Puzzles and Possibilities for Special Needs

Children’s ministry provides plenty of joy for kids and volunteers alike. After all, learning about Christ’s love surrounded by friends, good music and games is a recipe for good fun! Sometimes, despite careful planning on the part of both parents, pastors and volunteers, kids with special needs still struggle with Sunday or mid-week programming. Our new feature, “Puzzles and Possibilities” will describe  some real-life snafus that have occurred in ministry environments, as well as some possible** solutions for supporting a positive experience.

**PLEASE NOTE! At Key Ministry, we know that every child, every church and every situation is unique. The solutions we recommend might work in one church but not in another; budgets, volunteers’ availability and level of comfort, program requirements, and the needs of other students must always be considered when formulating solutions.

Identifying information will always be changed for this feature to protect the confidentiality of the child, parents and programs.

The Puzzle:
A bright, enthusiastic second grade boy with learning and attention challenges attends a midweek program at his church every Wednesday evening. The entire family participates in this program; his siblings go to their classes, and his parents are volunteers. Wednesdays are a particularly long day for this young man; he has early therapy appointments on Wednesday mornings, a full day of school, and an afternoon tutoring session prior to the church programming. Unfortunately, none of these appointments can be changed, and all are necessary to the child’s academic success. As a result, this child is fatigued and restless by the time he arrives for church, making it difficult to participate fully and maintain attention. The child’s meltdowns and tears have made Wednesday evenings a source of dread.

The Possibilities

After observing this student and talking with the program director, parents and teachers we suggested several possible solutions:

  • Use “proximity control” during the large group activity. Position a volunteer or available teacher near this student. He can be easily redirected with non-verbal (and non-embarrassing!) cues. (Find out more about proximity control here.)
  • Provide a visual schedule of the evening. Many times, students who struggle to maintain attention do better when they know what to expect. A visual schedule can be a written list of activities (this student could read well enough to manage this) or pictures of activities (easily found on Microsoft Office Clip Art or actual pictures taken of the students during their activities.)
  • Offer frequent–and planned–breaks. This student was able to maintain attention without being redirected for approximately four minutes at a time. Providing a planned break after an activity would give this student an opportunity to “re-set” his attention.
  • Consider an alternative activity during the class’s craft time. Fine motor activities were particularly difficult for this student. We suggested several alternatives that would support the curriculum without creating frustration.

After considering the possible solutions, the church decided to implement the close supervision/frequent redirection during large group activities and also created a  visual schedule for the evening. In addition, they found a video series that supported the curriculum. During craft time, the student and his buddy went into another room and watched a video on a laptop loaned to the program for this purpose.

The result? A MUCH happier student, and a great sigh of relief from his mom and dad. Wednesday evenings are still tiring after a long day, but the meltdowns and frustration have been greatly reduced. In addition, his teachers feel more successful.

Yours for positive puzzle-solving!


2 thoughts on “Puzzles and Possibilities for Special Needs

  1. Proximity control is a great idea. I have intuitively done it when someone else is training, but I need to train my volunteers to do the same.

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