Years ago I had a developmentally disabled child with dwarfism in
my classroom. The other fourth-grade boys in my classroom learned
important biblical principles as they adapted a game of kickball so
he could participate. Those boys will never forget this little boy
who taught them so much about how to show and model God's character
qualities to others.
What is a developmental disability?
Developmental disability is a term that's sometimes referred to as
an "umbrella" category covering many different disabilities. To be
characterized as a "developmental disability," the disability must
involve a mental or physical impairment or a combination of mental
and physical impairments; be present before the person reaches the
age of 22; result in substantial functional limitations in three or
more of the areas of major life activity: self-care,
receptive/expressive language, mobility, self-direction, capacity
of independent living, and economic self-sufficiency; and reflect
the need for assistance or services lifelong or for an extended
Some of the characteristics of a developmental disability that may
limit a child in your Sunday school classroom include inability to
use information due to problems with remembering or "executive
functions" such as making decisions. There can be problems with
ability to acquire and use language appropriately. Sometimes
children with a developmental disability have a problem with
acquiring emotional and social skills; they can manifest deficit
social skills in sharing, smiling, and following directions.
What are practical ways to help children with a
• Make your classroom as consistent and predictable as possible.
Children need to feel secure and have a feeling of some control
with their environment.
• Present information visually as well as orally. This way you
open up doors to understanding by using two of the most important
• Help parents know what you're teaching their child so they can
reinforce the important biblical principles at home.
• Adapt your classroom environment. Are there simple things you
can do to help the child? An example might be to have the child sit
closer to you or pair the child with another child.
• Watch children for cues as to how you can help.
• Remember that this child that God has placed in your classroom
is more like the other children in your classroom than different.
Also, the child can teach the other children important life lessons
of compassion, acceptance, and service.
[Q]: In my first-grade Sunday school classroom,
Taylor can't do what other children do. I've asked her mother how I
can help; her response is, "There's nothing wrong with
[A]: Parents of a child with special needs grow
through stages of grief until they reach final acceptance of their
child's disability. The stages include denial (shock), numbness (a
buffer against reality), anger (at God or even at you), bargaining
(an attempt to fix things or bargain with God), depression
(helplessness, loneliness, floundering), and final acceptance
(hope). Note that denial is the first stage and can last for a long
time. Just love the parents in their coping process. Be supportive,
compassionate, and caring. Pray for the entire family. Parents go
through this lonely walk through the stages to acceptance in their
own manner and time frame.
Sally Castle is associate professor of special education at
Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio.
This organization provides help with starting a Friendship program
for people with cognitive impairments. They also publish
high-quality, reusable Bible studies and life studies that are
geared specifically for this special population. Prices vary;
Friendship Ministries; 800-333-8300; www.Friendship.org