Every child has the ability to learn about God’s love through our actions and expressions of love, no matter the special need. Ministry to children with different developmental disabilities will include adjusting to a variety of needs for each child. Here are a few steps to take when looking at starting a ministry for children who are developmentally disabled.
Pray about this ministry opportunity. There will be many involved, including families, children, and volunteers. Pray that the Holy Spirit will lead this ministry to reach out to these families. This is not only a ministry to the children, but also to the parents. Pray for the volunteers who will be working with the children on a regular basis.
Before you begin working with these children, start by listening to the child’s parents. They know their child the best and can help you understand how you can help them. Ask the parents questions about what works with the child. Find out what the parents expect for their child. Observe the child in an environment in which they feel comfortable. Use what you learn to design a program that best reaches each child.
As you work with the children with developmental disabilities, you will need to think about what type of ministry works best for each child, a self contained classroom or inclusion in classrooms with their same-age peers.
Will the child thrive in a self-contained room? A self-contained room is a room arranged specifically for children with developmentally disabilities. You may see a sensory board, a quiet room/area with books, a big rug for large group time, colorful pillows, a visual board to tell the Bible story, and more. This set-up has multiple volunteers in the classroom with the children, to provide close to a one-on-one learning environment for them.
Or will the child be great with their peers, accompanied by a buddy to help the child walk through the learning experiences? Each child is assigned a “buddy.” This buddy is a consistent person assigned to a specific child to learn their specific learning style and schedule. This buddy will join the child in all the activities and group times, encouraging their participation. When they are with a buddy, the child is in a classroom with their same-age peers.
As new children and families join your ministry, it will take time to learn about each child. You will need to learn what that child likes, what their abilities are, what frustrates them, etc. Once you learn about the child, you will be able to partner them up with a buddy or volunteer within the ministry.
Jesus ministered to the four friends who dropped their friend from a roof to be with Jesus. These friends showed their love and concern for a friend who was developmentally disabled. Meeting the needs of families that include children with special needs is a ministry that we find common in New Testament teaching. Through this type of ministry you are ministering to children, but also to the family as a whole.
Here are a few resources if you would like to read more about this type of ministry.
Fenton Lee, Amy. Leading a Special Needs Ministry: a practical guide for including Children and loving Families. Georgia: Orange, 2013.
The Inclusive Church: Helping Churches Successfully Include Children with Special Needs blog. Accessed September 29, 2014. www.theinclusivechurch.wordpress.com.
Charity Taylor serves on the Missions Team of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention firstname.lastname@example.org