Special Needs Ministry for Children & Adults

Craig Van Korlaar —  June 4, 2012

By its very nature, children’s ministry is challenging, but special needs ministry takes the challenge to a whole new level. Any pastor familiar with teaching special needs children understands the importance of developing a unique approach and relationship with each child. It takes a great deal of effort, but it is well worth it when you can effectively connect and minister to a special needs child.

One thing that cannot be overstated is the importance of developing a unique approach and relationship with each child. There is no true cookie cutter way to serve everyone in a special needs ministry.  That said, we felt there was still value in summarizing some tips and best practices provided by those who minister to those with special needs.

WHAT WORKS

  • 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.
  • Pure Ministries (a ministry of  Zachariah’s Way) - trains churches how to better minister to people with special needs and their families.
  • Prayer

TIPS

  • 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 often 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 – 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 (and many other special needs) 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
  • Don’t gossip.
  • Love the child.

INTERACTING WITH PARENTS

  • Don’t say, “I know how you feel.” - You can empathize with them, but you cannot experience this process in their place nor truly know how they feel.
  • Ask & Research - Do not tell the parent what you think. Ask the parents about the child then do some research.
  • Include – Make an concerted effort to include their loved one with special needs in your social gatherings or outings whenever appropriate.
  • Offer respite – Even a break for an hour can be a great help.
  • Avoid offering unsolicited advice - Even well intentioned advice can communicate they are inferior parents.
  • Say and show you care - Parents appreciate it when you genuinely communicate that you care and ask for ways you can be of help…even if they don’t take you up on it.
  • Don’t assume – Just because a parent has a high-functioning child with special needs, this does not mean they have smaller challenges than those with low-functioning children.

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)

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Church Specific Special Needs Resources

General Teaching and Awareness Resources

Autism & Asperger Syndrome

For Discussion:
- What advice do you have for ministering to children with special needs? Are there any other online resources you would like to recommend?

Keep the insights coming!

Revised and updated from a previous post

Craig Van Korlaar

Posts

Craig is founder of TopNonprofits.com, a curation of best practices from the world's leading nonprofits. His skills were honed as a decorated sergeant and enlisted aerial navigator for the U.S. Marine Corps and nurtured through his work at public schools, the YMCA, and Food for the Hungry. Most recently, Craig has served as operations director at Phoenix's New City Church, co-founder of SoChurch communications software, and a key player in laying the groundwork for OpenChurch.com. Craig spent much of his formative years as a missionary's kid in Kenya and civil war-torn Zaire.

47 responses to Special Needs Ministry for Children & Adults

  1. My advice is not how, but that we need to develop ministries both in and beyond the church to minister to special needs children. I have to believe there are many families who do not attend church because the feel they cannot take their special needs child either because they fear they will disturb others or because they don’t feel they can entrust them to others. Any church that offers a safe and welcoming atmosphere to special needs children and their families will meet a deep need in their community.

  2. Kent, thanks for addressing this issue. My pastor’s son suffers from Aspergers (mild form of Autism) and I know his needs are not being met by our childrens ministry. Not by negligence, but mostly due to ignorance.

    I’m not a children’s ministry expert but from what I do know more inanimate objects need to be included in lessons. Things like puppets, videos, etc. take the focus off the teacher and engages the child without intimidating him/her.

    This is a discussion that needs to take place within the larger community of Childrens Ministry. Thanks for starting it.

  3. Our church has offered Klub G.L.O.W. (God’s Love Overflowing Within) for the past year with great success. Special needs children are paired with trained adults or “buddies” to assist them at whatever level is needed. Sometimes the special needs children and their buddy are able to participate in the same class with their age group while other time the child and their buddy are in a quiet room especially designed for them as not to be overwhelming or too stimulating. The parents are able to go to church knowing their child is individually cared for. We also offer childcare a few nights a year for parents with special needs kids. This ministry was begun by a mom in our church with a special needs child.

  4. There isn’t just one way to do it.
    As you’ve mentioned Autistic children don’t like too much stimulation. I didn’t know that.
    But my son, severely disabled, thrives on it. His time in his mainstream class (in with typical children) it the best thing for him and the class. You see, it isn’t only about the disabled child, but also about the other children too. I would never have guessed that the mainstream class would do anything.

    I’d have to say that the church is the least friendly place and the worst example of how to treat a disabled child.
    The kid welcome team (of which I participate) was being instructed to watch out for disabled children and not to let them in unaccompanied until the kids pastor had met with them.
    Well. Maybe. But what the heck does disabled mean? In a wheelchair? Down’s syndrome (there are different types)? I live with it every day and I’m hard pressed to tell.
    I’ll agree that it is all to easy to send the signal, “Well, we’d really rather you not be here.”.

    The parents aren’t looking to dump their children. Sometimes it is treating them as normal, sometimes getting a buddy (seen that work), or have a separate class.
    I’d applaud the nights off concept. With divorce rates at 90% for parents of disabled children, you’re looking at one of two things: 1. A marriage in crisis or 2. A single parent.

    As far as developing a special connection with each child…. Would be best if that happened all the way around – for all ages.

  5. David, you are right on.

    Great input. I like keeping “special needs” kids in with the rest of the class. I think it helps to let them know they can be a part of what is considered “normal.” I’m not sure how to put it into words. For me, it is an intangible benefit that is indescribable. I love your insight on the nights off concept.

    I also like the Klub GLOW format that Susan mentions.

  6. The only piece of advice I have comes from my wife who is a special education teacher, and that is to put people first above the disability. The easiest way to start doing this is not refer to people by their disability. Thus, it is not “autistic children” but children with autisim. While it is a simple change in language, it can also lead to a subtle change in percepeption. People with a cognitive or physical disability should not be labeled by their disability.

  7. Kent-
    Great timing on this article.
    My church is about to start a class for Autistic children on Sundays and possibly other times of the week. We have two autistic children in our church and one with asburgers.
    We look at as a great opportunity to reach out to families who won’t come to church because they are afraid their autistic child will disrupt the service. Not only will we be able to minister to that child but to the family also.
    We have several school teachers and special ed teachers who are going to be involved, we are also bringing in the local person from the city’s autistic center to train these people.
    It sounds a lot like the Klub GLOW format that Susan is using.
    I wonder if there is any way I could contact Susan and ask some questions.
    I also know that there are lots of grants available for helping autistic children.
    What an opportunity.
    I’m excited about it and I don’t even work with children.

  8. We have a large special needs ministry.that has two major components. Revive is respite care program for kids with special needs and their siblings two friday nights a month. We watch the kids w/ speical needs and their siblings so mom and/or dad can have a six to ten pm window to do something for themselves (date, errands, relax, etc.). It is dificult to find someone to watch you kids if one of them has special needs and the divorce rate is extremely high among such parents.. We have doctor, nurses and OT/PT’s on site. Also a ton of our church volunteers as an outreach. The volunteering is popular, so much so that several HS atheletic teams have adopted the program and the whole team comes and volunteers. We have all kinds of jump houses, sand tables, therapy swings etc.

    We also have a Sunday morning program called the Joy Zone for children with special needs.

    God has allowed us to work with the Vietnamese government because of these efforts. Our special needs teachers have actually written their national collegiate curriculum that every future teacher of special needs children takes at University. We also have been able to start a Hope Center in conjunction with Vietnamese nationals in order to create a lab to service children and do teaching labs. It has truly been an amazing journey for NorthWood Church thus far….(read more at mynorthwood.org).

  9. And yes we mainstream buddy some kids. Revive services 85 families and 200 children per month.

  10. I have read all the comments. They are very encouraging and give me hope. Our church meets in a middle school and is in the process of getting ready to build; however, we have a few children with autism and no program in place to facilitate their needs at the moment. Parents and child caren volunteers are all frustrated. I am the team leader and unfortunately do not know where to start. I do have a heart to help, but how? Any suggestions would be great.

  11. I am a pastor with a severely disabled child. I believe God is calling to start a ministry to the families and the children. If someone were to start a ministry to you and your family, like a Joni & friends, etc. What would it look like?

  12. I have a stepson who is autistic , and I tried to take him to church , I really miss going to church as it is my time to reflect and to thank our lord for all the wonderful blessings he has given us .
    My problem is I spent more time in the childs 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 .

  13. Here in Macau we have many families with autistic children who want to come to our church because it is geared specifically for their kids. Most of the parents are idol worshippers! But we think this is a great place for them to learn about Jesus while they have fun with their kids.

  14. 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 desparately 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. I am attempting to begin a new ministry here in Las Vegas, NV which will reach out to young adults like my son with the gospel, fellowship, and Bible study. I have written to many local churches to see if there are any people who would be interested in helping me begin this ministry locally and eventually take it worldwide; the need is so great. Thus far no one has replied but I am not discouraged; I know now after reading all the comments that there are others who care. I’m so glad I found this site.

  15. I am a pediatric physical therapist who absolutely LOVES children and adults with special needs. I decided to start our church’s special needs ministry when some of patients visited our church. At that time, I did not have children and didn’t realize how ignorant most churches are to the dire need of these families. The ministry has gone well, but I am wanting to see the bigger picture…I want the church as a whole to welcome people with special needs as soon as they arrive from the elders to the infants. I dream of the day when there are no second thoughts to people with special needs, especially in churches of all places. I
    I have since adopted a son from Ukraine who has mild cerebral palsy and sensory processing difficulties (similar to autism). It has opened my eyes even further to the challenges that other families face when leaving their child somewhere.
    1- I agree that it has to be a complete mental change in outlook towards these individuals
    2- We currently do the ‘buddy’ system but are getting ready to have a seperate room for those who need it
    3- We have set up an affiliation with a Christian non-profit group who has a respite night once a month with highly qualified volunteers, doctors, etc
    4-I recently discovered Zachariah’s Way…an organization that educates churches on special needs and how to make them an integral part of your church
    5- I constantly search websites for ways to improve our ministry as well as ask parents what they would like to see. Then I pray and wait for God to provide…He always does!

  16. I just wanted to comment… my church has just started a ministry specifically for children/adults with autism. I am the assistant director and I can say first hand that developing this ministry was not simple or easy in any sense of the word. You must know that a ministry like this will end up “taking over” your church, and while to many that doesnt sound good, it is an amazing thing for the families of those with a special needs and those who do not. The love these children begin to teach is something that nothing can compare to. Our group is seperated from the other typical children but they parents and siblings are welcomed and encourage to get involved in all areas of the church. Some of our children have acted as greeters with the aid of a buddy. Keep searching your community, you will be shocked by how many people are looking for exactly what you are offering. And while there will be many people who dont understand your reasonings for doing what you are, pray that God will open their hearts, because He does!! Good luck, and everyone at Kingdom Kids Autism Ministry will be praying for you!!

  17. We recently had an incident with a child with autism who was disruptive in church. It was handled terribly and put our congregation in the category of churches who are anything but welcoming of individuals with special needs. As the Director of Children’s Ministries, I want very badly to find a way to include this parent in worship. As of now, our children come to worship with their parents and then leave with me about 20 minutes into the service for WOW-worship, our way. I want to be able to include this child whether it means having a buddy for him or finding other ways to include him. My problem now is how to accommodate this child, his sibling and mother during the first 20 minutes of worship without too much disruption of the service. Does anyone have any advice-I certainly could use some.

  18. Hi i am a LMSW and have a desire to help a well. How does one find such grants to start a project to help children with autism?

  19. I’m new to the position of Children’s minister in our church. Not only am I trying to increase attendance of children but also provide a safe and spiritual environment for special needs children. Our small congregation has a teenage autistic child and a 9 year old downs syndrome child. Since our numbers are small I am trying to figure out the best way to keep both children involved but also to keep the younger and much smaller children safe since most of the time, the 9 year old is put in the nursery. The buddy idea seems logical but there are times when he has to be put in a separate room and that doesn’t seem fair to anyone.

  20. Wow, everything that I have read on this discussion is so heavy on my heart. With 1 in 150 children having autism, at least one or two are bound to end up at your church. As a mother of a 6 year old with autism, I have often not been able to be involved as much as I would like with church. I attended Bible College and I have a degree in Elementary Education. 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! If you start this ministry, you need to make sure that you have some training:) There are numbers of families out there that are searching for help. I just read “Louder than Words” by Jenny McCarthy. I found it fascinating that when she was going through the pain of autism, her family called the Mormons, and whoever else they could think of to pray for her son. It is an absalutely heart breaking and desperate time for most families. Not only is it is difficult, autistic children don’t like change! They like routine, and they need people who understand how to keep them in a routine even at church. You can’t just switch teachers on them or move them around to different classrooms. You need a steady schedule for them with people who are willing to be there week in and week out. Not all special needs children are this regimented. However, I have noticed how much better my son has become behaviorly when he knows what is expected of him. You must also use pictures in everything you do. You can’t just talk to them about a story and expect them to understand you. You must give them sensory time also. They won’t just sit for long periods of time. They love music. Often I will take my son into the regular service so that he can listen to the music, but as soon as the preacher starts preaching, he loses interest because he has no idea what he is saying! He might yell out or start moving around, so he can’t stay! He does much better in a smaller environment. Some autistic children are fine with their “typical” peers and learn adjust in a ‘kids church setting”. However, you learn quickly that they still need the structure, pictures and sensory movement. Why I say pictures is that ” They think in pictures”. When a child with autism starts therapy, they use pictures to teach them words. They learn to communicate with pictures first, turning to words and they might also use sign language. My son has used both. Even when he has learned to talk, I still use sign and pictures when he is overwhelmed by a situation because the words do not reach his brain.

    Ok, your parents are full of information also how to deal with these type of children! Use them for a resource, because they have read the books, talked to the doctors, teachers and therapists:)

  21. Hello, I have a daughter with Down Syndrome, she’s 6 1/2 years old. She is streamlined in the public school and doing wonderful. We’ve had her in church since birth, she is well adapted with her peers – she has 3 brothers and one of them is only 15 months younger so where he goes, she goes. That is her one on one aid at church. We have recently had a 6 year old boy come in to our church with autism. He is wonderful, I really have bonded with him. There is no program for him in our church but I teach every other month his age group and unfortunately, I cannot keep him in the classroom. He screams constantly and it is very upsetting to the 12 other kids in the class. I have taught a lesson on “loving one another” and how people are different but still Gods children. Attempting to train the other kids to accomodate him regardless of his screaming but I don’t think it’s going to work out…maybe too much stimulation for him?? I am trying to accomodate him by organizing a one on one for him weekly but I have no idea how to go about teaching him a typical lesson. Any sugguestions? Also, there will have to be some training for church members that are going to help with his care weekly. His father needs this and so does our church! I would appreciate any constructive advice. Thanks! Rochester, New York

  22. I am the coordinator for the All God’s Children program (for children with special needs) at my church. The program we have uses the buddy system (we call them shadows) and integrates the children with their typically developing peers, using shadows, modifications and lots of visual/tactile aids/supports. Anyway, the program was already running when I was asked to take over coordinating it, and I am currently attempting to fine tune some of the problem areas we have.

    Our biggest problem is finding volunteers willing to shadow our kids. I am a special education teacher by training and am developing the modifications for the kids and trainings for the shadows, but can’t seem to get people interested in volunteering (I have people check the box in their bulletin to help with the program, and I would say 8 out of 10 that check that box, decide not to follow through).

    I have been reading a book called “Special Needs, Special Ministry” that was given to me by the director of children’s services at my church. It is SO helpful and has MANY resources. It mentions Joni and Friends ministry many times…and that website is my next stop for some ideas on finding volunteers. I am also planning to visit churches in my area with established and successful programs and see if I can get some ideas from them.

    People are doing this, so it can be done! I would love to see our ministry expand to provide respite for families and expand to serve adults with special needs as well. God Bless you all for your heart for His children! He made each of us for His purpose and He loves ALL of His children!

  23. As a Pastor’s child when I was growing up I was held in a different light then other children in the church. I was to be more mature then my age, dress better, act better, know more. I assume you know the story. Now that I am married to a Pastor I find that same expectation being held to our children. The problem? Our oldest has Autism. I’ve been cornered (literally backed against the wall in our own home) by the Sunday School Superintedant wondering if I was going to “FESS up to the fact my son wasn’t right” I resisted the urge to pointed out she was new to the church and it wasn’t my duty to make announcement of my son’s disorders for every new member who came. Many times as we have special functions I have to stay home. I miss services, lunches, special occasions. During Christmas time he fliped out about wearing the costume and hid in the study crying. I have been attacked for “backsliding” for missing a service, the assumtion that I must be really sick or Satan is wining a battle because I wasn’t there 24/7.

    To the churches loss my husband stepped down as Youth Pastor in the church because there was no support for us as a family, no concideration for our son and an overwhelming amount of critism for our son and us as parents. We were blamed for being bad parents, he needed to be spanked more. We were blamed for having some sin in our life that caused him autism. So on and so forth.

    Although we still attend this church we do it on the basis that my son can handle. He may miss every other service, we still can not attend many functions. The Leadership in general are unawear of what Autism is or they feel inadiquate to deal with it. It is with SHAME that we find because of this they don’t research it and find out. The excuse they don’t understand and leave it at that. Meanwhile leaving the support they could give to us towards the congragation empty and unhelpful.

    I believe the best ministry that can happen is for Leadership to become educated in what Autism is (and is not) Even get to know a family with a child and see what it is like. That way the Leadership can jump on board as part of the TEAM helping the child.

    Many times other members have attacked us for our son. Many times their children have hit, hurt, accused, gone after him because he is different. On the outside he looks normal so they assume he is but when he does not react normal the kids will attack him and then come and yell at me for his behaivor. No matter how I’ve tried to talk to them or their parents I find a horrific amount of negitive thoughts towards a child with Autism and the childs family. Sadly I find the worst of the negitive reaction to be in the church. I have more support and help from outside the church then I ever received from it.

    It’s a shame the church hasn’t stepped up and are letting such wonderful blessings slip through their fingers. Not just lossing the child but also the parents and other siblings. What a loss.

    However what an amazing possible ministry the church can take on, what a blessing to show Jesus Christ’s LOVE for ALL children if a church rises to meet the growing number of special needs children.

    Education, Information and support can be the thing the Church as a body can do to bring in so many hurt, down, wounded, battered, scared, humiliated, stressed families of special needs children.

    Did you know that on the news of having a special needs child the change of the divorce rate in a marriage increases over the 54% into the 85% and above?! What can be done for the marriages suffering the stress, anger, hurt that Satan hurls at them if the Church isn’t there to show Christ?

    The anger, pain, bitterness felt by siblings over their brother or sister with special needs can lead to suicide, running away, every parents nightmere. What can be done to reach the siblings?

    Autism doesn’t just affect the child, it effects the entire family. That family grows and becomes more, children marry and have children.

    Is the church awear of the ministry they are preventing or loosing?

    Smile to the family with a special needs kid.
    Hold back your child if he goes after a special needs child. Try to arrange a talk with both the childrens parents to work out a solution or understanding.
    If the service is interupted smile as the parent carries out the child (we are always embarressed and feel ashamed)
    Plan for the fact the child won’t react normally to anything~ the only consistancy is inconsistancy for the child.
    If you feel the Lord lead, offer to minister at home for them, coming and visiting, helping with things around the house making it possible for the family to make it to church. (ever try to get a boy with autism ready for church on time?)

    DON’T tell the parent what you THINK. ASK the parents about the child, then do some research. It will open your eyes in ways you never thought. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE. As Christians we are not to gossip, why do so many then think it’s alright for a special needs child and family? I have walked in on painful conversations about us and our son that should SHAME the speakers. However the attitude is it’s my responciblity and I need to answer the gossip as if it were truth and fact. Sigh. Just ask the parent. Love the child.

    The church has a growing possible ministry on their hands. If dealt with in LOVE I believe we could led not only a child, but parents, siblings, later on boyfriends, husbands, all to Christ. Because Christ cared for the children, AND the parents.

    So what is your church going to do?

  24. We have five children with autism. Our oldest child, who is NT, is a missionary, but our family is unchurched. Not because we choose to be, but because we have been driven from church after church because rules are more important than people. My children are actually more polite and disciplined than many NT children, but their unique needs were not taken into consideration when it came time to change or relax rules, and the rules did not meed their safety/security needs. Our last church was so inflexible that ALL of the special needs families left in a one-year period; most of those folks are still unchurched. An entire generation of children unwanted by those who profess to have Christ’s love. How this must grieve His heart!

  25. Praise the Lord
    I am coordinator or the Special attention towards handicapped children organization from last two years from Pakistan. i read your web sight and i am really impressed with the work and struggle.
    being a coordinator i want to represent our organization work and efforts to you. if you will be interested please reply
    lubna ghani
    Coordinator
    specail attention towards handicapped orgnaization
    toba tek singh
    punjab pakistan

  26. Hi I have been reading your stories about children with Autism, my nephew is autistic and we love him at church, at the Rock Foundation Christian Center in Seattle, on 5510 South 129th St. We are non Denominational church who loves he Lord and we are also trying to find grants or funds to start a school here in Seattle, there is already one in California, but we need one here for our children in Seattle, somewhere for the children and adults to go, and where they can be taught. When autistic children become adults, like littleRoy there is nowhere he can go. No daycare, No camp, no interatction whatsoever with other autistic children. So starting this school here in Seattle would be a great thing. Please help me, get involved with this project, we need grants and a staff of people to help get this project off the ground. email me and God Bless. Michele Young……………….

  27. I need help starting a special needs school here in Seattle. Focus on Autistic children and adults, helping them talk and function in todays society. There are no places for autistic adults to go or do here in Seattle, I tried to sign my son up for many activities but there are non for special needs adults.He is like a child but he is 25. There is a woman from California who already has a school there and would like me to help her get funds and grants and put on fund raisers so we can open a school here in Seattle,will you please help me? and God Bless you all. Michele Young………..email me

  28. Their needs to be more training in all areas. The truth is most churches are afraid of people with special needs whether it be autistic or rage issues. So they are just kicked out and forgotten. Maybe they are afraid of real revival. I mean Jesus healing in his day caused a real stir. How can their be revival is everyone that needs it is kicked out on the street as troublemakers.

  29. Michelle, you can email me and I will help you any way I can.

  30. I am a children’s pastor in with a children’s ministry of around 170 kids and I am struggling with what to do in the case of a mildly autisitc kid that only comes periodically. Our childrn’s ministry is limited like others with facility and volunteers so this makes it very difficult for us to accomidate this child. Our services are very stimulus driven and upbeat but He does not do well in this invironment. He is in 6th grade and is physically bigger than the other kids being ministered to, so this makes other children feel threatened when he is around. We had a large behavioral issue with him the last time he was there were he had to be removed from the area because of the danger to other children present. I struggle with not wanting to turn him or his mom away from the church because i believe all should be welcome but we are just not equiped to handle the condition. what do I do?

  31. Please Try to use People first Langauge – Children with Autism… Saying or Calling Them Autuitisc is focusing soley on their Disability… I too am an individual with autism and My Autism is Only a small part
    of who I am.

  32. I believe that all children should be given the chance to participate in a normal childrens worship service. However, there are some children who can not function in a normal setting. It is not fair to design the class around one single child. The other children will not benefit from the setting and will dislike church for it. I feel each special needs child’s needs need to be individually accessed. For instance Austistic children can not handle the stimuli it takes to keep the attention of children in a normal worship service. I am a special needs childrens ministry leader, we currently have numerous special needs children, all of which but two are in a normal class room. It is very true that most churches are not capable of handling alot of special needs children. They are not trained to do so and it takes alot of effort and support from the church staff and body to conduct a special needs ministry. The ministries workers have to be train to handle all aspects of special needs children not just one certain condition.

  33. As a writer addressing children’s ministry issues, I have heard many of the dilemmas and questions expressed in the comments to this post. I launched “The Inclusive Church” Blog at http://theinclusivechurch.wordpress.com/ to help churches work through these issues. The blog features insight and guidance from credible and experienced professionals and special needs focused ministers — all with the goal of helping churches successfully include children with special needs.

    I welcome feedback and questions for developing future content for “The Inclusive Church” Blog.

    Amy Fenton Lee
    The Inclusive Church

  34. I have a 5 year old daughter with Asperger’s. When a child takes things so literally it is hard to explain religion and God to a child especially a 5 year old. Tonight she told me that Angels weren’t real and I tried to explain to her that they were she just couldn’t see them. My heart breaks thinking that she can’t believe and how do I help her? How do I explain this to her? Someone please help I’m lost. ems_gril@att.net is my email and I’m open to advice.

  35. I stumbled upon this website while doing research for my husband who is called to full time special needs ministry. This has been something he has been working on since 2005, and this year he has gotten to finally talk to people about what God has placed on his heart. Our church has had a special needs ministry for 25 years but it consists of putting them in a classroom one service and that is it! My husband is proposing totally changing the program. Everyone loves what he is proposing but getting the administrative staff to move forward is an entirely different story (we are at a very large church). He follows the blogs at the Inclusive Church and also Zechariah’s Way and he is starting to get calls from churches wanting special needs consults. I know that he has an article almost done getting ready for publication, but honestly if anyone wants to contact him for advice, help, support, or maybe even networking, you can find him on his blog http://www.hindernot.blogspot.com. I am sure that emails wanting to network or needing advice would be an encouragement to him as getting churches open to special needs ministry involves a lot of roadblocks.

  36. our church is looking to start a program for kids with autism/aspergers, starting with my son, who has falling through the cracks. Youth group is too noisy and it is an outreach, so many of the kids aren’t exactly kind to a kid that is different. We are praying that we can find a program that works, there are several kids in our neighborhood that are just like my gift from God.
    I look forward to learning more about your ministry.

  37. I have the privilege of serving the churches of my denomination (Christian Reformed) full time to help them in their ministry to, with, and by people with disabilities. Obviously one big part of that is ministry with families, so this column is a great reminder of the importance of this ministry. Rebecca’s comments tell the painful tale that so many families experience from the stigma and misunderstanding about disability.

    Besides the Christian Reformed Church, many other denominations also offer robust resources for their churches in ministry with people who have disabilities including the Reformed Church in America, Anabaptists through ADNet, the United Methodists, Seventh Day Adventists, and others. Our ministry’s website (www.crcna.org/disability) has links to many resources including a free, downloadable inclusion handbook. Regarding resources for children’s ministry, I highly recommend two very fine books, 1) Autism and Your Church and 2) Helping Kids Include Kids with Disabilities both by Barbara Newman. Our ministry receives no compensation from the sale of these resources; I’m just promoting them because many churches have found them to be incredibly helpful.

  38. Thank you so much for this article. God blessed my family with a Special Needs beautiful human being. My beloved brother was born with mental retardation, but he taught us more about the love of God than most people, including Christians. My beloved brother went to be with the Lord on Dec 2010. Oh, how much I miss him! Even though he was an adult, his mind was that of a child. I wish when we talk about “special needs.” we don’t make the mistake to leave adults out b/c many of them never grow up mentally. These are also children of God who need love from the community.

  39. I love the way our church has welcomed all children with special needs. The church has many volunteers eager to be trained and serve. As a parent of a child with special needs I do worry about the lack of understanding and education in the churches. The first part that worries me is there are people who think just because they have a child with special needs means they know how to provide care and direction for the special needs ministry. It takes heart and education to have a good program. The second issue that concerns me is so much attention is given to autism there are children with other types of disabilities that are not getting the proper care they need. Having a sensory room may not be the best for all children with special needs. As a former special education teacher I don’t feel comfortable leaving my non-verbal child in care of anyone who has not had some training in working with children with special needs. I am blessed to be in a church where taking care of children with special needs is a normal part of being in the church family.

  40. HOW do you get volunteers in a small church (150 members) to volunteer to be buddies? Is there some simple training I can get for these volunteers on how to handle situations like meltdowns with kids w/autism?

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