I’m often asked how to include kids with disabilities in “regular” programming. Usually, the person asking wants to know how to keep kids with special needs in the same room as their typically developing peers. I can offer many strategies for doing that~ and doing it well. However, there’s a bigger issue to be tackled. When we think of “inclusion” as a physical place within a building, we’re missing out on what it truly means. Inclusion has to be more than just geography…it has to be cardiology: studied and felt in the heart.
In public schools, students who are identified as having a disability that affects education are placed in the “least restrictive environment.” This means that the student must be included with typically developing peers to the greatest extent possible in order to receive appropriate instruction and educational benefit. Sometimes, even in public school, we confuse “least restrictive environment” with “full inclusion in the typical setting.” However, sometimes that kind of “least restrictive” placement can be the MOST restrictive for a student. If the typical setting is a hindrance to the learning and growth of the student with special needs, it is NOT the least restrictive environment.
To explain this, I often tell people that determining the least restrictive environment is rather like choosing a pair of pants: We don’t want our pants too tight, and we don’t want them too loose! We desire that “just right” fit. Not everyone is a size 2 or 10 or 22W! In order to be comfortable and able to attend to our work, we want pants that fit our own curves.
Let’s apply this to a church setting. Not every child can be included in every aspect of the typical Sunday School setting…that “size” may not “fit” and that is okay!
Our goal for inclusion is to be certain that the child and family are fully included in the life of the church…
This means that we, as the Church, must accept that some kids might need a break or a different activity or even, at times, a separate space.
It means that we must find and use the gifts of every kid to advance the Kingdom.
It means that we’re flexible, creative, and supportive so that kids can enjoy and contribute to age-appropriate programming that’s meaningful.
It means that everyone is necessary and everyone is unique.
It means that volunteers and pastors maintain an attitude of true inclusion, or, as my wise friend Shannon Dingle says, “Ministry with, not ministry to“ families affected by disabilities
It means that we plan prayerfully and respectfully, creating experiences that are based on kids’ strengths and needs, not on diagnoses and labels.
It means that everyone is included…not necessarily in the same room, but for the same purpose: to glorify God.
Inclusion isn’t a place…it’s the Body of Christ.
Hope you are feeling included today~