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Age Separation

April 9, 2010

Question:  “We currently have older individuals with special needs participating in typical environments for young children.  Is this okay?”

This is a common dilemma.  The short answer is that individuals with special needs are best placed in groups according to their true age, not according to their developmental or cognitive abilities.  For many reasons, it is not recommended and often unwise to keep an older child, teen or adult with special needs in a typical children’s environment.  In an ideal world, the individual with disability would graduate from the nursery or children’s ministry to the next age appropriate special needs church environment.  Unfortunately many churches lack teen or adult settings which cater to individuals who are intellectually challenged.  In those cases, it is best to recruit big-hearted volunteers to participate in a buddy rotation and take turns working one-on-one with the older individual with special needs.

The teen or adult with special needs and their buddy may discreetly enter a large group children’s setting, such as children’s worship, a puppet show, or a drama.  However, for interaction or small group teaching, the individual should either work one-on-one with their buddy or participate in a group setting of individuals with special needs and in the same age range.

Churches can provide a handful of appropriate games and Bible resources in a room where the older individual with special needs and their buddy can work together.  For churches that lack a curriculum tailored to adults with special needs, the Bible Box (see provides an excellent low cost tool for teaching Bible stories and concepts to such an individual.

Amy Fenton Lee & Jackie Mills-Fernald

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Jackie Mills-Fernald is the Director of Access Ministry with McLean Bible Church, McLean, VA.

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