Pat Verbal answered the church phone and a distraught mom asked,
“Do you have classes for kids with disabilities?” When she said
yes, the mom wept.
“I’ve called nine churches, and no one could help me,” the mom
said. “Our twin daughters have cerebral palsy, and we need to be in
The church has been blessed by the family. Hebrews 13:2 says,
“Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who’ve
done this have entertained angels without realizing it!”
Salute to Dads
When children are born with disabilities, fathers either step up
or check out. Research shows that three out of four of these dads
see their marriages buckle under stress. But many overcome and grow
stronger. Some are volunteers in your church. Help us encourage
these dads by sending their stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.
AblePlay is a toy-rating system and Web site for educators and
parents, providing comprehensive information on toys for children
with disabilities. Professionals rate and categorize toys according
to physical, sensory, communication, and cognitive qualities. Sign
up for the AblePlayers Club newsletter at www.ableplay.org.
Design a Disability Classroom
Have you noticed the growing number of stories in the news about
families affected by disabilities? Good Housekeeping recently ran
an ad featuring a beautiful girl with Down syndrome. It read,
“Believe in our abilities. Nearly 1 in 6 children are challenged by
mental retardation, autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and
other developmental disabilities.” This changing face of special
needs is changing health care, education, and social norms. This
reality should also lead to changing at least one room in your
church into a special needs classroom.
Most kids with disabilities function well in typical classrooms.
But kids who are severely disabled or medically fragile need a room
adapted to their needs. Due to physical, mental, or emotional
problems, these kids may respond differently to noises, lights, and
textures. If their families are ever going to attend worship, it’ll
be because your church cared enough to offer a safe, welcoming
• Location — Choose a well-ventilated room on
the first floor near handicap-accessible restrooms, away from
noise, and large enough for wheelchairs to move freely.
• Décor — Select a soft color palette and
fabrics without busy patterns. Select nonallergenic-fiber carpet
and rugs. Design your room to be visually calming, organized, and
free of clutter. Use age-appropriate accessories.
• Furniture — A kidney-shaped table allows easy
wheelchair access. Small rocking chairs offer movement for kids who
can’t sit still. Some children enjoy crawling into a safe haven
such as a tent lined with carpet. Other kids enjoy sitting on
beanbag chairs or lying under them.
• Lighting — Natural light or table lamps are
best; avoid bright overhead lights.
• Equipment — Use a cabinet to keep materials safely out of
reach. Provide headphones or earplugs to help kids block out sound.
Kids needing repetitive motion will love a mini-trampoline.
Children with limited speech or language may use language boards or
• Staffing — Some churches recruit nurses as
staff, and committed volunteers also work well. Choose people
who’ll learn the kids’ needs and befriend them.
• Lessons — Ask parents which teaching methods
work best with their kids. Most enjoy Bible stories, pictures, and
songs. Relax and trust God to touch each child’s heart at his or
her level of understanding.
Pat Verbal is co-author of Special Needs — Special Ministry
manager of curriculum development at the Christian Institute on
Disability at Joni and Friends International Disability Center (www.joniandfriends.org).