As Kids Ministers, we are called to serve and care for the needs of the church body – even those with special needs. No matter what capacity you have in your children’s ministry, this is something to be sensitive to and act on.
Here are six ways to serve families with special needs children:
1. Have a willing heart.
Approach these needs with a prayerful spirit and a willing heart that desires to serve all families that walk in your door. Train your leaders and volunteers to do the same. Once that posture is taken, then families feel welcome and at ease to tell you what they need for their child to be well-cared for during the teaching and worship hours.
2. Make small modifications.
Many special needs children need small modifications in order to have a comfortable experience at church. Visual instructions and a structured schedule help most any child feel at-ease about what to expect next. This will help almost any child in your classes, not just ones with extra needs. Think through your schedules and make signs with pictures for your leaders to show what is happening next. Structure your teaching hour so that it is roughly the same each week. Mark spaces in your environments with colorful tape or dots to show where you want children to sit, stand or walk. These are small modifications, but can help children know what to do, limiting anxiety.
3. Provide an extra volunteer.
For children who may require extra attention, provide a “special buddy” to stay with a child to help with any extra needs that are beyond the capacity of your teachers and leaders.
4. Think through scenarios.
Some children are uncomfortable with leaving the classroom or with participating in a large group environment. This may be for various reasons including loud music or lots of movement and excitement. Have an alternate activity for these children to do during this time and quickly reunite them with the group when they feel comfortable.
5. Keep open communication with parents and caregivers.
If families know your heart is to provide an inclusive experience for their children, they will be more willing to share specifics about what their child needs. This starts with you. Communicate to your church body that you have a willingness to provide an environment that is inclusive of all children and that you’ll do your best to serve and accommodate those with special needs.
6. Love on these families.
Remember that the stress of bringing up children who have special needs is overwhelming on marriages and home-life. They, more than anyone, need time to worship and know that their children are being cared for and taught about the love of Jesus. Do whatever you can and prioritize this service in your ministry.