Many parents of children with special needs choose not to put their children in religion classes and youth groups. There are many reasons for this. Some parents are afraid their child will have trouble during a quiet moment and disrupt the class. Others fear volunteer instructors will feel burdened by their child’s needs or behaviors. Some might feel ashamed of their child or afraid of what their child might do or say. They might avoid such public settings. Indeed, there are challenges in creating programs for all children, but these guidelines can help things go smoothly.
What Parents Can Do
Parents sometimes choose not to be direct about their child’s special needs. This causes extra stress in religious communities. For example, the instructor and program director might worry about a child, and wonder if the parents know their child has a learning disability or ADHD. When parents are forthcoming about their child’s needs, supports can be put in place. The leader and child can get off to a good start when parents meet with the program director and talk about how to best help their child.
What Religious Educators Can Do
Including youth and children with special needs will bring about some challenges, but religious educators help.
- Adults can be added to improve the adult-to-child ratio.
- Extra time can be scheduled for parent communication.
- Volunteer staff can be offered support and training.
- Grants can be obtained to cover assistive technology, American Sign Language interpreter services, or professionally trained one-to-one aides.
What Inclusion Can Do
Many benefits come from including children with special needs in religion classes and youth groups.
- Children with special needs receive religious instruction and feel part of the group.
- All children and teens gain experience from being around a variety of peers. They likely learn that others are not so different than themselves.
- As more children and teens with special needs attend classes and services, the community culture changes and including all children becomes the usual way of doing things.
- Parents of special needs children enjoy the support of their community.
Integrating children with special needs in religious education settings benefits the community as a whole. This, in turn, has a positive effect on our society.