As our church youth programs continue to reach out to the community, we are seeing many more youth with special learning needs including ADHD, anxiety, depression, and on the autism spectrum. We are educating ourselves and talking about the best way to help those individuals and their families.
These days many of our groups have a lot more kids with needs, which can sometimes show up in behavior. They can bounce of each other, need to move around the room, fidget, hum, rock their bodies. All of these and more can often disrupt the meeting or Confirm not Conform class – as do "normal" kids.
These disruptions are hard for new teachers and experienced leaders alike. Many of the volunteer or paid teachers /leaders have little if no training on classroom management. And so leaders, class and individuals get off track. We find ourselves dealing with each individual as well as the entire class. This is why many of us do not last long in these positions.
Often a few of our youth will leave a group when they can't handle or don't know how to be with be with kids with special needs. Our youth are told they need to be nice and mature when a kid acts out. Yet for some of the kids it can be scary to interact with the high needs kids each time we meet at youth group. We cannot turn a blind eye, and we should not hope that the high needs youth will leave soon. Instead I suggest that we all continue to educate ourselves on how to help our groups begin to create a safe, prayerful and fun environment for all of us.
In the last few years these are a few ideas that have helped us in the CnC class and youth groups:
1. Ask the families or guardians to write you an email letting us know what the issues are for their child. The email is a safe place for the conversation to begin.
2. Meet in a neutral location with the parents to continue the discussion on needs and to get information on what works for their kids in a larger group. With the parents’ o.k., invite the youth to the meeting so they know that nothing is going on behind their back.
3. Invite all of the youth to meet (or, in a larger group, a select group) to talk about their concerns and ideas of how to support those needs. With the parents’ permission, share a few important details of the special needs youth with the kids. I often point out that their ideas would be great for all of us to apply in our meeting and classes. I want them to see the differences and the similarities that are common to all of us.
These work for our community and are part of living out our belief that all are welcome to God’s table and in God’s community.
Please share what your community does to be welcoming and inclusive.