Prepare for the Newly Diagnosed Child with Special Needs
As the parents adjust to their child’s special needs diagnosis they appreciate a church staff that initiates collaboration for the child’s path inside the church. Mothers interviewed for my writing spoke fondly of children’s ministers who approached them after the child’s diagnosis to assure them of appropriate accommodations. One mother recounted a meeting she was invited to shortly after they received the diagnosis and when her child was several weeks old.
“The children’s minister arranged for me to meet with my infant’s anticipated caregivers. I shared the unique medical issues that could pop up during childcare and how we handled them. Looking back, I think this meeting was probably as much for reassuring me as for educating the church workers. But by having the meeting, when we returned to church I was able to hand off my baby without hesitation and enter the sanctuary free of anxiety.”
Just as with any person and in any circumstance, the right to influence is earned once a willingness to be inconvenience has been demonstrated. Parents feel a greater connection to their congregation when they observe visible ways the church is adjusting for their child. Anticipating the needs of a child with special needs speaks volumes to the still fragile family. And in those instances the parents approach the church staff with accommodating requests, offering a warm receipt to the concerns is crucial. While not every desire can be fulfilled, the manner in which the request is received and the solution(s) attempted is paramount as to how the family perceives the church’s support. A small change may give a big message of love and acceptance to the hurting family. Consider the following ways to ease the entrance of a child with special needs into the church setting:
- Create reserved special needs parking spaces nearest the nursery entrance.
- Consider allowing special needs families to use a back door entry into the nursery hall, closer to the parking lot and so that crowds can be avoided.
- Enlist a host team to help a family get from the parking lot to the nursery.
- Offer pagers to every family of a child with special needs.
- Pad the nursery with additional childcare workers or “buddies”.
- Recruit a volunteer nurse to serve at the preschool check-in desk for the duration of childcare.
- Keep allergy-free or other appropriate products on hand.
For more on supporting a family through a special needs diagnosis, see K! Magazine’s July/August 2010 and September/October 2010 issues. The magazine is running a two-part series I wrote after interviewing approximately 60 families who had received a difficult diagnosis for their child. These interviews revealed practical guidance for any staff member or lay person on how to minister to and what not to say to a family of a child with special needs. To order K! Magazine, go to www.kidzmatter.com.
– Amy Fenton Lee