Special Needs Student

There are always students in our church with special needs, whether they are diagnosed or not. Sometimes, it may be unclear how to respond in a way that helps them feel loved and included. Here are a few ideas to remember as you love on those students and their families:

Assume the best. Always assume that every kid or teenager can and wants to participate. If they don’t want to, or they can’t, wait for them or their parents to let you know. Otherwise, assume they’re there because they want to participate.

Keep engaging. If a student in your group seems rude or shy, doesn’t want to make eye contact, or has difficulty relating to others in the group, remember they might be on the autism scale, which makes all of these things more difficult. Keep engaging them in conversation when you can, and don’t take it personally when you can’t.

Be respectful. If you have a student in your group has an assistive device like a wheelchair, walker, or crutches, treat that device as an extension of their body. Don’t use their device as a coat rack or something to lean on, and always ask permission before moving it. You can always offer to help, but don’t assume your help is needed.

Model it. The other kids in your group will take their cue on how to act from YOU. So when a kid or teenager with special needs is in your group, try to never act upset, nervous, or worried about having them in your group. Act like their presence in your group is no big deal. Be just as excited to see them and as friendly as you would be with any other student.

Give a heads up. Sometimes, you may need to give your group a heads up when a kid or teenager with special needs will be joining them. Let your group know what he or she might struggle with as they join the group, and help your group list the similarities they have with their new group member. You may want to have a small brainstorm session where they can think of all the ways they can make their new friend feel comfortable in your group.

Partner with their parents. When you are talking to the parent of a kid with Special Needs, go above and beyond to make their experience the best it can be. Their parents are probably expecting things to not go very smoothly, so try to be as welcoming and loving as possible to the whole family. And don’t be afraid to say something kind and positive!