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‘We learn as much from these little ones as they learn from us’


Additional thoughts and resources for serving children with special needs

Kathy Cameron, children’s minister for the Sugar Grove Church of Christ in Meadows Place, Texas
We have several special needs kids. We probably have about 25 with some type of condition requiring extra attention.
We view them as uniquely created by God and therefore valuable to us.We provide them with special services as needed on a case-by-casebasis. Children who need one-on-one help in the classroom get it.Teachers and other workers are informed and trained as needed.
We work closely with the parents to be sure that needs are being met —we assume little. We also are knowledgeable about what other churchesoffer so we can help our parents find services all over our area.
All in all, it has been my experience that we learn as much from these little ones as they learn from us.
One child, Ben, goes to camp with us every year. I take a group ofteenagers specifically to help Ben have the camp experience. They pushhim around the kickball field in his wheelchair, help him with mealsand generally are his legs for the week. It’s an amazing experience foreveryone.
I can’t imagine camp without Ben there, and his parents tell me it’s the highlight of his year.
Tim Pyles, minister for the McDermott Road Church of Christ in Plano, Texas
My wife, Kim, and I have two children — Hannah, who is 15, and Coleman,13. Coleman was diagnosed at 5 months with Dubowitz Syndrome, a raregenetic disorder that involves varying levels of mental retardation anddevelopmental disability. He was also diagnosed with autism when he was5 years old.
When I came to the McDermott Road church as the preaching ministerseven years ago, Coleman was 6. The congregation welcomed our family,and especially Coleman, with open arms. There were immediate offers toassist, especially during worship assemblies and Bible classes, but atthat point there was no formal ministry for special-needs children.
We knew that many, if not most, families with special needs childrenare not in places of worship on Sundays because they feel like peoplewill not understand, that there will not be a Bible class for theirchild or that they will not be able to participate in the worshipassembly. They stay at home and resign themselves to solitude, which isthe absolute last thing that they need.
These families face medical, financial, and educational battles on adaily basis. When they come to a worship assembly, they need a safehaven — not another struggle.
We saw a great opportunity to try to minister to these families. Thechildren themselves need love and support, but so do their parents andtheir siblings.
Within a few months, a formal Special Needs Ministry was organized atMcDermott Road. Since that time the ministry has continued to developand grow and now ministers to several children. Respite volunteers arescheduled to assist during worship assemblies, and “shadows,” or adultaides, are prepared and scheduled to assist children in their Bibleclasses, in addition to peer “buddies” that assist them.
As the children grow older, it is sometimes best for them to have amore specialized and personalized classroom environment, so a SpecialNeeds Classroom was developed to help meet those needs. Adjustments andexpansion of the ministry will need to continue to take place as thenumber of children grows and as special-needs children becomespecial-needs adults.
Our family has been immeasurably blessed by the love and acceptance ofthe McDermott Road church, and it is wonderful to see other familiesbeing blessed as well.
But the greatest blessing comes from Coleman and these other children.They connect with people, touch people, and teach people in ways thatthe rest of us will never be able to do.
RESOURCES
The Hail Project — www.thehaliproject.org
An organization launched by Brad Thompson, young families minister forthe Southwest church in Amarillo, Texas, and his wife, Karen.
“Forever Child” — www.Amarillo.com/foreverchild/main.html
A special feature from the pages of the Amarillo Globe-News detailingthe lives of special-needs children and adults, including informationabout The Hali Project.
The Council for Exceptional Children — www.cec.sped.org
An Arlington, Va.-based professional organization “dedicated toimproving educational outcomes for individuals with exceptionalities,students with disabilities, and/or the gifted.”
Brentwood Oaks Church of Christ www.brentwoodoaks.org
This congregation in Austin, Texas, has a ministry for special-needs children. For more information on the program, follow the “contacts” link and call or e-mail Jackie Boyd, coordinator of the church’s children’s ministry. The church’s phone number is (512) 835-5980.
Comments or suggestions? Please contact Assistant Managing Editor Erik Tryggestad at [email protected]
(Photocaption: Omar Griego and Karissa Edwards talk at a Zacchaeus’ PlaceBible study in Amarillo, Texas. Photo courtesy of Steven Dearinger, The Amarillo Globe-News.)

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