Full confession here. I have not parented a child with special needs. In my training as an educator and over the years, I have worked with quite a few children with a variety of special needs from mild to profound. The other day, I was talking with a friend of mine who is an expert in special needs education. She has helped children with profound special needs accomplish amazing things for years.
We were talking about an opportunity I have in a few months to work with orphans who have special needs at an orphanage in another country. As we talked about the best way to share the Bible with these young men who have some very serious mental and physical disabilities, I noticed the things we were discussing could also be done by a parent at home.
Please don’t take this as a lecture meant to induce some sort of guilt. I know you are probably overwhelmed with the care, therapies and education of your child. The idea of adding something else may be too much and I believe God knows your situation and your heart.
If your situation has somewhat stabilized though, you may want to seriously consider teaching your child about God at home. It’s easy to write off children with special needs as being unable to understand, participate or make a difference in God’s Kingdom. I want to reassure you, your child is probably having a greater impact than you realize. I recently sat in a room with dozens of people sharing how a young man who had never walked or spoken had strengthened their faith and encouraged them to begin careers or ministries allowing them to share God’s love with others as they served them. One day, you may find others talking about your child in similar ways.
So what are some tips to get you started?
- Find Bibles and activities on your child’s intellectual and social level. If you aren’t sure what that level is, ask your child’s school teacher. If your child’s academic capabilities are that of a four year old, for example, look for an easy to read Bible and Bible activities for preschoolers. Make sure they aren’t “baby” activities, about rattles or bottles for example, but otherwise most activities should work for almost any age.
- Incorporate your child’s senses whenever possible. If your child is not adverse to a particular sense, try to think of ways to incorporate as many of their senses as possible when you tell them a Bible story. Let them feel sheep’s wool, smell the sacrifices burning on the altar (grilling meat will produce the same smell!) – whatever creative ways you can think of to let them use their senses to better understand the story.
- Use motions and hand signals for children who struggle to speak. What hand motions can you put with the story, so after practice your child can re-tell the story using the motions? It’s a great way to help almost every child begin to remember the basics of Bible stories.
- Don’t underestimate your child’s abilities. Let your child try an activity. If he can’t do it, then consider helping – just not so fast you rob your child of the experience of doing something for himself. The same goes for understanding. We don’t really know for sure what your child is capable of understanding. If he/she is verbal, encourage questions and talks about various subjects. Encourage growth from wherever your child starts – it may be slower than average, but there will probably be growth over time.
If you can find the time and the energy, learning more about God from you will only help your child. If you find other helpful tips, feel free to share them on our Facebook page or in a comment below. We want every child to reach their godly potential!