Naturally, this means a lot of thinking goes into planning for children with special educational needs (SEN) and I see no reason why this shouldn’t also be the case for youth work in church.
Yes, this means a bit of extra work and planning, but surely it is worth it so that those who need extra support have the same opportunity to hear the gospel as our “neurotypical” kids.
As a children’s worker at my previous church, we had a young teenage boy with autism who found it very hard to access the majority of activities provided.
This meant he needed alternatives for some parts, as well as the opportunity to join in with the parts he enjoyed. For example, whilst the main group would be listening to the story and a little talk, we would go through a simpler version of the story with minimal words and visual pictures, then teach him one bible verse (he loved the numbers in the reference!)
He would then join in the singing where he trumped all the others with his enthusiasm. This meant he was able to learn the same things, in the same group as everyone else. So what he occasionally used to run around, make noises and throw things? Other children learn that everyone has different needs.
Often we start with the presupposition that children who struggle will need a separate room because they will be too disruptive and can’t access what is happening. Rubbish! Most of the time, all children with SEN need is a little motivation, visual support and simple, clear instructions to help them. I would say with youth groups this could even be done by a responsible peer.
- Give short clear instructions with actions, leaving a longer processing time than you would normally.
- Use visual aids: pictures to support stories, a timetable, critical communication symbols (e.g: toilet, drink), or sign language.
- A form of motivation, such as a reward chart.
- Give breaks as often as the child needs.
- Physical prompting during games and art activities.
The best thing you can do to support children with additional needs in church is to get to know them. Chat to them and their adults, find out what they need and like, and pray about how you can provide for them.
Challenge yourself: is your youth group inclusive?
If you enjoyed reading this, you might also like to read this piece on working with children with Dyslexia.