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Meet My Son

Jennifer Buell

What Can You Do for Parents?
As ministers to children, you're entrusted with a most special and wonderful responsibility. You're the first official ambassador of the church and God's love to my child. And for many parents with severely disabled kids, you might be the only break they get during the week. What an awesome position to be in. Here's how you can be Jesus' representatives to families like mine.
Love my child. Hug him. Greet him with enthusiasm and show genuine interest in him. Be happy to see him-even though he's the hardest one in your class. And even though I know some days you need to brace yourself to handle him, please don't ever let me see you do it. Let me believe that there's someone out there who doesn't feel bothered by how much extra work he requires.
Don't try to diagnose my child. It's amazing how many parents in my support group have had friends or family members try to diagnose their child because they saw a "thing" on TV. Just because an animal has four legs and a tail doesn't make it a dog. You may have years of experience with kids or just read a book on a particular syndrome, but it only adds to our frustration and feelings of alienation to have unqualified people tell us our child has this or that label. If you suspect a child in your church has a delay or a problem that the parents may be unaware of, approach the parents with love and recommend they ask their doctor. Don't label their child; simply give them your observations of his or her behavior while in your care.
Ask what the child needs, and do your best to provide it. Whether it's physical assistance or redirecting a child to more appropriate behavior, you need to know how to work with our kids. To include a child with special needs in your class, you may need some direction and should use your best resource--the parents. Parents know their children better than anyone…we're with them all the time. We've talked to their therapists and doctors and know something about their needs. Make parents your allies as the experts on their children, and you'll win their undying devotion.
Include my child. One of my deepest frustrations is people who either let my son roam aimlessly around the room, not even trying to include him, or try to physically restrain him until he works into a fit of hysterics. A child with special needs often doesn't participate in the same way typical kids do, but he or she does want to be included. Let go of rigid rules and be flexible. When Ryan was 3 years old, God sent my best friend, Lori, to take over his church class. She established a routine for every week, and she actively included him. When he wouldn't sit on the floor for group, she pulled over a chair for him. When he tried to run around, she hugged him and swung him in a circle for a moment and then tried again. He eventually got to know the order of things and happily participated. Her patience and creativity paid off.
Be our pastor. Pray for us as we handle the enormous responsibility of caring for a child with special needs. The stress of caring for a child with a disability is enormous. Offer a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear. Get excited with us when our child reaches a new milestone. Teach the other children how to accept and love our kids, too.

You're entrusted with the care of children. Please don't let our special ones fall through the cracks because they take more work. Parents in your community are praying you'll step up to the challenge. And I believe this is part of what God has called you to do.

Jennifer Buell is a mom, radio DJ, and former children's pastor in Rapid City, South Dakota, where she volunteers on the board of the Autism Society of the Black Hills.

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