Does your ministry have kids with special needs? Even if you think the answer is “no,” the answer is probably “yes” to some degree.

When I say “special needs,” leaders often think of the more prominent diagnoses, like autism or physical disabilities. But special needs ministry can also be relevant for kids with ADHD, dyslexia, and speech-language disorders, which can often be more difficult to identify because they’re sometimes not as obvious.

Special needs ministry is an area of ministry I do not have much experience or knowledge with, so this week, we’re bringing in an expert to share their knowledge and ideas with you. Meet Laura Deeken, the creator behind The Adapted Word and printable resources for special needs ministry. Laura is a speech-language pathologist with 28 years of experience, and she has been volunteering with her church’s special needs ministry for 5 years. She and I connected at a children’s ministry conference in 2021, and I’ve been learning from her ever since!

This week, Laura has graciously allowed me to share some of the ideas she’s posted about on her blog at The Adapted Word. So here are 5 essentials Laura recommends for kids with special needs in your ministry:

  1. Sensory items. A great starter for sensory items is this box from Amazon at less than $20. It has squeeze balls, a liquid bubbler, and fun peas to pop in and out. Play-dough and bubbles are also popular with children, and you probably already have those! Pop-its are my favorite because children love them and they are quiet, and they come in many shapes and sizes. You can find them at dollar stores (yay!). The most popular size with the children I serve has been this big one.
  2. Noise-canceling headphones. Worship songs can be loud, and headphones can help children with sensitive hearing handle the noise better.
  3. Child-friendly Bibles. My daughter introduced me to The Jesus Storybook Bible when she was a camp counselor, and I have loved it ever since. Another good choice is The Beginner’s Bible. And if you have children who need an older look, The Action Bible is not my style, but I have seen boys in particular react positively to it.
  4. Items for gross-motor movement. I have seen great results from crash pads. These are more money, but something about running and then jumping on them provides sensory input that leads to calming – and who doesn’t want that?! I haven’t seen the same results from mini trampolines, but I do have friends who swear by them. Make sure you get one with a bar. 
    1. Side note from Brittany: I’ve also used and found success with balance boards or balance pods for kids who need a little movement and challenge!
  5. A safe place. Children who become overwhelmed can run to get away from the situation without knowing where they are running to. Providing a safe space – whether it’s a large box with a window cut-out, tent, or carpet squares – can give children a place to run to. That makes it safe for the children and adults (because you don’t have to follow the child while leaving others.)

Whether you are aware of special needs in your ministry or not, having these items on hand and creating a safe environment for kids will help ALL the children in your ministry connect with the Bible stories and participate in activities.

Be sure to check out Laura’s shop in the DKM Marketplace here for downloadable resources for kids with special needs, and join me in learning from her wisdom and experience by following her at The Adapted Word online and on social media.

Thanks Laura for allowing me to share and for teaching me so much about how to serve ALL of God’s children.

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