Archives For Special Needs


Tonya Langdon —  May 15, 2012

I was blessed this year to be able to attend the OC12 Conference in Atlanta, GA for the first time. Wow, what an amazing conference! With 100+ workshops to choose from including eight that help us to minister to children who have special needs or learning differences! As the Special Needs Facilitator for Skyline Church in La Mesa, California I was excited to learn new ways to serve these families more effectively.

One of my favorite workshops was Meaghan Wall’s “How to Create a Special Needs Ministry Environment”. In this workshop Meaghan gave us great ideas and concepts to make our classroom environments a place where the children are safe, sensory needs are met and where they are able to learn about the love of Jesus. She helped us to learn and consider everything that a family with child/children with special needs encounters from the time they drive onto the church property to the time that they leave.

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Volunteers? Where are all the volunteers? At times we struggle to find volunteers to work within our special needs ministries. In yesterday’s workshop lead by Linda Martin, she suggests that in order to effectively recruit volunteers there needs to be an awareness of your special needs ministry. For many churches across the nation creating awareness that there is a special needs ministry within their church is challenging. When people within your church and community are aware that you have a thriving ministry that works with families and their children who have special needs, you will find those precious volunteers.

How do you create awareness of your special needs ministry?
• Ministry Fairs-great way to interact with people who may be interested in volunteering
• Share your vision and enthusiasm for your ministry with others. Others will be impacted by your passion.
• Catchy, attention grabbing bulletins
• Video spot during church announcements
• Facebook-this is a great tool! I have found 4 volunteers in the past week through social media
• Invite special guest or speakers to your church–Nick Vujicic, Joni Erickson Tada, etc…
• Draw people to your room–pictures, brochures, prayer boxes, bulletin boards
• Publicize special events that you are having in the bulletin
• Be active in the community–team walks, resource fairs, activities
• Foster relationships with agencies that will allow you to post your events on their site as a resource for families
• Wear shirts , buttons and hats that advertise your ministry
• Put a sandwich sign outside your children’s floor.
• Ask…simple ask people if they would be interested in working in your ministry.
• Ask your prayer team to pray for people’s heart to be stirred and to step out in faith
• Let your pastor’s what you are doing and what your results from your outreach efforts

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The dynamic workshops I attended today will enable me to better minister and meet the needs of children who have developmental or behavioral differences. The classes that I attended are:

  • Using Technology for Special Needs presented by Meaghan Wall,
  • Multi-Sensory Rooms presented by Karen Pool,
  • How to Create a Special Needs Environment presented by Meaghan Wall
  •  How to Train and Retain Special Needs Ministry Volunteers presented by Linda Martin.

These ladies were incredible!

Imagine how we can use IPads to minster to tweens and teens with special needs, to provide special areas for children who need a sensory “time out” or how to find volunteers who want to work with kids with special needs (okay, once you have them then what?). Over the next several days, I will be sharing what I have learned in those workshops and to encourage you in your special needs ministry.

I always dreamed of being a mom; as matter of fact I can not remember a day when this wasn’t so. So when we adopted our son, Jonathan, my dreams of being a mom came true!  From the day we picked him up from the foster parents’ house to bring him home, our lives were forever changed, and we were launched into a journey that we could never have foreseen or dreamed up!

By the time we started attending church in 1995, Jonathan had already been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD).  He was 10 years old, and by the time he turned 11 he was also diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome. We had sought medical and behavioral advise from medical doctors, psychiatrists and therapists. Like many parents who are rearing children with behavioral disorders, our lives were filled with a lot of stress and challenges…well, really a lot of  problems.  Some problems were typical challenges that most families face; however we had additional challenges that were severe and ongoing.  How were we going to pay for the therapist that the insurance did not cover? Who was going to stay home when he was suspended from school again (in preschool we were asked to leave the school due to his behavior)? What are the options for behavior management and medications? How was his behavior going to affect his relationship with his younger brother? How were the other kids going to accept him, especially after Jonathan started displaying symptoms of Tourette Syndrome? What were we going to do when he had another melt down? When will this end?

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Living With Tourette Syndrome?

As a parent of a son with ADHD, Oppositional Defiance Disorder and Tourette Syndrome, I have walked through some pretty harsh wildernesses. For my son, Tourette Syndrome is the one diagnosis which frequently resulted in unwanted stares.  It brought annoyed and angry adults telling him to stop a vocal tic which was the result of the diagnosis, and in general hurt his self-confidence. Many people do not understand the disorder and believe that the individual can stop the tics “if only they really wanted to”. Really? That is like asking you not to scratch an itch on your arm, what do you do when someone tell you that? You think about that itch! The more you think about not scratching that itch, the more pronounced the itch becomes! That is similar to what happens to an individual who is trying to suppress a vocal or motor tic. It takes lots of mental energy to suppress the tic leaving very little available for learning and interacting with others.

What is Tourette Syndrome?

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According to Jerome Kagan PhD, 10-15% of children K-8th grade are very shy. 25% tend to be outgoing and sociable and the rest fall in between. A shyness expert at Indiana University found the percentage of shy teens is about the same as adults which about 40%. The more  signs of shyness that appear; the more likely that the child will become more upset and will be less able to handle the situation. What are some of the signs of shyness or anxiety

  • Frequent trouble talking
  • Stammering, Stuttering
  • Speaking in a whisper or not at all
  • Look visibly anxious when called on
  • Appearing to “freeze” when spoken to
  • Sweating hands, Shaking, Racing heart
  • Blushing, Crying, Embarrassment after a minor mishap
  • Looks down when spoken to, Stays close to a family member
  • Constant thoughts of how the conversation is going to go
  • Consumed with their appearance and whether others will like them
  • Shows significant and persistent fear of social situation in which embarrassment or rejection may occur
  • How quickly they can get out of the situations that make them anxious

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Game Day Memories

Tonya Langdon —  July 12, 2011

Baseball Games! Oh how I love to watch the San Diego Padres play baseball! There is excitement in the air when you go to Petco Park to watch them play, eat a hot dog or two and seeing the fireworks go off when one of the Padres hits a home run!
Sadly, many families who have children with special needs will never attend a baseball game at Petco Park; until now.

Bo Mitchell, who has served as the Denver Nuggets Chapel Coordinator, noticed how many empty seats there were in the area reserved for those with disabilities. Game Day Memories was created to reach families with children with special needs and  by provide them with tickets FREE of charge to local sporting events. Recently, Focus on the Family and Game Day Memories joined forces to reach more families throughout the nation. Each liaison, like myself , then distributes these tickets to the families with children who have special needs. To assist the families , they are paired with a hosts (they also receive free tickets). These amazing hosts will serve these families and their children during the game, giving them a much needed reprieve from their daily challenges and obstacles, while providing some time of fun and fellowship.

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Children with difficult behavior and those with a  diagnosis of Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) often leave us frustrated, resentful or angry. What tools do we need to effectively minister to these children and their families without sacrificing our Sunday school lessons?

Choose your battles carefully!

These children will vie for control of the class and engage you in a battle if you are not careful. Is the issue at hand a battle that you want to win for the sake of being right or is it a battle where safety is an issue? Often times, not acknowledging their comments or attempts to manipulate will help you to stay in control. This is not always easy, but it is worth the effort so your classroom is not disrupted and learning can take place. Control battles with a child with ODD are destructive to everyone and creates a huge amounts of stress.

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All children can be defiant, inflexible, argumentative, or talk back to adults when they are asked to do something that they do not want to do.  This is especially true when they are  stressed, hungry or overly tired.  As parents, teachers or leaders, we often associate these challenging  behaviors with  “toddlerhood” or with the teenage years.  There are many reasons that a child may act defiantly and/or be uncooperative (divorce, death in the family, family fighting, chronic illness, etc.).

However, life for families who have a child with a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) is very difficult as their child’s behavior is chronically  disruptive, belligerent, openly uncooperative, inflexible  and argumentative at home, school and church. This behavior is  greater than their peers of the same age. According to the Mayo Clinic , 1 in every 10 children will be diagnosed with Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) and often have an additional diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity  Disorder (ADHD), Anxiety, Depression, Learning Disorders or Mood Disorders.  That means, if your ministry has 10 or more kids, you are likely to have children with ODD.

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Yesterday, I wrote about the three categories of symptoms for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.  Today,  I would like to offer some suggestions for how to balance needs of the entire classroom while still meeting the needs of the child with ADHD.

  1. Be flexible! Be Creative! Engage all their senses! Skits and game lessons can enhance their learning. Understanding their learning style will also assist you in bringing the Bible to life for them.  For some children, movement is critical for learning.
  2. Develop a genuine and caring bond with the child. Sending hand written notes about what a great kid they are or for their birthday speaks volume into their lives. I have witnessed the changes in children who were disruptive and/or squirmy in class. However, after they have received a note that is mailed to them they feel valued and it shows in classroom behavior. Your words are powerful. Kids that “fall in love” with their teachers are far more cooperative.
  3. Positive reinforcement. Try starting the compliment with “I noticed….”. The compliment MUST be true and not necessarily based on their behavior or activites at church. For example “I noticed Tom, that you have been participating in our class discussion. I really appreciate your viewpoint” or “Sally, I noticed that you went over and helped the younger children without being asked! Thank you!” To really make an impact on the child, let them hear you brag to their parents what they are doing right! Their parents will appreciate it (most of the time they only hear about the negative things their child is doing or not doing). A pat on the back, a kind smile, a high five, etc… are meaningful in any child’s life.
  4. Have clear and consistent rules. Make sure the discipline is fair and fits the misbehavior. Be sure that you separate a child’s misbehavior from a deficit in social skills. Don’t assume that a child understands the unwritten social cues. You may have to help them through this process so they can learn what they did wrong and what their options are to ensure that they do not repeat the error
  5. Come up with simple signs between you and the child that are decided on them before hand. My favorite signal is to make eye contact with the child and tap my nose to let them know I need their attention. This does not single them out or drawing undue attention to them. Another one of my other signals is to let the child they need to quiet down. I do this by bringing my hands from an open position, slowly bringing finger tips towards my thumbs simultaneously. Very subtle and easy to do without disrupting the class and leaving the child in question with thier dignity.
  6. Give them a piece of clay, a squishy toy or sensory ball for them to fidget with during lesson time. Some kids can concentrate better if their hands are in motion. I have found the squishy toys for $1 at Target, Walmart or a party supply store. If they like to draw in order to process the lesson, ask them to sketch a picture of the lesson that they are hearing.
  7. In my classroom all the kids sit on the floor with their legs crossed or laying on their belly. For some children this makes it easier to squirm when they feel the need and is less disruptive to the rest of the class. My goal is for them to learn, so if laying on their bellies with their Bibles open and participating helps them, then I have achieved my goal (additionally this feels less like school).  
  8. Above all have patience, warmth and a sense of humor!

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