“Every evening, the Israelites had meat from the quails that
flew into the camp. In the morning, they had manna for bread,” the
teacher explained before asking, “Where did the children of Israel
get food in the wilderness?”
A hand popped up. “I know!” the boy exclaimed. “They had to meet
the quails and get banana bread.” The other children laughed, and
the boy broke out crying.
When you work with children, you may run into this type of
situation. You may not know a child has a learning disability until
you ask that child to do something.
UNDERSTANDING LEARNING DISABILITIES
A learning disability may appear in many forms and have several
symptoms. By becoming aware of different types of learning
disabilities and how to handle them, you can alleviate
misunderstandings and embarrassment for children.
Some common learning disabilities:
*Reading and language delays-When 9-year-old Amy was
asked to read, “Daniel was in the lion’s den,” she read, “Daniel
saw the lion dead.” Children with reading and language delays often
reverse words or skip words and letters. Unless a parent tells you
about the child’s reading disability, you won’t discover it until
you ask the child to read aloud.
*Written language delays-Whenever the teacher asks Joshua
to copy the Bible verse on the board, he is disruptive. Joshua acts
out to avoid becoming embarrassed by his disability. When Joshua
does write, he spells many words wrong. He leaves out punctuation
and spacing between words.
*Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)-Seven-year-old Jason
received notoriety in the church at an early age. As an infant, he
was inconsolable; he fought all cuddling. As a toddler, he tore
through the hallways, wrote on walls and knocked over chairs. He
never seemed to sit still. Tests at school revealed that Jason had
a high IQ and neurological signs of ADD. Children with ADD have
difficulty in following instructions and in remembering numbers and
*Auditory processing difficulties-Eight-year-old Sherrie
doesn’t quite hear right. She says “huh?” or “what?” quite often.
She also misses the subtleties of languages such as homonyms (meet
vs. meat). Although tests revealed that Sherrie has normal hearing,
she may have intermittent hearing. Or, she may have difficulty with
processing auditory information inside her brain.
*Sensory motor difficulties-Four-year-old Sammy astounds
everyone with his advanced language ability. But Sammy also has
behaviors that puzzle his teachers. Sammy doesn’t like being around
other kids. He seems afraid to get Play-Doh or glue on his hands.
Using scissors, crayons and pencils frustrate him.
Sammy has sensory-motor integration problems. Even though
he’s bright, Sammy’s brain struggles to sort and organize all the
information coming through his senses. Sammy simply cannot cope
with all the sensory stimulation in the classroom.
TEACHING THE LEARNING DISABLED
When working with children who have learning disabilities, respect
them. Most learning-disabled children have normal or even superior
intelligence. They just have trouble learning information in ways
most children can learn.
Use care in labeling a child “learning disabled.” Until a child
has been tested and the family shares this information with you,
it’s unfair to judge. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t report your
observations to your children’s ministry leader. Sometimes a
teacher is the first to notice a learning disability.
Show God’s love for children with learning difficulties. Find out
what these children are good at. Dr. Maxine Smith, who operates a
California learning center, says, “Mastery of something difficult
gives a child the self-confidence that is needed for success in
school and is crucial to building self-esteem.”
Use these practical methods to teach children with learning
*Be flexible with your teaching methods. Give children
choices of activities by varying the materials and using both
visual and auditory input. That way, a child with a reading delay
won’t feel self-conscious if he or she can choose a listening
activity over a writing activity.
*Communicate with parents. Ask parents for suggestions
about what works with their child and what’s being done at school.
Keep parents posted on progress. If needed, ask your children’s
ministry leader to consider encouraging parents to have the child
tested for learning disabilities at school.
*Be sensitive. Don’t assume the child who acts out is
“bad.” The child may just be trying to cope with a learning
*Use lots of praise. Notice what the child does right.
Remind the child that everyone has difficulties in some way. Then
give the child the genuine love of God-who loves us just as we are!
Barb Malone is an early childhood special educator in
Copyright© Group Publishing, Inc. / Children’s Ministry