teacher knows and understands his student.  A caring and loving person is concerned with the needs of others.  We as teachers of children in the Church should strive to be excellent teachers who both know and love every child we teach.  Are you caring for every child in the way Christ would care for them?

“The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require.  But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” 1 Corinthians 12:22-25

Need More Help? For more resources about special needs ministry, visit The Inclusive Church blog. We also have a post on making your existing curriculum special needs friendly.


Comments

  1. says

    Good discussion all around. Thanks as well to Amy B. for calling attention to this issue.

    I think it’s important that children’s and youth ministries open to serving kids with disabilities not let “perfect” become the enemy of good. What’s the “win” when working with families of kids who qualify for special education services? I’d define the win as the chid’s family being connected to the church, regularly involved in the stuff that church has found most effective in helping people come to faith in Christ and grow in faith. Implementing an IEP for two hours a week isn’t nearly as important as the opportunity to equip and influence parents who’ll get to spend 60 hours a week shepherding the child with an IEP.

    The vast majority of parents I encounter who have kids with IEPs wouldn’t expect untrained church volunteers to implement the types of interventions that require teachers with special training during the week. They would appreciate a church that afforded them the opportunity to worship without distraction and welcomed and included their children with and without special needs.

    11-14% of kids in the school districts within five miles of my church have IEPs. There are just too many of them for the church to ignore. They all have parents and most have siblings. There may be strategies leaders and volunteers can adapt from the IEP to help the child to have a positive church experience, but the most important thing is for their families to be connected to the church. Without a relationship with the families, the church has no influence.

    Amy Lee’s blog does have an excellent discussion of this topic: http://theinclusivechurch.wordpress.com/2010/09/03/ieps-and-the-church/

  2. says

    Commander Bill –

    I 100% agree with your comments! In fact I have an article coming out September 1st on this very subject. Doing IEP’s requires a HUGE pool of resources and time…something a church simply may not have. And I don’t want to discourage the church community by assserting that sucessful special needs inclusion requires intense one-on-one plans with measuring indicators (very intimidating).

    (By the way, note that the author of this article is a different Amy).

    In the meantime, AMY BROWN: Thanks SO Much for bringing attention to this issue. Great writing! The more discussion, the better!

    Amy Fenton Lee
    The Inclusive Church)

  3. says

    Amy,

    I agree that churches should strive to work to reach children with special needs and their families. I agree that communication with the parents is key to being effective. I have experience with special needs children in our church and ministry. Some we have worked well with, and some we have failed miserably.

    My concern is the basis for the article. Allow me to quote a portion:

    “Sometimes a child has special needs which require them to receive extra help. These needs are addressed by creating an individual education plan for that child with accommodations and modifications to apply in their classroom environment. The individual education plan is created and monitored by a team of people which includes teachers, specialists, school administrators and the child’s parents.

    My question I now pose to you is: if worldly schools devote extra time and resources to helping children with special needs, then how much more should we as the Church devote to caring for these children?”

    I may be interpreting the intent incorrectly, but you state that public educational systems utilize an “individual education plan is created and monitored by a team of people which includes teachers, specialists, school administrators and the child’s parents”

    Your typical church does not have these resources. They may only have one person who has some knowledge and/or a heart to try to reach these children and families. Many children’s ministries struggle to have enough leaders and so they cannot offer the individualized attention that some of these children require.

    When that occurs, it is important for a church/ministry to realize that they are unable to minister effectively and hopefully they are able to direct them to a Bible believing church that can better minister to their needs.

    I have led several workshops at Awana conferences on ministering to special needs children in the club setting. Many leaders look for a ‘standard answer that cures all’ and as Amy noted, there isn’t one.

    I agree that the steps you present are basic, initial steps, that not only works for reaching families with special needs children, but all children.

    A good starting point in general, but the average church will never be able to compare to the resources a public/secular institution can provide for a child with or without special needs. Though that is no excuse not to do what you can, which is what I believe you are ultimately suggesting.

  4. says

    Libbie -
    My experience has been that children with any given diagnosis can differ so much between each other that it is hard to find just one curriculum set that works for all kids under one diagnosis. I explain some of this on my blog at http://bit.ly/dCHsWK.

    One publisher has sent me a curriuculum book to review that was designed for children with autism. Candidly I have NOT spent time looking through the product and really reviewing this product, so I am not endorsing the product here. BUT it may be worth a look for you, Rhythms of Grace (by Audrey Scanlan & Linda Snyder): http://www.churchpublishing.org/products/index.cfm?fuseaction=productDetail&productID=8451

    Keep in mind that virtually no curriculum works ready-made for any environment. Every church has to make a few adaptations (even for typical environments) to make the material fit their theology, their space, and the personalities of those involved. So when you look for curriculum don’t be turned off if something isn’t perfect. Even with any material’s imperfections and adjustmenhts, it may still provide a starting framework and good suggestions for ways to make a Bible lesson “stick”.

    I do have more on my blog, The Inclusive Church, about curriculum at: http://theinclusivechurch.wordpress.com/category/curriculum/

    Hopefully this helps!
    Amy Fenton Lee

  5. says

    This is certainly an interesting topic for a smaller parish to tackle. I think that the best thing that most of us can do is understand how hard it can be. Books like There’s Something About Daniel by author Robyn Stecher can help to develop the much needed sense of empathy for these parents.

  6. Susan Angerman says

    We have a ministry dedicated to helping kidz with special needs. It is so important to get these families into a church that loves them and makes the feel wanted and is there for them.

    • Libbie says

      We have just started a special needs ministry in our church this month. I am the lead teacher and am a parent of a son with autism. I’m having difficulty finding the right curriculum to capture his attention (he’s our only student so far…). Do you have any suggestions??? Any advice would help.

      Thanks! God Bless!

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