Today’s post is a little different from the usual. I often talk about teachers and how we can relate to the kids whom we teach. I’ve also done posts on children with special needs, but not for awhile.
I have a special place in my heart for these children. In fact, one of the last projects I did before quitting my job at Awana was putting together their special needs guide.
Rather than write this post from my own experiences, however, I chose to interview a mom of a child with special needs. (To protect the child and the family, I am not using real names.)
The Cantons adopted Amalia from China. She has PTSD, SPD, developmental delay, speech delay and metabolic disorder. In addition, she is possibly ADHD.
Combined these things continue to make it hard for her to regulate herself. She has trouble sitting still and focusing. In some aspects, she behaves and thinks more like a four or five-year-old than an eight-year-old. She also has food restrictions which must be strictly adhered to.
But these things do not wholly define her. Yes, they are part of who she is, but not all of her. She loves being artistic, she loves playing and likes other children, she longs for friends (though that’s not easy when you don’t quite fit in.). She’s spunky and funny and being outside brings her great joy.
How should parents help their own children to include children with special needs?
Inclusion starts in the home. Every situation is different and no one can completely understand someone else’s situation. Even our close friends who are supportive, loving and caring cannot fully grasp what it is like for our child 24/7.
That’s why it is so important for parents to teach their kids that children with special needs are different … but not where it matters.
Kids with special needs should not be pitied, but rather treated equally. If your children have a question, answer it openly and honestly. “Why is he in a wheelchair? Why does she run around and not sit still?” Why can’t he hear?”
Teach by example. Show them that these kids are worth respect and kindness.
We’ve had experience with both. We know children who treat our child like any other child. They ask her to play and they include her in activities. But we’ve also encountered children who make nasty remarks and weird faces, and just generally are unkind, Parents have to take the first step in teaching their kids to treat other kids well.
How should a church welcome a family who has a child with special needs?
Churches vary in the resources they have for children with special needs. Some have well-staffed departments. Others have little or no resources.
When it comes to the church, there has to be communication and understanding. Again, every situation is different, so I don’t believe there is an exact right way to do things.
The most important thing is to talk to parents and ask them what they expect from the church. Do they have resources that would help? Does their child need constant help or should church staff wait until the child or parent asks for help? What strategies would be good for the parent to use? Parents know the child better than anyone, so enlist their help. Don’t assume.
All people who work with the child need to be in a discussion to know what the parent desires, so all staff members are on the same page.
If possible, take your staff to a conference on special needs. (Many good ones are available.) If your church can’t afford that, ask someone who has worked with children with special needs to speak to your staff. This could be a specialist from a church who has an organized program or a special education teacher.
An additional option is asking the parent of the child to speak to the class.(If they are willing – don’t force.) Most parents are anxious to advocate for their children and willingly desire to explain in simple terms the child’s limitations, while emphasizing that their son or daughter is foremost a child. (Although some issues like PTSD and such are too sensitive and private to share with the class. Such sensitive information should be only shared with those in church who need the information.)
Teachers need to know what to do. They need to be encouraged to treat the child with love. They need to set an example. If they see a situation where another student is being unkind, they need to call that student out. They need to teach the entire class how to act toward others with empathy. If a problem persists, there needs to be a process to solve it.
- Talk to the parents of the child and let them know what happened.
- Talk to your supervisor (children’s ministry director, pastor,etc.)
- Talk to the parents of the child who is being unkind.
- Talk to the class (without singling out the child) about kindness. ____________________________________ A lot of churches are failing the special needs community. They either ignore the issue or sometimes go so far as to blame the child’s needs on lack of faith or sin. I don’t believe God is pleased. My child’s eternal soul is as important as any other soul. God didn’t call us to stay in our comfort zone.
Please don’t ignore your children with special needs.