Almost every church has children with specials needs who already attend—or whose families would like to attend. You can reach special needs families seeking a church home by implementing these basic special needs essentials–no matter how small your budget!
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 church.”
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!”
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Design a Disability Classroom
Have you noticed the growing number of stories in the news about families affected by disabilities? Good Housekeeping 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. You can do this even if you’re on a tight budget.
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 space for children with special needs.
- 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 computers.
- 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 general editor of Special Needs Ministry for Children (Group), and author, and manager of curriculum development at the Christian Institute on Disability at Joni and Friends International Disability Center (www.joniandfriends.org).
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