Special Needs: Ears to Hear

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Deafness is shocking to parents because it
can go undiagnosed in newborns for months or strike at any age due
to illnesses or accidents. Deafness breaks down communication,
especially if it happens before a child learns to speak. Parents
are then asked to choose from a daunting list of communication
options for their children, such as oralism (lip reading), American
Sign Language (ASL), auditory training, or cochlear implants.
Unfortunately, no matter what parents choose, most people expect
the deaf child to bridge the gap. Here’s how your church can
instead take the initiative to communicate with children who have
special needs.

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• Show care and concern. Welcome families
affected by hearing loss. Parents want to know you care and that
you’ll help their children know Jesus. Love needs no language
skills when it’s given freely.

• Communicate effectively. Ask parents the best
way to communicate with their hearing-impaired child. Then
communicate the love of Jesus in that way.

“ASL is probably the most-used form of communication in the
classroom, but it shouldn’t be the only option,” says Vonda
Hamilton, a missionary with the deaf and founder of Expressions of
Emmanuel. “Some children learn to read lips, but they only get 30
to 40 percent of what we say. Handing them a book doesn’t always
work either, because while they may be very smart, their
vocabularies can be limited.”

• Lead children in praise. Hamilton encourages
using music with deaf children. Although they don’t have tunes
playing in their heads, they can feel vibration and they can enjoy
the motions.

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• Communicate creatively. “Deafness can be a
prison for children,” says Hamilton. “But their hearts are clean
slates on which God can write tender truths. Church teachers can
use pictures, videos with closed captioning, and music and dramas
with ASL to share the gospel with children coping with hearing
impairment. We can also encourage hearing children to learn to sign
and become missionaries to the deaf community.”

When Jesus said, “Let him who has ears to hear,” he was talking
about the heart, not physical ears. Children who have hearing
disabilities have the ears of their hearts open to the love of God.
As you learn to speak their language, you’ll also learn to speak to
their hearts.

Pat Verbal is co-author of Special
Needs-Special Ministry (Group) and manager of curriculum
development at the Christian Institute on Disability (joniandfriends.org).

Faith Building: Heather Whitestone’s Story

Heather Whitestone became deaf at the age of 18 months due to a
high fever. Long before 1995 when she became the first Miss America
with a disability, Heather knew that God loved her and had a plan
for her life. During public appearances throughout her reign, her
testimony encouraged many young people to live for God. There are
numerous books about Heather’s life which make great gifts for
children with deafness. For a list of books, go to Web Exclusives
at childrensministry.com.

Finger Food Café Grand Opening

The Finger Food Cafe video welcomes families to a place
where the hearing and deaf both belong and where friendships grow
strong. Families will enjoy a whirlwind of comedy, songs, and
biblical encouragement presented in sign language, voice, and open
English captions featuring drama, meaningful songs, and the world’s
first animatronic signing puppet. Learn more at fingerfoodcafe.com.

Special Needs Tip

About two to three out of every 1,000 children in the U.S. are
born deaf or hard-of-hearing. Recruit volunteers who are fluent in
American Sign Language (ASL) or pay for volunteers to take classes
in ASL at a local college. Seat kids with hearing impairments in
front so they can see the action up close, and install your
interpreters to translate worship or lessons.

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