Growth Planning for Special Needs
Rebecca and her parents recently began attending your church. It’s obvious that Rebecca has special needs. How will you welcome this family? Think that’ll never happen? Think again. Four million children between 6 and 15 years of age have a disability, or 11% of all children in this age group, according to US Census Bureau News (July 2006). You’re not going to turn these kids away, but how will you factor their special needs into your growth plan?
* Survey your current children. Survey parents of children currently in your program. Find out whether any learning, physical, or mental impairments exist. Do some disabilities require more than others? Does that affect your growth plan? staffing? facilities? adaptive equipment?
* Plan for the present—and the future. Once you’re aware of any disabilities, plan to meet those needs. And use this experience to help you plan to include other children in the future. The book Helping Kids Include Kids With Disabilities (Faith Alive Christian Resources) by Barbara Newman includes a planning outline.
* Enlist expert help. You must recruit a consulting specialist such as a professional special education teacher for expert advice. This person may come from your congregation or may be the child’s school teacher. Either way, time-saving and efficient expertise allows you to better minister to the child. Create personal profiles for a particular child’s needs through a service available from Friendship Ministries (www.friendship.org).
* Check your facilities. Your facility should be ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act)-compliant. You can find the ADA Standards for Accessible Design at www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/adahom1.htm. You’ll also find volumes of frequently updated material that’ll help you with specific disabilities and resource providers.
Once you’ve addressed any ADA issues, look critically at your facilities. Are they accessible and user-friendly? For all children, family-accessible restrooms are important. For children with disabilities, family-accessible restrooms often become even more important. Depending on the disabilities represented, you may need
to research restroom aids, such as accessible changing benches (www.dcproducts.biz) and classroom aids (www.abilitations.com).
Include the sanctuary and fellowship areas in your assessment. If a children’s sermon is offered during worship, is the gathering area accessible? Is a child who uses a wheelchair accommodated in your sanctuary? Is the pulpit area accessible? Are hearing and sight aids available for children who need them? If not, how can you ensure that everyone can be included? Your yearly budget planning should include a special needs consideration. Disability aids are typically costly and require professional installation.
* Investigate classroom options. Some children with special needs may require a separate classroom. I don’t encourage this as a first option, but there are instances when a smaller setting works better for a specific child. If you have a separate classroom, how will you include children without disabilities into this smaller setting? Could a few children of the same age group be “reverse integrated”—that is, have them join the child with a disability to keep relationships intact? Valuable standards, information, and resources covering classroom inclusion is available in the documents “Inclusive Child Care—Quality Child Care for All Children” and “Including Children With Disabilities in Child Care” at www.nccic.org.
In your role preparing for a growing, diverse children’s ministry population, it’s crucial—and required—that you’re aware of special needs and prepared to serve children of all abilities. You can gain a solid understanding of the federal guidelines for children with disabilities and classroom best practices at www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/index.html.
Nella Uitvlugt has been executive director of Friendship Ministries, an organization dedicated to sharing God’s love with people who have cognitive impairments, for 10 years. Reach her at friendship@ friendship.org.
The above article, “Growth Planning For Special Needs,” is written by Nella Uitvlugt in Fall of 2006. The article was retrieved from www.childrensministry.com/leaders.
The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study and research purposes.