Today’s brilliant guest post is from Beth, who is a talented blogger and mum to two children, (a son adopted, and a 14-year-old daughter with Down Syndrome).
Thank you, Beth for sharing your wisdom.
“Can I sit with my friends?” It sounds like a typical question from a teen. It was from my 14 year old daughter with Down Syndrome. I looked at the row of girls that my daughter was pointing to. I wondered, “would they welcome her joining their group or would they ignore her? Would they slide over and make room for her? Would they take the extra time to talk to her?” I admit that Sunday morning in church I wasn’t sure how they would react and so my response was, “just sit with me.”
As a church, both the local church and the corporate body of believers, we need a Biblical understanding of special needs. Books, blog posts, articles, essays have been written on this topic. If I could summarise it into three thoughts, it would be:
· Everyone is made in God’s image.
· We live in a fallen, broken world.
· God sent Jesus to rescue us in this broken world.
With that as our foundation how do we include children with special needs and their families in our churches? The church of all places should be welcoming and accommodating.
Children’s Workers/Sunday School Teachers can include children with special needs through the following:
- Have a servant’s heart. Your attitude will set the tone for others. Your care and teaching of the child could be what allows the parents to worship and be refreshed for another week.
- Know the child. Some children want to be part of the group and do everything that the other children are doing. Other children are content to just sit and be there with the class. Talk with the parents. Know what the parents are expecting and discuss what you can do.
- Include the child as much as the child desires. If the child raises their hand, give them a chance to answer. Give extra time when asking questions as it might take a bit of time for them to process. Know what the child is good at and include them in that area.
- Understand that transitions can be a challenge. Give an advance notice to help the child prepare. Children with special needs often know the routine and a change in the routine can be disruptive. So, if you are moving the singing to the end of the time instead of at the beginning, realise that could be unsettling for a child with special needs.
- Depending on the needs of the child consider having a buddy to be with that child. A buddy does not have to be formally trained but just someone that can assist the child.
- As you plan children’s activities, keep in mind the children with special needs. Are there activities that they can be involved with? What are their limits? Work to include them. Excluding them can further make the children struggle to accept their condition or medical needs.
- Your goal as a children’s worker should be to teach all children to know and love God.
Parents of other children can include the parents + children with special needs through the following:
- Teach and model how to include those marginalized in the church. Who do you talk during fellowship time? Do you talk with the special needs children? What do you say when you child complains at how slow a child, who struggles to walk, is going up the steps. Do you pause and remind the child of God’s truths? Model kindness to your children.
- Encourage your children to be kind. We are commanded to be kind to one another. (Ephesians 4:32) Kindness could be as simple as just saying, hello and asking a question about the week. Teach them to have a heart of compassion.
- Get to the know the parents of children with special needs. Learn how to support one another.
- Understand that friendship with a child with special needs might be different than other friendships. It is okay if it is awkward and challenging but kindness and friendliness is essential.
- Give grace and patience to the parents of special needs children. They might appear over protective, interfering or fussy but it might be fear of a meltdown or a bad reaction to a trigger.
- It might cost to be kind to the child with special needs. True kindness can cost us. A wonderful example of kindness to someone with special needs is David’s kindness to Mephibosheth. (2 Samuel 9)
- Your goal as a parent should be to show kindness to those with special needs and their families.
Parents of children with special needs:
- Don’t assume how people will act in a situation. All parents are protective and I think special needs parents are more so as we don’t want our children hurt as we know they might not understand. I was guilty of that on that Sunday morning when I told my daughter to just sit with me.
- Give grace and love to those around. You know your child but others might not understand so give lots of grace and love.
- Write a thank you note to the teachers. They work hard to teach and care for your child. Let them know how that is a blessing to you.
- If there is a child that you see is kind to your child with special needs, let the parents know. Praise that child to their parents. It might be just what the parents needed to hear about their child.
- Parents of special needs children, give love and grace to those around you.
Together we can include those with special needs in our church and thus share God’s love. God has created them. God loves them. Let’s honor and praise God together.
Beth enjoys a good book and a cup of coffee. She blogs at As He Leads is Joy. Her desire is to challenge and encourage women to grow and thrive; learning who God is and how you can serve him.
Image taken from “He Came Down”