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10 Scenarios a Volunteer Might Face While Teaching a Child with Autism

Objects in Mouth

  • If you offer snacks, this might be good time to pull them one out for student.
  • Student may need a way to “fidget” even if with hands. Provide box of fidget toys.
  • Clean your toys regularly!
  • If continual problem, ask parents how they address it at home. Parents may have a preferred chew toy that can come to church.


  • If the child is in danger of hurting themselves or others, it needs to be addressed.
  • Meltdowns can happen at any age.
  • Create distance between individual having meltdown and everyone else.
  • Take the classroom or small group out of the environment (suggest bathroom break). It is often easier to remove everyone else and not the person with the meltdown.
  • Try to figure out the trigger or core problem that caused the meltdown. When possible, remove the problem. Recognize that you might be the trigger for the meltdown.
  • Call for help as soon as serious meltdown starts. You don’t want to immediately call parents if you think this can be handled. (You will tell parents at pick-up.)
  • If student is in danger of others, be mindful of your own safety.
  • Talk softly and calmly.
  • Find way to talk about something they can look forward to: snack, favorite activity, when parents will arrive.
  • Look for obstacles to remove, ex. diminish the lighting in the room, lower noise, offer a weighted blanket. (Homemade weighted blankets are great.)
  • When nothing else is working, do get the parents.


  • Be prepared for fast kids who could be locksmiths.
  • Recognize that some “runners” see it as a game.
  • Don’t chase a child who runs. They might consider it a game, and you won’t win the race.
  • If it isn’t a game, then they are probably trying to escape something … look for the trigger.
  • Create a code word for your church security team for “runner.” Church security should have a plan to cover every “escape route” and door.
  • It’s common for runners to hide … don’t be surprised to find a student in an impossibly small cabinet (away from all stimulation).
  • This is more likely to happen during transitions.
  • For identified runners, have someone walk immediately beside them and hold hand.
  • Look for opportunities to reward student for good behavior to motivate for continued good choices.

Parent Conversations

  • Try hard to look for positives to share with parents. Most parents have been told they are “horrible” parent at some point.
  • The church needs to be place of refuge where parents know their child with special needs is loved.
  • Find way to communicate acceptance and non-judgment in parent convo’s.
  • Ministry coordinator needs to be involved to help determine if convo is needed and how it should be communicated.
  • Some “bad” days aren’t worth mentioning to parents. If there is a Sunday that is out of the ordinary, the parents DO need to know.
  • Talk to parents in private, not in hallway.
  • Talk in “sandwich”: Offer a positive for what the child did that day, then state the FACTS (no emotion) about the negative, then follow with different and additional positive.

Peer Interaction (Verbal child is struggling to interact with non-verbal peer)

  • Recognize that students usually ask the adult helpers the question, not their peers (true for typical and neuro-typical).
  • As the leader, include the child who does not communicate verbally in the response.
  • Encourage the peer to ask “yes” or “no” questions so student can answer with head nod.

Unengaged Student

  • A student may be doing his/her very best just to be calm.
  • Don’t push a student to be involved; they may still be learning.
  • A student walking or playing in back of room may be annoying to teacher … but he may be learning.
  • Ask the student a question from time to time. You may be surprised in what he learns.
  • Sometimes, it is okay to invite student to participate. Offer hand (hand over hand) to help do motions.
  • Recognize opportunities to “help” student have fun, dance, etc.
  • If student does not respond positively, leave them alone.
  • Let the student do what is comfortable.


  • The most important thing is to look at the clock and time the seizure. The length of time for a seizure is the most important info for medical team. (A five-minute seizure is an emergency.)
  • Help student to be safe, lay on ground.
  • Do not put anything in the child’s mouth.
  • Call for help. Call for parents after situation is secure.
  • Talk to parents ahead of time, always ask about seizure history. Some kids have many seizures are not necessarily a “big deal.” For other students, seizures are a huge deal.
  • Get coaching from parents on how to handle. (Some parents will tell you they don’t need to be called out of service for minor seizures.)
  • After a seizure, student will be lethargic.

[Editor’s note: These guidelines are intended for use as a supplement and are not a substitute for professional advice from a practitioner or ASD specialist who can assess your church’s unique situation.]  

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Amy Fenton Lee is a writer and speaker focused on helping churches successfully include children with special needs. She is a regular contributor to children’s ministry publications and a variety of other Christian and secular magazines. Amy is a passionate children’s ministry volunteer and the daughter of a church senior pastor. Amy is a frequent speaker at children’s ministry conferences. Amy blogs about special needs inclusion at The Inclusive Church.