by Matthew Espina/ November 1, 2016
Given the large number of individuals in the nation with special needs, the likelihood of having a child with special needs visiting your church is a real possibility. The question, then, is are you prepared, and do you have a game plan for such a scenario?
Generally if the child has a physical disability only and no cognitive disability, no special accommodation may be needed. However, there may be a concern with bathroom use for the child. Simply asking the parent or caregiver about the ability of the child to use the restroom and if any assistance is needed will be helpful to you in deciding the action necessary to accommodate the child.
In the event the visiting child has some sort of cognitive disability—such as Down’s syndrome or autism—the plan of preparation may have to be more extensive. There will be a lot of variables to account for, and an action plan will need to be laid out ahead of time. One of the major concerns is the ability of the child to tolerate loud noises or a highly stimulating atmosphere often associated with children’s church.
If the child has an issue with this type of environment, a plan must be put into place to accommodate them. This may mean having a buddy to sit with the child or even possibly leaving with the child until the activity has ended. An extra room with some games or activities is ideal, or maybe just a walk through the halls. Some children have special sensory tools—such as blankets, toys, or other items—that help to soothe the child during over-stimulating circumstances. Usually the child will bring this item with them from home.
With all things considered, the best plan of action is to have some extra help in the event a child with special needs comes to visit. Have a room with a few games and activities at the ready to fall back into should the service become uncomfortable for the child. Most of all, have a short questionnaire ready or personally ask the child’s parent or caregiver questions about the child—such as their ability to handle stimulation, specific behavior issues to watch for (e.g., biting, hitting, running), and ability to use the restroom. Over time you will learn more about the child and will develop an effective approach to meeting the needs of the child while helping them to grow closer to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.