This is the second of a two part article on addressing the needs of kids with disabilities at church. You can read the first part here.
No matter how often I read the story of the Good Samaritan, it is hard to imagine someone turning away from an individual that needs help. But, we all do it and families that include children and or adults with disabilities are often made to feel unwelcome when it comes to Sunday School and Church attendance.
In Luke Chapter 10, the bible tells us “…that when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him.” The first step really begins in your heart. Do you have compassion? Here are some practical suggestions.
When you encounter a child with a disability, introduce yourself. Speak to the individual and the family. Get on eye level if possible. Some disabilities are more obvious than others, open a dialogue with the family and listen before offering advice. Taking a cue from the Good Samaritan, set aside any fear or prejudice and show love and compassion; ask questions like how you can help.
Often, the modifications needed with some kids can be quite easy. It may be as simple as making sure you face the child when speaking. Parents generally will know what is needed and will be glad to tell you. There was one occasion that I still find funny when I think back on it. My son’s preschool teacher was frustrated that he couldn’t be motivated by cheese puffs. She didn’t understand that tactile issues often affect those with disabilities, so cheese puffs and even playdough were repulsive to him. But the good news was that he responded to applause, so the solution included only a few hand claps and a cheer and he was good to go. What made the student, parent, teacher relationship work was respectful dialogue.
There are many learning styles among kids and children with disabilities are no different. There is no one size fits all. Speak in a respectful way to the parent or caretaker and ask questions such as what do you find is the best way to motivate your child.
Avoid ultimatums that include the requirement that the child be accompanied by a parent to attend class. Instead if you find it necessary to request that the parent attend, use it as a way to open dialogue. Ask if it would be possible if the parent could assist you this week or on a temporary basis in an effort for you to learn what works best for their child. The teacher’s attitude is key to success. My personal opinion is that I would only ask a parent to do this if it is an extreme situation. Most parents do not want to leave their child with an adult who is not equipped to handle the situation. They will be happy that you cared enough about their child to ask questions and ask for help as long as it is presented in a respectful way and in an earnest effort to help.
Make sure that the student is in the appropriate classroom environment. Younger children with disabilities can typically remain in the classroom or with students who are perhaps a year younger as long as there is an additional worker who can be on hand to redirect and encourage the disabled student. As children with more severe disabilities reach the teenage years, it is important for them to have their own classroom that is more geared to their learning styles. Again, sometimes simple adjustments are all that is necessary. For example those who are sensitive to noise levels can often be helped with headphones that might include Christian music and or videos. My own son loves music. He sings out with great praise, although he is at least one beat behind and as flat as a pancake. His praise in his own classroom does not interfere with others and is indeed worthy.
You can also see a list of all of Kim’s blog posts here.