You’re looking forward to another season of teaching. You have your teacher’s manual and materials for your kids. You are planning a billboard for the classroom, and have supplies for that. You have the church calendar and mapped out which lessons you’ll teach on which Sundays from now till Christmas. You’re feeling ready, except you’re not.
A new family started attending your church this summer, the Carters, and one of the boys, Matthew, has autism. He’ll be your student. You tried to introduce yourself to Matthew after church, but he just looked away when you talked with him. He has a very difficult time sitting through a whole worship service, and has had two meltdowns in church, once during the worship service. You’re pleased the Carters have joined your congregation, and you want things to go well for Matthew and all the other kids in your class this fall, but you’re feeling intimidated because you don’t know how to make things work for Matthew.
Fortunately, the last 15 years have seen an explosion of excellent resources for engaging kids with various disabilities in Sunday School. The “Matthew” that you’ll be teaching this fall might not have autism, but is blind or has ADHD or uses a wheelchair or has intellectual disability or can’t hear well. Here are some excellent resources that will help you get ready to teach Matthew:
Dwell Curriculum – The latest Sunday School curriculum produced by Faith Alive Resources has tips and ideas scattered throughout the lessons that suggest adaptations for engaging kids with various disabilities.
Training Videos from Disability Concerns – We hosted a conference that focused on engaging children and youth with disabilities in Sunday School and other church programs. These five videos cover various topics including interacting with parents, redirecting challenging behaviors, and engaging all kids in youth ministry.
CLC Network has a whole page of excellent books and videos many of which apply to engaging kids with disabilities in children’s and youth ministry. Note especially the books by Barbara Newman—Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship; Autism and Your Church; Helping Kids Include Kids with Disabilities—and training videos at the bottom of the page, as well as Every Child Welcome by Katie Wetherbee & Jolene Philo. Be sure to check out CLC's blog too that posts articles regularly including seasonal ones on engaging kids with disabilities in Vacation Bible School, Christmas Programs, and Lent and Easter.
“Pringles versus Chex Mix –Ideas to try for AD/HD and ASD” – This article by Barbara Newman helps teachers prepare for the “Chex Mix” of kids in their class, because kids aren’t “Pringles” with uniform shape, color, and texture.
It takes extra work to engage a Chex Mix of kids in your class or group, but the rewards are eternal. This poignant story from Barb Newman illustrates just what is at stake:
While speaking at a conference in Saint Louis, I met a pastor who just finished up a phone conversation with a family friend. He had been asked to fly to their community and lead the funeral service for their five-year-old child who had just died due to complications from several areas of disability. He had asked this family if their own local pastor would also be participating in the funeral service. The family admitted that they had no local church. They had tried eight churches within an hour driving distance from their home, and each one had said, “Sorry, we do not have anything for you here.” The church down the road, however, had agreed to host the funeral service. I looked that pastor in the eye and said, “It is amazing that the first time this child’s body will be welcome in church will be in a casket”.
If you are children’s ministry leader, Barb Newman suggested one more tip to me, “When I was Children's Ministry Director for 14 years at my church, I discovered that my volunteers would stay for a 60 minute training if I served food.” So bake some cookies, put the coffee on, and get together with other children and youth ministry leaders to prepare for another great season of forming faith in Matthew and ALL the kids in your church.