Today most churches are slowly learning to integrate special needs children into their religious education program. While some churches are lacking in this area, hopefully they will become aware of the need of ministering to special needs children. Granted, it takes a great deal of effort and planning, but it is well worth it when you can effectively connect and minister to a special needs child. Many families who do not attend church have said that they feel they cannot take their special needs child because they fear they will disturb the congregation or they don’t feel they can entrust their child to others. Some parents find that their special needs child is not welcomed or that there are no classes available for their child.
Even if the church does provide religious education to special needs children, many parents feel that their child’s needs are not being met. Parents have to understand that this is not because of negligence, but mostly due to the religious education teachers not being trained on how to teach special needs children. Parents need to remember that the teachers are volunteers and try to do their best, but without the proper training on how to teach their child, it can be hit or miss.
Training and communication between parents and teachers will help tremendously with this problem. Seeking the advice and assistance of the child's family is the most important factor in learning how to teach a child with special needs. Family members and other resourceful people in your church family can also help you meet the child's needs with sensitivity. Find out if you have a special education teacher in your congregation that could help or someone from a local school or agency that could train the religious education teachers and the "buddy" that may be assigned to the child. Parents also need to become more involved with the religious education in their church and let the teachers know specifically what their child’s needs are and how to best teach their child.
Before any special needs child comes to CCD, have the parents answer a questionnaire about their child before they come to class to help with the transition of their child into the classroom.
A training session should be conducted before the student starts CCD to focus on identifying supports the student needs and how to implement them. The meeting should include all teachers, helpers, "buddy", bus driver, DRE, etc. who will have contact with the special needs child. Having all personnel at the training session is critical so the staff will understand the student’s strengths and concerns. It also allows for all their questions to be answered and they will know what they are supposed to do and how to do it. Remember, the key to successful inclusion is support and understanding.
When conducting a training session for all personnel, be sure to make it brief and informative. Do not waste their time with repetitive explanations that seem to go on and on. Teachers and staff want just the facts with interventions and strategies on how to best teach the child with special needs.
What should be included in the staff training:
- info on the child with color picture
- description of disability
- educational impact of the disability
- accommodations and modifications present to assist the child in school
- behavioral interventions used
- assistive technology
- related services provided to the child
- important tips from past teachers
- parent contact info (cell/phone number, e-mail address, etc.)
Short 1 page info on:
- 10 traits ______ struggles with
- _____ strengths
- _____‘s special interests
- What school is like for _____
- When behavior difficulties do occur, they typically appear to be a function of:
Try to conduct the meeting with the parents present so they can add any other helpful information that will help identify what changes need to be made in the religious education environment and how you, as the teacher, can best teach their child.
Having a special needs child in your classroom is a rewarding experience. You might be apprehensive at first, but after you get to know the child and what their needs are, it can open your eyes to a whole new and wonderful world.
Copyright 2010 Laura Grace
About the Author
Laura Grace was a special education teacher years ago and has taught CCD for 16 years. She has been a contributor at catholicmom.com since 2006, is part of the Gospel Reflections Team, and creates lesson plans for religious education and homeschooling. In 2008 Laura started her own blog, The Catholic Toolbox where she posts activities, crafts, games, worksheets, puzzles, lesson plans, classroom tips, etc. for all ages.