Capable Child with Special Needs Resists Learning
Question: Our church has a participating child with special needs who is capable of learning but often resists. Our concern is less about the behavior and disruption and more about the child’s resistance to participation. Is it our volunteers’ responsibility to push the child to learn the Bible lesson?
How a church approaches a child’s spiritual development is dependent on three things:
1) The needs of the child
2) The desires of the parents
3) The calling and capabilities of the volunteer(s)
For the sake of brevity, I am not going to specifically address the needs of the child and what the child may be trying to communicate through his resistance. I have two articles coming out in the November and January issues of K! Magazine that provide guidance for getting to the heart of a child’s behavior challenges.
For this particular church and the child they were inquiring about, the situation does not involve unsafe conduct or behaviors disruptive to other students. The issue of concern is the fact the child requires a rigorous behavior management plan in order to pull her away from a preferred activity and to refocus her on Bible learning. To answer this church’s question I posed two questions back to the inquiring children’s pastor:
1) What are the parents’ goals for the child?
2) What is the capability and calling of the special needs volunteers?
For many parents of children with special needs, their primary objective in attending church is to receive spiritual nourishment themselves. Having access to childcare that provides a loving and safe environment for their child is most important. Whether or not the child with special needs accomplishes any spiritual objectives or Bible knowledge while in church programming is considered a bonus. Adding the stress and anxiety that may naturally emerge as the child is “pushed” to learn may not be worth the battle, even to the family. If the parents were to pick up their child from Sunday school to discover that she successfully memorized scripture but was stressed out and angry, then has the church best served the child and their family?
When parents do have a desire for their child to live up to their cognitive ability and learn, then the children’s ministry team needs to look at their own capabilities and calling. Utilizing a timer, following a strict routine and enforcing a well planned reward system can help a child successfully learn in church programming. However doing these things may also exhaust a volunteer work force. Any church that isn’t constantly asking themselves: “How can we help this child advance spiritually?” has lost their calling to the Great Commission. However, the expertise and patience of the special needs buddies and lay servants have to be considered when deciding how much to push a child. If a team of special needs volunteers emerge that have experience in special education and/or the bandwidth for enforcing a child’s learning plan, then problem solved! But if the volunteers and staff members serving the individual with special needs lack the skills or energy sometimes required to implement such a plan, then “pushing” a child to advance spiritually might just push the loving but limited volunteers right out the door.
For more on this topic see the article Church Based Special Needs Individualized Education Plans. Connie Hutchinson, Director of Disabilities Ministry for First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, CA provides great insight on finding the balance between students’ needs and volunteer capabilities.