Special needs kids deserve inclusion

He came into the kids church room for the very first time last Sunday, introduced by a long-time friend and colleague. I don’t know much about his story. Slightly built, frail really, he tentatively inched his lanky fourth grade frame into the room, letting her do all the talking. Never once did he speak to me.

But we did connect. I smiled and bent low to make eye contact as he considered the merits of staying for the kids church experience, or playing it safe and sitting next to my friend in adult worship. His eyes were slightly covered by his hoodie. He wanted no one to see or make fun of his cochlear implants, apparently recently installed to help him overcome deafness. 

I said, “We would love to have you stay with us for kids church. We are going to do something really fun. In fact, I’m going to let you in on a secret that none of the other kids will know about until later this morning: each of us gets to choose what kind of fish or water animal we would want to be if we lived in the Red Sea where Moses and his people passed through as God parted the waters for them.”
His eyes slightly dilated. He reads lips like me. I could tell. He gave it some thought…

“None of the other kids know about this yet. It will be our secret. You get to choose what animal you would want to be early and you will be all ready when it is time later!” 

He smiled. Just a little. But I noticed. He ended up leaving with my friend, but just before we were ready to act out the fun story, he returned. I winked at him as I introduced the idea to the kids. They were excited. He smiled again, bigger this time. Not sure what fish he played, but play he did as together we all waved to the Israelites moving on dry ground through the  imaginary Red Sea. 

The boy is a human being just like his peers. Just like you. Like me. We want to be included even if we live with some kind of physical, mental, or emotional issue that sometimes makes it hard, especially if others treat us badly because of it. 

It’s up to us as leaders to help children navigate these difficult waters, even if those who may have taught or led us in our childhood neglected to do so. 

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