Last year, I blogged about special needs ministry for children with autism. It has become a forum of discussion for parents and children’s ministers to discuss the challenges of church for children with autism.
I stressed the importance of developing a unique approach and relationship with each child. I highlighted research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison that discovered, “autistic children shy from eye contact because they perceive even the most familiar face as an uncomfortable threat.” But the greatest insight comes from the answers to my question:
What advice do you have for ministering to special needs children?
Here is a summary of the insights.
- Buddy System – children with special needs are paired with trained adults to assist them at whatever level is needed. Experienced volunteers trained by child psychologists and educators are a plus. (Example: Joy Zone)
- Childcare Nights (respite care) – childcare for children with special needs and their siblings so the parent(s) can relax. On-site doctors, nurses, and OT/PT’s is a plus. (Example: Revive)
- Community Outreach – go beyond the church walls and minister in the community because some parents will not attend church because they believe their child with special needs will disturb others or cannot be entrusted to others.
- Dual Classrooms – sometimes children with special needs participate in the same class as their age group, and other times the children with special needs are in a quiet room especially designed for them as not to be overwhelming or too stimulating.
- Separate Classroom – children with special needs are separated from the standard children’s classrooms but their parents and siblings are welcomed.
- Zachariah’s Way – trains churches how to better minister to people with special needs and their families.
- Labeling their Identity – Do not refer to people by their disability. Say “children with autism” rather than “autistic children” because it can subtly change one’s perception of a child with autism.
- Every Child is Different – Determine how to reach each child. Children with autism don’t like too much stimulation. But children with other disabilities may thrive on it.
- Give Expectations – many children with special needs behave better when they know what is expected of them.
- Be Visual – Include inanimate objects need to be included in lessons. Things like puppets, pictures, and videos take the focus off the teacher and engages the child without intimidating him.
- Use Music – children with autism love music.
- More than Chairs – children with autism do not like to sit for long periods of time.
- Keep It Small – children with autism like small environments
- Ask & Research – do not tell the parent what you think. Ask the parents about the child then do some research.
- Don’t gossip.
- Love the child.
WHY IT MATTERS (stories from parents)
- I have a stepson who is autistic, and I tried to take him to church, I really miss going to church. My problem is I spent more time in the child’s room than I spent at church because the people who teach there are simply not educated in the needs of an autistic student. I have been looking into getting a tss or a pca to come and help during church but to no avail. It would be wonderful if more people truly understood instead of staring and whispering. (Stacy)
- I have a 20 year old son with Asperger Syndrome who loves the Lord deeply. Sadly the church environment has been the one place he has never been welcomed or encouraged to return. The secular world has been far kinder to him. Though he desperately wants friends and fellowship, the lack of encouragement within the church body has caused him to retreat further into his own world. He now refuses to try again. (Rhiannon)
- I have been very grateful for a Special Needs Sunday School class that was started. I feel comfortable with leaving him there and I am at least getting to hear a sermon once a week! (Sheryl)
– What advice do you have for ministering to children with special needs?
Keep the insights coming!