Special Needs

Headed to the ATL! #OC12 #OC12SN

UncategorizedJared KennedyComment

Megan and I are heading south this morning to the ATL and Orange 2012. Here are 4 quick reasons why we're excited and thankful to be headed down to Orange.

1. Orange is the hub of the modern family ministry movement. Orange has grown out of the ministry of Northpoint Community Church and their Family Ministry champion, Reggie Joiner. Reggie defines what the family ministry movement is about with more simplicity and clarity than anyone I know. Here is how Reggie defines the Orange movement:

“If we can be more effective at engaging parents to partner in our ministries, and improve the quality of relationships in the family, we will increase the possibility of a child having a dynamic and authentic faith.”

“When we partner with ministries, we call this an ‘Orange’ way of thinking. If the color red (warm nurturing hearts) represents parents and the color yellow (bright missional lights) represents church leaders, they need to combine to make orange. Orange is the idea that two combined influences will make a greater impact than either of the two influences alone... So, family ministry is ‘synchronizing church leaders and parents around a master plan to build faith and character in their sons and daughters.’”

2. My friend Amy Fenton Lee is leading an amazing series of workshops on ministry to children with special needs... and we're going to be attending just about every one of them. Here is our itinerary for the conference breakout sessions. Pray for us that this will be a fruitful time of learning:

Wednesday, April 25th 9:30am--How to use technology for Special Needs 11:00am--How to create a multi-sensory environment for Special Needs 1:30pm--How to create a Special Needs environment 3:00pm--How to recruit, train, and retain Special Needs volunteers

Thursday, April 26th 

11:30am--Volunteer Meets Parent (with Sue Miller!) 2:00pm--Advancing the spiritual development of kids with Autism 3:45pm--Leading a Special Needs inclusion initiative 5:30pm--Family Ministry, Spiritual Formation, and Special Needs

3. My family is in Georgia. So, we're going to get to see my dad, mom, brother, and his wife, Debbie--who is going to be keeping our girls for two days! Thank you Debbie!

4. I get to spend two days hanging out with Megan learning about things we're both passionate about. I think that any conference is more fun if I get to hang with my girl.

I might blog a little about the conference after we return, but the site will probably be quiet until then. Thanks team and church family for letting us get away and learn this week!

Advantages of a "unified" curriculum for children with special needs.

UncategorizedJared KennedyComment

A "unified" curriculum like the God's Story curriculum we use at SojournKids or the Treasuring Christ curriculum from Providence Baptist has a lot of advantages. One key advantage, from a family equipping perspective, is that the entire family is learning the same lesson each week. Shannon Dingle of Providence Baptist's special needs ministry highlights another great use:

Because the Treasuring Christ Curriculum is scaffolded with different variations of the same lesson for different age levels every week, this provides us with levels of curriculum that we can use for kids with special needs. For example, a seven-year-old girl with Down syndrome might benefit from the content from the early childhood lesson, and a twelve-year-old boy with autism may connect better with some of the sensory activities designed for another group. We have the flexibility to borrow elements from other ages’ lessons, or even drop down a level or two, to meet the individual needs of each child and student.

Read the entire interview with her at Family Ministry Today

CDG11 Breakout: Disability, Autism, and the Tender Mercy of God

UncategorizedJared Kennedy4 Comments

Saturday was World Autism Awareness Day. 1 in 110 children (1 in 70 boys) are affected. I know this has a number of folks in children's ministry thinking about special needs ministry. One champion in this area is Brenda Fischer, the Disability Ministry Director for Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN.  The following are notes from a breakout session that she led at CDG11 entitled, "Disability, Autism, and the Tender Mercy of God." I enjoyed attending the session, and I've included my notes below as well as links to some resources that she sent me after the fact:

God in His tender mercy brings heart challenges to our ministries. Disability has a way of stirring things up, in the heart and in the classroom.  Brenda outlined three major heart challenges that take place when God brings a child with a disability into your class.

1. Ministering to the Child with a Disability.

  • Ask God to put His hand on your ministry and help you to bless this child.
  • Remember to ask God for wisdom.
  • Ask the parents for advice on caring for their child.  They may provide lots of advice.  They may say, "I don't know."  You may even want to ask the parents to model for children's ministry volunteers how to work with their child.  Here is a copy of their intake form that provides great questions to ask.
  • NEVER try to guess or assume a diagnosis.
  • Learn what you can about the child's disability.  You don't have to learn everything, but you can learn something.
  • Be willing to try out proven tools like picture schedules or headphones to help with sensory difficulties.  Try pencil spinners or "pokey" stress balls to help with focussing attention.  Bethlehem uses the Boardmaker software program to make picture schedules as well as visuals to help with Scripture memory.
  • Children with special needs at Bethlehem are all included in regular children's ministry classrooms, but parents decide which age group class their child will attend.  Bethlehem has found that it is often helpful to recruit a helper to work with a child one on one.
  • Like all people, those with disabilities are sinners and in need of a Savior.  Children's workers should use discernment about behaviors that are the result of a disability and those that simply flow from a sinful heart.  Many times, this is not clear cut. Sometimes kids need to be led to adapt.  Other times, they need to be led to repent through prayer or asking another child for forgiveness.
  • Here is the copy of the Bethlehem handbook for their disability ministry team.

2. Ministering to the Family of the Child

  • Disability is both a part of the curse and within God's control and plan (Exodus 4:11). Parents of disabled children are blessed when the body of Christ reaches out and loves and accepts them and their child.
  • Take time to ask parents about their life and how you can pray for them.
  • Don't give advice to families about caring for their child.  NEVER say, "Have you tried..."  This can sound like a personal attack.  Parents of special needs children today go to workshops and doctors.  They read blogs, and most have tried just about everything.
  • Families living with a disability often struggle a great deal with intense day to day challenges.  People who are hurting have a tendency to draw inward.  True ministry draws the hurting outward and toward Christ.
  • Disability can become all-consuming in a family.  Helping people see life from an eternal perspective is a critical role of the church.
  • Seek to get to know families and pray for them.  Also meet some practical needs so that they are able to be a part of the body of Christ.
  • It is important of parents of a child with disabilities to be able to go to church gatherings and be filled so that they can return home refreshed.

3. God's Work in the Hearts of the Team and the Typical Children in the Classroom

  • This child is with you for a God-ordained purpose. God allows tough situations in life and ministry, because of his mercy toward us.
  • God wants you to find out what pleases him and do it.
  • God works in the hearts and attitudes of volunteers through disability.
  • Some are not called to work directly with a child with disabilities.
  • God works in the hearts of typical children as they see others model love for people with disabilities

Our role in ministry is to help people grow a tender, unshakable love for Christ.  God gives us tough situations that seem hard, but in fact, they are merciful.

Other Resources recommended by Brenda:

Books about God, Suffering, and Disability

A Lifetime of Wisdom--Embracing the Way God Heals You by Joni Eareckson Tada

Wrestling with an Angel--A Story of Love, Disability and the Lessons of Grace by Greg Lucas

Disability Ministry Resources

Exceptional Teaching--A Comprehensive Guide for Including Students with Disabilities by Jim Pierson

Same Lake, Different Boat--Coming Alongside People Touched by Disability by Stephanie O. Hubach

Resources Specifically About Autism

Autism and Your Church--Nurturing the Spiritual Growth of People with Autism Spectrum Disorders by Barbara J. Newman

Finding Your Child's Way on the Autism Spectrum--Discovering Unique Strengths, Measuring Behavior Challenges by Dr. Laura Hendrickson

Too Wise to Be Mistaken, Too Good to Be Unkind by Cathy Steere

The Unexpected Gift by Michelle Schreder

For more information about special needs ministry, check out The Inclusive Church.



Adapting Bible Lessons for Special Needs Children

UncategorizedJared KennedyComment

Over at, Amy Fenton Lee and Jackie Mills-Fernald (of the inclusive church blog) recently posted as guests, and they listed three ways that Sunday Bible lessons can be adapted for special needs children.  This is important as we are welcoming in more and more children with special needs at Sojourn.  Here is her list, and you link to the entire article here. 1. Classroom Size & Teacher Ratio: Adapt size of group, project or activity

Keeping a child engaged is the key to maintaining his attention and managing his behavior. A disinterested child may be lured back into the group when a teacher can ask them a direct question or assign a specific task. Smaller child-to-teacher ratios provide better opportunities for these necessary one-on-one interactions.

In cases where a child with special needs necessitates more dedicated attention, providing a teen or adult buddy may solve any problems. During elementary school and beyond, oftentimes a mature child can be tagged to provide peer assistance. Many typical children have an uncanny ability to help a peer with special needs, both in completing tasks and regulating behavior.

Along the same lines, children with neurological disorders struggle when any hint of chaos emerges in an environment. A calm and orderly classroom helps such a child with his own self-regulation. Too many things going on may produce sensory overload, and may interfere with the child’s ability to learn and remain engaged. Controlling noise and activity level is easier in a smaller group than in a room with many children.

2. Time: Adjust time allotted for activity or task

Very often too much time is allotted for a project. As soon as a child becomes bored or disinterested, the likelihood of wandering and less desirable behavior increases. When children finish an activity too soon, they may become disengaged and initiate self play. For a child who does not self regulate well and needs structure, constructive self play is a struggle. It is better to over-plan and then discover that the children are enjoying a project and need more time than to provide too few structured activities.

While planning ample activities is important, it should be noted that children should not feel rushed. Hurrying children through an activity may frustrate a child who is remaining engaged but taking longer to complete an activity, possibly due to their limitations. For classroom teachers, patience is as important as the planning!

3. Vary Input & Output: Deliver the material to all learning styles: 1) auditory, 2) visual and 3) kinesthetic.

Even typical children differ in the ways they best receive new information. While one child may better process a lesson by observing visual aids, another child may learn by hearing colorful oral illustrations. Similarly many children process concepts by application. Incorporating actions through crafts, gross-motor movement or participation in a drama creates a greater impact on a kinesthetic learner. Environments and programs that utilize music, puppets, creative movement, visual arts (and the list goes on) are more likely to present information in ways that all children can successfully process.

Recognize that some children with special needs may require using sign language, picture symbols and even eye gazes as a part of their communication and feedback. Some churches take a given Bible story and then provide a worksheet of picture symbols for a child to follow as the story is told. Similarly, allowing a child to answer questions and participate by selecting and presenting pictures gives him additional methods for interactive participation. Picture symbols are available through software programs such as Boardmaker as well as on many free websites.

Jumping to Conclusions

UncategorizedJared Kennedy1 Comment

Our intuition is a marvelous thing.  It often tells us that there is something out of the ordinary--which warns us that there may be danger or peaks our compassion for someone who just doesn't seem to be right.  But intuition can be dangerous.  That sense that we get--when combined with a lack of experience or a quickness to judge--can lead us to jump to conclusions.   And false assumptions lead to actions that can hurt rather than help, that harm rather than protect.  Here is a great article by Amy Fenton Lee about misconceptions that volunteers in children's ministry can have about children who are having difficulty adjusting to a new environment.  The article compares the behaviors typical of children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder to the responses typical of children from a bad parenting environment.  It illustrates why jumping to conclusions is so dangerous.  I hope to utilize this article in our children's ministry training in the future--to help orient our natural intuition away from judging and toward helping/caring for new families.  When a behavior dilemma occurs in our children's ministry, conversations between our team and parents are warranted and wise, but, as Lee states, "the dialogue can start much differently (and with a greater chance of generating a positive outcome) when the church considers the possibility that an undisclosed or undiscovered disability may be driving problematic behavior."