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The Need for Special Needs Ministries

Pat Verbal

According to the National Organization on Disability, there are fifty-four million people in the United States with disabilities. That means one in five Americans have a disability of some sort. One in five! And a significant number of those people with disabilities are children like Jessica.

I'd love to tell you the church at large is doing a wonderful job responding to these children, but I can't. Too many parents have disappointing stories to share…

• Belinda called several churches in town when her daughter, Ellen, turned two years old. Cognitive and seizure disorders had kept Ellen at home since birth, and Belinda felt it was important for Ellen to have social contact with other children.

Belinda was shocked to discover that two churches wouldn't allow Ellen to be in Sunday school at all. A third church accepted Ellen, but put her in the baby nursery. When Belinda picked Ellen up, she discovered that the volunteer had left her daughter sitting in a swing the entire time.

• Kevin's experience with his son, Sammy, didn't turn out even that well.

Sammy, an active seven-year-old, was mildly autistic. About half the time Sammy was in Sunday school, Kevin and his wife were called out of church to pick Sammy up. The teachers simply couldn't handle Sammy's behavior.

Most Sundays Kevin and his wife felt like staying home and watching the service on television.

• And imagine Pam's response when she was told her three-year-old son, Jacob, was "a little spoiled." Jacob had many sensory issues, including a strong gag reflex. This caused him to vomit frequently, especially when crying or coughing. The teacher suggested that Jacob may have vomited on purpose, just to get the class's attention. Children with disabilities too often find that the church doesn't truly welcome or truly value them. There simply isn't a place for these children when kids scamper off to Sunday school classes on Sunday morning.

And the children aren't the only ones who suffer.

According to Dr. Jim Pierson, president of the Christian Church Foundation for the Handicapped, families that have children with disabilities can quickly find themselves in crisis.

There's a high rate of divorce and desertion in these families. Extra costs associated with caring for children with disabilities can severely impact family finances and create tremendous stress. The siblings of children with special needs often find it difficult to adjust.

The challenges of raising children with special needs are overwhelming, and many families face those challenges without the church's intentional, active involvement.

The help these families and children need begins with Sunday school classes that welcome the children. That alone would be a tremendous blessing. This book will help you accomplish that task by providing practical steps you can follow and introducing you to Christian education leaders like you who have made the journey.

And along the way you'll also be challenged to consider what you might do beyond Sunday morning. What can you do to provide a listening, understanding ear to a mother whose life revolves around the treatment and care of a child with special needs? How can you help the sister of that child deal with her parents' preoccupation? How can you surround that family with the love of Christ?

Maybe you're thinking that other churches in your community are already caring for special needs children and their families and there's no need for you to get involved.

Sadly, you'd be wrong.

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