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Meeting Special Needs through Adaptation and Modification in Parish Settings

by Doreen Engel, M.A.

When planning parish religious education for children with special needs or disabilities, consider the following:

  • Let parents know that children with special needs are very welcome. Written communication should encourage parents to contact the program director/ DRE to discuss plans well in advance.
  • Speak gently and accurately, using “child first” language. (i.e. “Children with special needs” not “special needs children.”
  • Listen attentively. Some parents have had to advocate forcefully on behalf of their child; if they are assertive, do not take it personally.
  • Ask about the child’s regular school day—and find out what educators feel that this child needs to succeed.
  • Offer priority scheduling for children with special needs. A child who takes medication, or who tires easily, will be able to participate better at certain times of the day rather than others.
  • Include a request for one-on-one volunteers along with your request for catechists. Such aides can be very helpful for children with a wide variety of needs.
  • Remember the overall goal—to help a young person learn about God and the Church, and to grow into a follower of Christ.
  • Avoid “all or nothing” thinking. If John cannot behave appropriately in a class or activity for 45 minutes, could he possibly succeed for twenty? If so, plan for him to attend only half of the meeting. He may be able to build up to longer attendance as he matures, and a positive experience is always preferred.
  • Is there someone in the parish with a degree in Special Education? If so, he or she can probably offer suggestions for individual cases.

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