Special Needs Children in Dwell?


We have a few special needs children in our congregation. Are there resources to help me (the Children's pastor) to learn how to help them best learn so that I can teach my Dwell teachers? We have some behavior issues that are the biggest concern. These behavior issues are linked to the child's special needs circumstances. I need classes in classroom management with special needs children but I do not know where to find classes or what would be helpful. 

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Hi Rachel, great question. This link on the Dwell website offers some helpful ideas and suggested resources with tips for making the classroom a faith nurturing place for children with special needs. You may also want to check out the Goodbye Classroom Chaos workshop. If you read through it you'll find lots of helpful ideas for creating structure and routines that may address some of the challenges you're facing.

The best source I know of for support and training would be the CLC Network. They offer something called the GLUE, which their website describes as "a step-by-step process that includes a spectrum of tools to aid faith communities in doing 'ministry with' rather than 'ministry to' people with disabilities."

I have learned a ton from Barb Newman's workshops and presentations. She is the director of church services at the CLC Network and the author of the GLUE Training Manual. She travels to speak and train, so keep your eyes out for local workshops offered by her and see if you can connect with the CLC Network to learn what kind of training is happening in your area! They may recommend that you pick up a GLUE manual too.  



A lot of our issues are with classroom management. Any suggestions? 


Rachel, the Inclusion Handbook from RCA/CRC Disability Concerns has several articles that deal with challenging behaviors. Also, I was just talking with Barbara Newman today about this very issue. She suggests that the key questions to adapting material to children with special needs are these: what is the person good at? What does he/she find difficult? and (most importantly) what can the person do? By asking what CAN he/she do, that immediately gives you some direction about how to adapt. For example, if he/she uses a communication board, then he/she can use that for response rather than verbal response. If he/she is not good at listening but is very good with tactile stimulation, give him/her a figurine that relates to the story. There are a variety of forms in the back of Autism and Your Church (by Barbara Newman) that also will be very helpful to you. I think that book has suggestions for challenging behaviors as well (whether or not the child has autism).

Rachel: As the parent of a child with some behavioural challenges and as a long-time teacher (and former Sunday school co-ordinator), may I weigh in witha few quick suggestions in addition to the excellent resources Jolanda and Mark have cited? A bonus: I find these 'work' well with so-called mainstream kids as well:

-- provide leadership opportunities for every child, including the ones who offer the biggest challenges. (For example: 'Jamal, you're great at drawing - how do you think you would show us what the commandment 'don't make idols' looks like?') Every person needs to know s/he has gifts, not just problems, to share.

-- co-opt the parent whenever possible in solutions, and make it a we/us thing instead of you/her problem. Something like, 'We're sensing that Alicia is restless/anxious/distracted/unhappy in class and we want her and you both to know this is a safe/welcoming/joyful place for her. Do you have any suggestions that work best at home when she's feeling this way?' If you team-teach the class, chat with those other teachers as well. (Do NOT make it an item for general discussion among an entire teaching team; that path is fraught with the danger of alienating that family, however inadvertently, by making them seem as if they're the target of an intervention, aka gossip) 

- let other children learn from your cues in relating to this child of God. If you show patience, good humour and flexibility, your other students will be more likely to do so as well; that empathy will reduce a lot of tension in you, and help stretch God's encircling arms around the entire classroom.

--allow for silly sometimes, but put a framework around it. I'm teaching a class that, last year, learned how to make paper airplanes from another teacher. At first I thought, 'no way are they making paper airplanes in this class,' until I realized they really like creating paper planes and it could be a teaching tool almost as much as a Dwell story symbol is. So, now we make paper airplanes after some lessons while reflecting on how we plan to integrate what we've learned into the upcoming week. For your class, it might be tossing a beach ball or hopping on one foot while reciting an element of the Bible story. (This is my new 'theology of origami' theory!)

-- be open to good surprises even if it makes you feel like your class is upside-down.. This came home to me a few years ago when one child - whose multitude of challenges made a structured, linear lesson feel like an impossibility - would burst out with some amazing God-inspired questions and comments that generated food for discussion for the whole class.  It sometimes meant abandoning the lesson I'd planned  in order to recognize that , more often than we might think, God comes to us in the challenging voice of an 8-year-old.

I know this is a long message. Hope I've been helpful. Blessings,


Wow, great ideas! Thanks so much Deb.