Thursday, September 25, 2014

What's your special need?

It's the end of September! THE END!! How did this happen? Every once and a while I stop by Starbucks, soak up their wifi and do a little writing. The crazy morning traffic around me is music to my ears, and quite frankly, it's people watching heaven.

This morning, I am sitting in said place, tucked into a corner with my "oh, so boring" black coffee. It is the first rain, and people here are fascinating. Where I live, central California, we are in a drought. Yesterday I was in a sundress and sandals and it was a sunny, almost 90 degree day. Today, pouring! Dark, gloomy and cold. I love it! We Californian's don't quite get it quickly, I have seen everything from wool trench coats to shorts and sandals. While it's funny, I am one of them with my open toe shoes. Ha!! In denial, I suppose.

So why am I sitting here writing? And why am I sharing all this (other than the obvious fascination)? This last week I taught a class on special needs at my annual training conference, and I loved it. I am in no way an expert, just a kids ministry leader who believes it's my job to create a successful environment for kids to learn about Jesus, every kid. And with that calling, comes research, work, and lessons learned.

At the beginning of my session I had someone tell me "I am seeing what this is all about, I think people need to go where they can be served with severe needs, otherwise the majority of kids just have discipline issues". Pardon? Let me say, I asked this individual if it was okay to use this very teachable moment...and don't judge to quickly, there's still a session in there ;)

This leader resembled some of the very old school teachers and volunteers I have worked with in the past. They aren't mean or uncompassionate, they simply don't understand, and as we have educated them, they wholeheartedly jump on board.  So this leader, while I will never be an expert in this ever changing area, is going to attempt to share her heart with you, and hopefully you find it useful in kids ministry.

First, did you know...
1 in every 68 kids in the US are on the autistic spectrum
1 in ever 691 babies born has down syndrome
1 in every 10 US kids have ADHD
1 in every 13 kids has a life threatening food allergy

I don't know about you, but those stats catch my eye! I remember when you MIGHT meet someone with down syndrome, or what is now identified as autism, but it was rare (not to give my age away) but we are watching these numbers climb on a regular basis now, and the church better keep up.  Why? Because we are missing these families! Parents who have kids with special needs will either stay home or alternate Sundays at best while keeping kids home. These kids never get to church....did you hear that? It should make your heart sink! For the church, it's not about the why, or the how. Let's leave that to the specialists! The scriptures tell us that we were handcrafted by our creator, all different, all unique, and with very different needs. I have a hard time believing that any of this was in error.

Psalm 139:13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.

As I spoke, I could see that leaders face change, we were called to spread the gospel and minister to kids. All of them. I like to remind people, we all have special needs. Yes you! Sitting here as I type, I don't have milk in my coffee because I am allergic to dairy, I am against a wall because people behind me causes anxiety (not kidding). I asked the people in my session to raise their hand for various needs and as they did, I reminded them we all have them. Don't get me wrong, we will never be equipped to do it all in one place, again why our differences are beautiful, but if we all do what we can, we can cover some serious ground. Here are 5 things we have tried to improve how we respond to the children and families in our church with special needs. 

1. Know your population - for us, we had to learn what needs we had. We have a strong population of kids with ADHD, Autism and food allergies. 

2. Train your workers - they don't need to have a degree, but the simple awareness that this is a growing population and a few triggers and response guidelines takes out the fear of the unknown. 

3. Asses your space, and decide your response - in our ministry, this looks like a buddy system. We have volunteers who buddy with kids and attend class with them. These volunteers are there to be a friend, to guide and help them be successful in the classroom with their peers while allowing the teacher to focus. This allows a relationship to happen with the parents, and as they bond, the buddy learns how to respond to the needs of the children in the most successful way. (every child with special needs is different!)

4. Share the vision - your congregation, all of them, need to know. Whether you decide on a classroom or a buddy system, there are always those that have a calling for this area that you know nothing about. Teaching or kids ministry in general might not be their thing, but they once had a relative that missed out because of needs like these. These people are woven into your congregation, and they are gems! Share that vision with all ages! Our buddies range from 16 years old to 60 years old and are the sweetest to watch!

5. Set your boundaries, and go! - While I would love to say "bring all kids of all needs" I have to remember that safety counts. We decided to start with kids 0-8 years old, and have since gone up as kids have gotten older. Set some parameters that you are equipped to handle, and get started. Just remember to be open to growth and development, because as these families are ministered to, more will come. Moms and dads getting to simply go to church becomes the sweetest Sunday sight. 

Lastly, diagnoses. This is the question I am most asked about, "how do you point them out"? Well, I don't. We simply invite, we invite parents to tell us if their child might need a buddy, and I personally try to ask every new parent, its a general question for us. Remember, we all have some level of special needs. On our registration cards we ask about food allergies and safety issues, and whether a child has special needs. When the fear of difference is turned into a realization that we all have special needs, it helps. Again, it's not about diagnosing a child, it's about creating a safe, fun, nurturing atmosphere that we can teach them about Jesus in. 

As I brought the session to a wrap, that leader simply walked up to me with the warmest smile and said "loud and clear....I have work to do"! I cannot wait to hear about how he is led to work with the kids in his church that are currently staying home. 

What do you do for your ministry in this area?

No comments:

Post a Comment