How to… support a child with Special Needs

Miriam N Jones – Specialist Speech and Language therapist

Having a child with learning difficulties in your Sunday school class or youth group can sometimes feel challenging.

However, a few simple strategies will go a long way to helping ensure these children are included in all activities and that they have every chance to learn about the gospel along with other children in your youth group.

  1. Sensitively, try and find out as much information as you can from parents or carer about the child’s needs. No two children with special needs will be the same – every child is unique!
  2. Ensure that all the team are aware of the child’s needs.
  3. Do not draw attention to the child’s particular difficulties in front of the other children, but try and manage their needs as subtlety as possible.
  4. If possible, identify one team member who can keep a particular eye out for the child. They do not need to remain with them all the time, but should take responsibility for ensuring the child is engaged and involved.
  5. It is highly likely that this child will have difficulties understanding and deciphering language. This means it will take them longer to respond to any verbal information given. Give them plenty of time to respond and wait at least 10 seconds before you repeat a question or instruction. Try to avoid ambiguous language such for example ‘Pull your socks up!’.
  6. When giving instructions, makes sure you keep them clear and simple. It may be necessary for someone to repeat them to the child and break them up into single
    instructions.
  7. If giving the child specific instructions use their name and wait for them to look at you before telling them what you want, or asking them a question.
  8. To ensure that the child is included, make sure you ask a range of questions to suit all the children in the group. If they are keen to answer questions, you could ask them a question directly aimed at them. If you do this, also directly address other children, so you are not singling them out. It can be helpful to give forced alternatives e.g. ‘Was the man deaf or blind?’. Yes/no questions can also be helpful. These kinds of questions, mean the ‘language’ element of answering a question is made easier, so they are more likely to get the answer right!
  9. You may find other children want to ‘look after’ the child with special needs. Monitor this carefully, it can be a help or a hindrance.
  10. The child may get bored quickly. It can be helpful to have some activities for them to do, if they cannot maintain their attention as long as other children. For example, they may benefit from having several colouring sheets to complete rather than just one. Regular changes of activity can help keep a child engaged.
  11. Children with specific educational needs often respond well to visual stimulation, therefore, it is useful to use props or pictures during talks and teaching aspects of your club or Sunday school.
  12. Giving the child praise for good behaviour is essential.
  13. When playing games, it can be helpful to allow other children to go first, so the child has a chance to see how something is done.
  14. In Mark 10:14 Jesus said ‘…Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.’

Let’s not see these children as a challenge, but as souls which are in need of a Saviour and let us not hinder them.

This article only covers a few key strategies and is not an exhaustive list….