How to minister to neurodivergent kids Hannah Thiem
any churches are ill-equipped to effectively
minister to kids with different neurological needs. The Rev Kate Haggar, a children’s ministry advisor for Youthworks, believes this suggests kids’ ministry leaders need to consider how to be inclusive of a range of children. This reflects Jesus’ example of love and compassion to those who did not “fit” societal norms. In addition, catering to different needs and worldviews to more effectively communicate the gospel is a strong theme throughout the New Testament. Paul famously highlighted this truth when he said, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). The gospel is good news for everyone – and that includes children of all abilities or needs. Miss Haggar says most parishes don’t have bad intentions, but simply lack the time and resources to consider children with different needs such as ADHD, autism and dyslexia. To help, she has provided some simple strategies churches can implement to start more effectively discipling neurodivergent kids.
TALK TO PARENTS FIRST This should always be our starting point. “[Parents] don’t know it all, but they have some strategies and external support,” Miss Haggar says. Parents are the best resource because they know their children better than anyone – so keep these lines of communication open. Rather than us guessing or making assumptions about a child, having a conversation with parents about their needs can be the best way to love and care for them. It also models that our ministry to kids is a partnership with parents. ADAPT STRATEGIES FROM HOME When chatting to parents, Miss Haggar recommends asking about what routines and structures they have in place at home, and considering how these can be adapted to your ministry. Many neurodivergent children struggle with new environments 20
and unpredictability, so recreating things that are familiar is a loving way to make them feel welcome at church. It can also be helpful to know what strategies a child responds to best to help them engage with the lesson. CREATE A “SAFE SPACE” For children who struggle with sensory processing issues – such as being overcome by sound or light – kids’ ministry can be extremely overwhelming. To be inclusive of these children in our ministries, Miss Haggar suggests creating a safe space away from everyone else for them to be alone and learn in their own way. For example, one strategy could be to set up a teepee in the corner for them to sit and read the Bible story with items around them that feel more comforting and familiar. That way, we are still teaching each child the gospel, but in a way that is more accessible to their needs. Another option is taking a child to one side for a one-to-one conversation, which many benefit them immensely. BE FLEXIBLE Most of all, Miss Haggar suggests that kids’ ministry leaders learn to be flexible and allow children to do something different if it works best for them. By making an effort to get to know each child and what engages them, we can more effectively reach them with the gospel. For example, if a child wants to sit by themselves, it could be an opportunity for them to read the Bible story as suggested above, or draw it to present to the class. The key message is that we need to allow for these differences rather than forcing a child to participate in the group activity. Miss Haggar believes that using these strategies to better minister to kids of different abilities is crucial. “If you aren’t able to stop and think about what the child needs, we could be turning them away from Jesus,” she says. SC If you or your church would like more suggestions for effectively ministering to neurodivergent kids, contact Kate Haggar (firstname.lastname@example.org) for further advice. SouthernCross