It has been said “No one knows where you are going until they know where you have been” and this may apply more to writing than any other aspect of life. By sharing a little about my personal background and the premise of this blog, it may provide clarity for my goal with each blog post. While the readers of this blog vary, the general intent is to help churches. I am not a credentialed professional from the education or medical field. I am not the parent of a child with special needs. I am not on staff at a church. I AM a children’s ministry volunteer, the daughter of a church pastor, a writer, and a passionate Christian who believes that the bride of Christ, the church, is still the most effective instrument for developing and discipling Christ followers. And out of my desire to equip churches, this blog was born. This is the passion that fuels every post.
How I started…In late 2008 I interviewed a pediatric therapist from our local children’s hospital. I had an idea for writing a single article targeted to typical parents for how to better include a child with special needs in play groups, birthday parties, and neighborhood gatherings. That interview and the article that followed (which eventually ran in Atlanta Parent Magazine) would change the course of my writing focus and personal ministry for the months to come.
Since January 2009, at best guess I have interviewed and learned from the Children’s ministry staff or “special needs” champions associated with more than 40 churches, parents of nearly 100 children with special needs, and at least 30 credentialed professionals from the fields of special education, pediatric therapy or autism research. While many conversations and site visits have been documented, what follows below is not the product of scientific research. These observations are generalities and my “sense” as I reflect on hundreds of hours of interviews and onsite experiences over the past 18 months.
- Special needs issues are affecting churches of every size. Congregations with a regular attendance of 80 and 8000 are both impacted as children with neurological and physical disabilities seek inclusion.
- Small churches and newly launched church plants are making incredible efforts to accommodate a single child or several children with special needs.
- Small churches with smaller resource pools (volunteers, facilities, etc) seem to have the most challenging cases where a child or family is significantly impacted by disability and in need of the church’s assistance.
- Because special needs accommodation is so individual specific, accomplishing successful inclusion for a single child with special needs can require a notable investment of time on the part of the church. Basic accommodation may require a church to work through possible facility and logistical changes, caregiver coordination and curriculum modifications.
- Most churches do not have a paid person on staff to coordinate a special needs ministry. For the churches that do have a paid staff member, this person is typically part time and/or working well beyond their paid hours.
- Usually special needs coordinators, whether paid or volunteer, are passion driven people either impacted by disability in their own family – or – possesing a background in special education or speech/occupational/physical therapy.
- Rarely does the church’s special needs coordinator have previous experience working in a church environment. Understanding the culture and politics of a church frequently adds to learning curve of the church’s special needs champion.
- Nearly every children’s ministry team manages volunteer frustration and behavior challenges associated with children who appear to have an undiagnosed learning impairment or an undisclosed neurological disability.
- Safety associated with the unique requirements for special needs accommodation has at some point been a concern to the children’s ministry staff and/or the church’s executive leadership.
- Most churches are searching for special needs related guidance in at least one of the following areas: policies & procedures; program best practices; volunteer recruitment, training & retention; curriculum modifications; and ideas for effective teaching strategies & behavior management techniques.
While not every observation above proves true with every church, it is from these assumptions that content for this blog is developed.
For special needs statistics, see the post Just the Facts! Special Needs Statistics.
Like this post or any of its content? See the blog entry Rules for Repost.
– Amy Fenton Lee