Christian Parenting and Special Needs

Christian Parenting and Special Needs - Parenting Like HannahOne of my loves in education is working with children who have special needs. To me, it is pure joy to help these children find ways to reach their godly potential. In fact, one of my personal challenges is finding ways to help parents and churches not underestimate what children and adults with special needs are capable of spiritually. I also want to find more ways to help them share their gifts with the church.

Needless to say, I was interested when offered an opportunity to review the book No Greatness Without Goodness by Randy Lewis. Lewis is a retired Senior Vice President for the drugstore chain Walgreens. His middle child, a son, was diagnosed with autism as a toddler.

The book is about Lewis’ journey as a parent of a child with special needs, but more importantly how he was able to open his own eyes and those of an entire corporation. Lewis pioneered a program at Walgreen’s to hire a significant number of people with special needs – at first in Walgreen’s distribution centers and later throughout the company.

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Join Our New Parenting Like Hannah Community

Join Our New Parenting Like Hannah Community - Parenting Like HannahWe are so excited about our latest free resource for Christian parents! Many of you have been asking for a private community Facebook group. We heard you and it’s live now! The Parenting Like Hannah Community is a safe place for Christian parents to be encouraged and challenged on their Christian parenting journey.


Community members will have access to special content including:
– live chats
– in depth discussions of blog content
– first look at new resources
– priority registration for learning intensives
– opportunities to have your parenting questions answered by more experienced moms

Great Resource for Christian Parents of Kids With Special Needs

Great Resource for Christian Parents of Kids With Special Needs - Parenting Like HannahOver the last few years I have become a fan of Nick Vujicic. If you aren’t aware of him, Nick was born without arms or legs. With a disability that for most people would have meant their world is very small, Nick has become a minister, preacher, speaker and advocate for those with special needs all over the world. If you want to be inspired to overcome just about anything in your life, read his books about his life.

As I learned more about Nick, I often said I wanted to meet his parents. It was obvious they have to be very special people to have raised a son who has not allowed his disabilities to define or narrow his life. Someone must have heard me, because his father Boris Vujicic has just written a new book, Raising the Perfectly Imperfect Child.

Although as a fan I am obviously a bit biased, I have to say I loved this book! The author does an excellent job explaining what he and his wife did in raising Nick while still acknowledging that every child with special needs is unique. He is empathetic and makes it clear that in some ways their circumstances were easier than those of others with children who have special needs.

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Teaching Empathy to Young Children

Teaching Empathy to Young Children - Parenting Like HannahEmpathy is often thought of as the ability to imagine life from the perspective of someone else. Yet for a Christian, empathy needs to be so much more. You see, the Bible tells us over and over again not to just imagine what life is like for others, but to do what we can to reflect God’s love to them, serve them and point them towards God.

The earlier children are exposed to the ideas of empathy and serving, the easier it is for those ideas to become a part of the very fabric of who they are. Parents often begin the process of teaching empathy quite naturally. You have probably  told your young child to “be gentle” because if they are not it hurts the other person. Or you may have told him not to “be mean” and hurt another child’s feelings.

What can you do for more complex ideas? How can you explain autism or Alzheimer’s to a very young child? How can they understand what life is like for a little person or someone whose home was destroyed in a fire? For very young children, the answer can often start with a picture book.

Picture books are great ways to begin to introduce complex ideas. The words are simple and the pages are filled with pictures that help your child visualize what is happening in the story more accurately. (I am in the process of creating a list of empathy building picture books, but I will give you a few I have found so far at the end of this post.)

Once you have read the book together, talk about what happened. How did the people in the story feel? What makes your child think they felt that way? Why did each person feel the way they did? Did some people change during the story? How?

If your child is more mature, you may start introducing the idea of what they might feel like if they were that person. What would their day be like? Would they interact with their friends differently than they do now? What challenges would they face? What would make them happy?

Once your child has practiced with picture books, introduce the stories in the Bible as empathy building stories. How do your children think the lepers felt? What was it like to be the lame man by the Pool of Bethesda? Why did Namaan act the way he did? How did Jesus or the people of the day treat the people who were struggling with something?

Once you have read and discussed a book or Bible story, you are ready to begin tackling the second part of empathy – acting on the knowledge your child now has. Do you know someone who has the same issues as the person in the book? Is there an organization that serves the people in the book? Does your church help people with similar issues? Find a way, to meet someone like the person in the book you read and discover a way you and your child can make a positive difference in his life.

If the person asks you why you want to meet her and why you want to help, share how you want your child to learn how to reflect God’s love accurately to everyone. You may be surprised to learn the people you have come to help also have a lot to teach you and your child about love.

Want to start the picture book empathy project? Here are a few books I found that you and your child might enjoy:

My Brother Charlie – autism

Great-Uncle Alfred Forgets – Alzheimer’s

Alex Is My Friend – little people

Rainbow Joe And Me Rainbow Joe And Me – blindness

A Chair for My Mother 25th Anniversary Edition (Reading Rainbow Books) – fire victims

Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan  – Lost Boys of Sudan

If you have found other picture books you and your children have enjoyed and which helped them develop empathy, I would love for you to leave a comment with the name of the book and the author. It may help others create an empathy library.

Asperger’s and Church

Aspergers and Church - Parenting Like HannahIf you keep up with health news, you know about 1 in every 68 children is somewhere on the autism spectrum. The odds are even higher for boys – 1 in 42 boys will be diagnosed with autism or Aspergers. This means if you attend a church of a couple hundred people, several families may have at least one member who has been diagnosed with autism (New research is showing a strong hereditary link.)

While some congregations are starting to reach out and make their classes and services more inclusive, many don’t know how to help. Some may even be wondering why they should. I have talked with many families who have children with autism or Aspergers who go from church to church looking for Christians who will make them feel at home.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If we are truly reflecting God’s love, everyone should feel welcome, accepted and loved when they walk through the doors of our church. This may mean your church needs to educate itself on how to minister to families dealing with autism and Aspergers. Even if you studied special education in college, the information available has changed drastically over the last twenty years and you may need to get more accurate information.

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