Communicating And Collaborating with Parents

How do we as church leaders communicate with parents who have not been forthright with information regarding their children’s disabilities or unique needs? ”Help! We have a seven-year-old boy in the elementary Sunday school program who is nonverbal, makes no eye contact, spins objects nonstop on the table if allowed, does not participate in any activities with children or volunteers, and covers his ears during music/drama. It’s as though he is in his own little world….” Parents have only said he is slightly delayed. We as children’s leaders don’t know what to do. 

I am no medical doctor, but it sounds to me like this little guy may be on the Autism Spectrum, as many of the characteristics mentioned are typical with children on the Spectrum. Currently, 1 in every 91 children are being diagnosed with Autism. These parents may not yet have come to terms and are unable to vocalize their child has a disability due to fear of a label, or they themselves may be in total denial. Many times, parents of a child with a hidden disability are hoping no one notices their child’s unique or different behaviors. Either way, it is a potentially sensitive conversation that needs to be bathed in prayer. Plan a time to meet with parents other than at check in or check out on Sunday morning. 

Talking Points 

  • Explain the purpose of the meeting is to better understand their child and to meet his/her needs, so their child has success in the classroom.
  • Let parents know you are looking to partner with them, and create a collaborative approach to their child’s spiritual formation.
  • Find out the child’s likes and dislikes, what things interest him/her, as well as to what things he/she has an aversion.
  • Learn the child’s strengths and areas of  interest to incorporate into programming.
  • What is the child’s learning style:  visual, auditory or kinesthetic?
  • Ask about his/her school situation, setting, and the type of classroom he/she is in.
  • Does he/she have an IEP (individual education plan)? Most children with any diagnosis in the public school system have an IEP.
  • Would the parents be willing to share the plan or portions of the plan with you?
  • First, talk about the positives or strengths you have observed in their child, and then discuss the challenges. Ask parents for their input:  how do they communicate with their child, engage him/her, and redirect from inappropriate behaviors?
  • What classroom or program changes can we make to better help their child learn about Jesus?
  • In some cases, it may be appropriate for either parent to come into the classroom and model how they relate and interact with their child.
  • Finally, let parents know you are excited to work with them and have their child in your program, and you seek to make this a positive experience for their child and all the other students in the classroom.

After the meeting, create an action plan with steps you as church leaders will be taking, as well as next steps for the parents. Define a time to come back and meet to assess how the plan is working. Keep a log or journal on how the child is doing and what is working to help him/her in the classroom. Let parents know this may take a while to get it right, and you and your team are invested in working with them; but you need their support  as well.

2 Comments

  1. Marianne TUMC wrote on May 28, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    When we have meetings with same types of families, I first share my testimony about my son with ADHD. Then we reassure them that we are here to help them and work with them. And most importantly, that we love their child in all their glory. It is so scary to go somewhere and you are not sure you will be welcomed or if you will be asked to leave. I met a Mom at the Accessibility Summit who was told her 6yr old with ADHD was not welcome at Sunday school anymore at the church where she grew up in. She was devastated. If a family comes through the doors at church with a special needs child or youth, it is our responsibility to welcome them. And if we are not sure how to handle a child or are unfamiliar with their disability, it is our job to train and educate ourselves in order for every family to come to church.

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