When Tom and Vicky’s third child, Johnny, was diagnosed with
autism, they found it increasingly difficult to maintain a “normal”
life. But they were determined to stay faithful in their church.
One Sunday, when their son’s Sunday school teachers failed to show
up, Tom and Vicky led the 21 third-graders. Unfortunately, Johnny
bit a classmate. A week later, the children’s director phoned and
asked Vicky to stop bringing Johnny to church.
When to Send Away
It’s rarely okay to tell parents you’re not equipped to handle
their child’s needs. Being educated about special needs can help
you meet the needs of every child in your ministry. For instance,
it’s important to know that uncontrolled behavior is a common
characteristic of certain disabilities in children. These children
aren’t consciously thinking up ways to disobey or hurt others. To
say, “Johnny, stop biting!” is like saying to a girl with seizures,
“Sarah, stop shaking!”
What to Say
While you want to be understanding of kids with special needs,
it’s also important to keep the rest of your kids safe. Here’s how.
When a child with special needs shows aggressive behaviors such as
biting, hitting, or throwing things, don’t overreact. Do this
Check the environment for sensory triggers. Is the room too warm,
too loud, or too crowded?
Consider the child’s age and health. Is she teething? Does she
need an appropriate item to chew on? Is she tired?
Observe personal triggers. Is the class changing activities,
moving classrooms, taking a restroom break, or doing something else
that upsets the child?
Use eye contact and direct, simple sentences. “Biting hurts.”
“Blocks are hard and used for building.”
Consider a child’s temperament. Does he feel fear, pain, or
frustration? Will music or a quiet place calm him?
Strive to know the child. Be proactive in preventing the child’s
aggression. Talk to the child’s parents about what works.
What to Pray
Having a welcoming ministry can be hard, even when you know how to
deal with problems that arise. These prayers can help God shape
Pray for ways to help children with special needs feel safe.
Pray for volunteers who can see past kids’ outbursts and notice
Pray for compassion from other parents.
Pray for flexibility in this “go-with-the-flow” ministry.
Pray for help creating a faith growth plan for each child.
Stick with this important ministry through the challenges-God can
do great things in every child!