One of the goals a Bible class teacher should have is to help students reach their godly potential. Many of you are doing a great job planning high quality lessons and activities to help your students learn as much as possible in the time you have with them. Some of you are spending time outside of class with one or more of your students mentoring them.
If you have students who have special needs though, you may feel a bit lost. Perhaps you sit them to the side with a coloring sheet to keep them occupied while the rest of the class completes a more complex activity. You may have little real interaction with students who have difficulties communicating. Or you may be incredibly frustrated with the disruptions a student with special needs can sometimes cause in your class routine.
Sadly, many Christians basically ignore their Bible students with special needs – or terribly underestimate their capabilities. You don’t have to have a degree in special education to make sure your students with special needs get as much from your Bible class as they can. In fact, often a few tweaks can make a huge difference.
There are a lot of things you can do, but these ideas require few special resources.
- Don’t assume. Just because a child can’t communicate well, doesn’t mean he or she isn’t intelligent. Many children who struggle with communication express their incredible frustration with people treating them like they are “stupid” because they can’t speak well. Only God really knows the potential of each of us. Keep helping all of your students move forward towards reaching that unknown goal.
- Talk to parents. Most parents of children with special needs will appreciate a teacher asking what he or she can do to improve the learning experience for their child. Specifically ask about any special accommodations the child receives at school to make learning easier. Those same tools can help your student in your Bible class, too.
- Don’t deny a student access to your class or sit them to the side. No child should feel unloved or rejected at church. It’s your privilege to include this child fully in your class. It may take a little extra time and effort, but you and your entire class will grow from fully including all children in your class.
- Remember most children with special needs will be capable of making the decision to become a Christian at some point in their lives. It’s estimated that as many as 80% of people with special needs will eventually have the capacity to make their own decision about whether or not to become a Christian. They may be a decade older than the average age of accountability when that happens – or they may be able to make that choice in the same time frame as their peers. One of the biggest mistakes we make is assuming they will never be able to make that choice and not giving them the tools to make an informed decision – or denying them the opportunity to be baptized when they want to become a Christian.
- Adapt your activities to make it possible for every child to participate. Children with special needs often just need a little extra time to complete an activity. In some cases, they may need an adult helper to help them with certain skills. Do not ask parents to attend class with their child. They need the respite care their adult class can provide. Privately ask the child or his or her parents what they need to fully participate.
- Encourage meaningful relationships. Ask the parents or your student what they would like to do to introduce their special needs to other students. Help find ways for your other students to have conversations and develop friendships with students who have special needs. Don’t let your class be a place where anyone ever feels unloved and unwanted.
- Spend focused time and effort on gift discovery and development. This is an area often ignored for any young person. Young people with special needs are often assumed to have no gifts from God to share. You would be amazed at what young people with special needs can do in the Kingdom if given the chance. Depending upon the special needs, you may have to be creative and think “outside of the box” in order to help your students discover, develop and use their gifts to serve others. Accomplishing this one thing can change everything for any young person, but especially those who are often marginalized because of their special needs.
Taking the time to make Bible class as helpful to students with special needs as it is for those who don’t have them is one of the most important ways you can spend time in your ministry. It can truly change everything for these young people and their families.