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Cry for Help

Pat Verbal

Pat Verbal answered the church phone and a distraught mom asked, "Do you have classes for kids with disabilities?" When she said yes, the mom wept.

"I've called nine churches, and no one could help me," the mom said. "Our twin daughters have cerebral palsy, and we need to be in church."

The church has been blessed by the family. Hebrews 13:2 says, "Don't forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who've done this have entertained angels without realizing it!"

Salute to Dads

When children are born with disabilities, fathers either step up or check out. Research shows that three out of four of these dads see their marriages buckle under stress. But many overcome and grow stronger. Some are volunteers in your church. Help us encourage these dads by sending their stories to jhooks@cmmag.com.

AblePlay.org

AblePlay is a toy-rating system and Web site for educators and parents, providing comprehensive information on toys for children with disabilities. Professionals rate and categorize toys according to physical, sensory, communication, and cognitive qualities. Sign up for the AblePlayers Club newsletter at www.ableplay.org.

Design a Disability Classroom

Have you noticed the growing number of stories in the news about families affected by disabilities? Good Housekeeping recently ran an ad featuring a beautiful girl with Down syndrome. It read, "Believe in our abilities. Nearly 1 in 6 children are challenged by mental retardation, autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and other developmental disabilities." This changing face of special needs is changing health care, education, and social norms. This reality should also lead to changing at least one room in your church into a special needs classroom.
Most kids with disabilities function well in typical classrooms. But kids who are severely disabled or medically fragile need a room adapted to their needs. Due to physical, mental, or emotional problems, these kids may respond differently to noises, lights, and textures. If their families are ever going to attend worship, it'll be because your church cared enough to offer a safe, welcoming space.
Location -- Choose a well-ventilated room on the first floor near handicap-accessible restrooms, away from noise, and large enough for wheelchairs to move freely.
Décor -- Select a soft color palette and fabrics without busy patterns. Select nonallergenic-fiber carpet and rugs. Design your room to be visually calming, organized, and free of clutter. Use age-appropriate accessories.
Furniture -- A kidney-shaped table allows easy wheelchair access. Small rocking chairs offer movement for kids who can't sit still. Some children enjoy crawling into a safe haven such as a tent lined with carpet. Other kids enjoy sitting on beanbag chairs or lying under them.
Lighting -- Natural light or table lamps are best; avoid bright overhead lights.
• Equipment -- Use a cabinet to keep materials safely out of reach. Provide headphones or earplugs to help kids block out sound. Kids needing repetitive motion will love a mini-trampoline. Children with limited speech or language may use language boards or computers.
Staffing -- Some churches recruit nurses as staff, and committed volunteers also work well. Choose people who'll learn the kids' needs and befriend them.
Lessons -- Ask parents which teaching methods work best with their kids. Most enjoy Bible stories, pictures, and songs. Relax and trust God to touch each child's heart at his or her level of understanding.


Pat Verbal is co-author of Special Needs -- Special Ministry (Group) and manager of curriculum development at the Christian Institute on Disability at Joni and Friends International Disability Center (www.joniandfriends.org).

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