I loved how Kurt made the point in the video blog last week that all of his students have “special needs.” However, the reality is that some of our students have a unique set of challenges that require forethought, perspective and creativity in running our youth programming.
How do we approach those labeled with “special needs?”
Every disability Is Different:
Working with a student who has mental, emotional or processing delays may require you think differently about teaching and interacting. Just because a parent shows up an tells you it is “Autism” or “Down’s Syndrome,” that could mean a variety of things. A person in a wheel chair may need you to help with the dynamics of getting in and out of spaces. The blind and hard of hearing need to make sure they are not left out of movie clips or object lessons. Think of each individual as an individual.
Build a relationship with the parents:
Kurt and AC touched on this, but IT IS VITAL. Meet with the parents to discuss the students’ needs. You want to know what type of physical care is required? Are there elements of their personality you need to learn? Let them tell you everything. Is the student prone to angry out bursts? What works at school? Would it be best to find a one on one mentor that is with them? Keep communication lines with the parents open. What is and isn’t going well? They will have some insight. Let them know you are on their side and love their child. Remember they have been in this for awhile. Treat them with love and respect.
Be Inclusive & Creative:
Let’s be honest. This is a difficult topic because fully including a student with physical and mental challenges into your group takes work. You may need to think through scenarios before you act on them. The kid in the wheel chair wants to go with you to the amusement park? How do you make that happen? How do you play music for someone who is hearing impaired.
Don’t treat the “differently abled” student like they are a “Special Project:”
Yes, we need to think about how to include them. Yes, we may need to be creative in approach. HOWEVER, Most of the time they are fully aware that they stand out already. Be aware of talking down to them and about them, or being patronizing, even when you don’t mean to.
Be prepared for hard conversations:
My sister was entirely aware of what she did and did not have in her body and in her mind. She wanted to know why it had to be this way. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know. Just let them remember they didn’t sin. Their parents didn’t sin. (Remember the story of the blind man in John 9). We live in a fallen world that isn’t always fair. None of us get it. Higher functioning students often suffer from depression and can even become cutters. They desperately want to be “normal.” Cry with them and point them to the one who has a love that is high and wide and deep and wraps them with hope.
Get to know both the students. Let the sibling be their own person here, and if at all possible create an environment where they are not a care taker. Each of them are struggling with their own sets of “challenges.” Avoid making assumptions about their personalities, abilities and relationship.
My sister passed away at 32 years old, the oldest living survivor of her condition. For the last four years of her life she belonged to a body of believers who just loved her. They embraced her for who she was. She went to Bible study and they loved her insight and laughed at her terrible quirky jokes. It was all she had been looking for. A group of people who called themselves Christians who just thought of her as Courtney. A group of people who got what it meant to love their neighbor as themselves.
For more great information on specifics of including disabled students into your programming, check out these articles at Conversations On the Fringe: CLICK HERE!
How are you walking with the disabled students, their parents and siblings in YOUR ministry?