Do you have Deaf children in your special needs ministry? Here’s what you need to know about effective ministry to these awesome kids.
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.
• 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 deaf or hard of hearing 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.
• 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 deaf or hard of hearing children. 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 are deaf or hard of hearing 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.
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 special needs, 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.
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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