Are You Ready for Kids With Special Needs?
And I thought I had experienced disruptive kids!
Carol Race can’t take her son to church. One Sunday she tried… and the Sheriff was waiting at the end of her driveway. The church had filed a restraining order. But according to this twin cities Star Tribune article, Carol’s son isn’t your average 13-year-old.
The Rev. Daniel Walz, who did not return calls left at the Church of St. Joseph parish office, wrote in court documents that Adam’s behavior was “extremely disruptive and dangerous.” He alleged that Adam, who is more than 6 feet tall and weighs over 225 pounds, spits and urinates in church and has nearly injured children and elderly people.
Wow. This wouldn’t be an easy situation for anyone. Carol’s son is autistic. Shouldn’t he be able to attend church? At the same time, are there boundaries of what behavior is tolerable?
How do we minister to special needs kids?
My wife volunteered in a Sunday school class where we had several autistic children that attended. Some were pleasant experiences, some were very difficult. If we as the church are unprepared for such a situation, the results can be very unpleasant for everyone. But with a little compassion and some pro-active planning, ministering to special needs kids can be one other aspect of our ministry where we can represent Christ not only in word, but in deed.
Being pro-active to minister to special needs kids always includes two elements:
1. Being prepared to offer one-on-one attention to special needs kids
2. Good communication with the parents
The best help in these situations is always providing “one-on-one” attention to these children. The church I attended realized that many of these special needs kids needed special attention. So the church assigned a single volunteer to these individual kids (yes, it should be no surprise that much of our job as youth or children’s workers is recruiting and managing volunteers). If the kid became too disruptive, then the volunteer could take the child on a walk or in another room. I attended one large church where they had a special room for special needs kids. This was a room set up with special toys and games reserved exclusively for these kids.
An open channel of communication with the parents is also always key. Parents of special needs kids should be assured primarily that we want to serve them and love them and their children. Then ask them for any advice about their child. Be a good listener. As you listen to their needs, explain to them what you can hope to provide with one-on-one attention and any special rooms or services. Then be sure to get a cell phone number or point of connection so you can call them for help if the situation gets out of hand. It’s not unfair to set boundaries.
My sister in law Amy is a speech therapist and works with numerous special needs kids, including autistic children. I emailed her about a special situation with a kid that was very disruptive in a youth group. Her response was very helpful:
To me, the physical outbursts have to be handled – I would definitely talk with the family and if they were unable to help control these, I may have to restrict the son’s involvement in certain events where he was more unmanageable. I would also consider having some private chats with the regular ed students – how God has made us all in His image, and see if God has placed these (special needs) kids on any of the student’s hearts to directly minister to and “help out.” It may help make them less “annoying” in the eyes of the group if the group has an opportunity to voice their frustrations and at the same time hear a bit of God’s perspective on these kids of His.
I love how Amy not only gave good advice about communication and boundaries… but she talked about an opportunity for our entire youth group to minister.
Jesus came across a lot of people with special needs and always seemed to act in compassion. I think we should try to do the same.
Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to FOUR BATTLES Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on TheSource4YM.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.