“He was very shy at first. But now I am finding more ways to talk to him.”
One of my son’s teachers told me this, beaming, a few months into the school year. It was a statement that made me scratch my head a bit—how had she jumped from my son’s behavior to her behavior? My son is still shy; he hasn’t changed. But maybe she isn’t as shy about working with him. Maybe she changed.
My younger son is five years old, and he has Down syndrome. I worry plenty about how he’ll do at preschool and activities, and how he’ll interact with the instructors and his peers as a kid with special needs.
I have to remember that his teachers worry about how to interact with him too.
The importance of including kids with special needs
If you’re reading this because you’re involved in education ministry, then I know you want to include kids with special needs. You see my kid, and you want to teach him that God loves him, and you want him to feel at home in your church. You’re just not quite sure how. Pulling together a diverse group of students for just one hour a week is already a challenge, and maybe you’re worried that your usual strategies won’t work on him. Maybe you worry that you don’t have the training to work with kids with special needs. Maybe you’re worried that he’ll see how uncertain you feel.
Wanna know something? My husband and I parent a little boy with Down syndrome every day, and we don’t have any training in special education either.
It’s not enough for my son to have the love and support of special education professionals. I am thankful for these folks and the insight they have shared, but our son deserves to be a part of the full community. Especially our church community.
Take the first step
Over the next few months I’ll be writing in this space about some concrete ways that you can adjust your Sunday school classrooms to include kids with special needs. And I hope that some of those ideas will be helpful. But the most important thing I can tell you is that you can do this.
Kids with disabilities and learning differences are a part of God’s family. That qualification alone—not their reading level, or their behavior, or the presence of trained teachers—means they have a place in the Sunday school classroom. You might stumble a bit as you work with them, because that is a part of the messiness of belonging to a family. But you can put some prayer and preparation into how you will make your class inclusive. You can keep communication open with families. You can be persistent in finding solutions. You can do this.
I can’t promise that the kids won’t change you, though. When you include kids of all abilities, you open yourself up to new ways of understanding Jesus’s radical welcome. Stick with these kids and you will learn how to talk to them. And they just might show you—and the other kids in your class, and even your whole church—something new about God’s love.