We’ve all been trained to look for the caveats in messages that seem too good to be true. We see the word FREE and our eyes immediately start looking for the fine print where we will learn free is never free. It seems like there is always an exception.
The one place you don’t typically find fine print is in the church. This is a huge blessing for families with children with special needs. While some families will look for a church with an advertised special needs ministry, many families will not. Most families will assume if you’re advertising children’s ministry or student ministry that you’re advertising a ministry for ALL children and students regardless of needs or abilities.
Because there is no fine print, every church should be prepared to serve anyone who might come through our doors. If you don’t have a designated special needs ministry or special needs volunteer, take a deep breath. Welcoming children and students with special needs is really not that different than welcoming everyone else in your church.
1. Keep lines of communication open.
In order to care for a student with special needs you must be able to communicate well with their family and they must feel comfortable communicating back with you. Every student is different. You won’t know their needs unless you ask. Most parents are more than willing to give you as much information as you’d like, you just need to know what to ask. Start with the basics:
Tell me about your child.
How does your child communicate?
Does your child stay with the group or will he/she tend to wander?
What situations/circumstance might cause your child anxiety?
What is the best way to support your child?
Make it a point to connect with the parents when they come to pick up their child. Share with them the wins of the morning. Remember to keep it as positive as possible. You want the parents to trust that you really do want their child to be a part of your church. If you saw any behaviors or had any challenging situations that morning, you can mention these to the parents after you’ve given them a list of positives, but always follow up with the statement, “We want to make sure your child LOVES coming to church and feels comfortable here. What can WE do to help?”
Don’t be nervous to ask what you can do to help. Asking the question immediately tells the parents that you’re willing to do what you can to make sure their child feels comfortable in your ministry. There might be some things you are able to do pretty easily while others might require more change than you’re able to make. Start with the easy ones but keep communicating with the family to remind them that you’re on their side and you want to make it work.