Sunday, October 5, 2014

D6 Conference Breakouts: What Every Parent of a Special Needs Child Wishes You Knew

"Think of a child as an opportunity to love, not a challenge or a problem."- Ryan Frank

This is part of a series of blog posts sharing my notes from main sessions and breakouts at the 2014 D6 Conference.

Presenter: Ryan Frank, CEO and Publisher at KidzMatter
Twitter: @ryanfrank75

Summary: In this breakout Ryan Frank did a fantastic job helping kidmin leaders understand the perspective of parents of children with special needs.  What made this breakout so tremendously helpful was the fact that Ryan isn't just a Children's Ministry expert but a dad who has been there himself.  

Not only was the information solid, but Ryan's perspective was invaluable to hear.  It was definitely a message from the heart.  

I highly recommend picking up the MP3 of this breakout when it becomes available in the D6 store.


1. We don’t expect experts, just people who love and care about our child.
  • The majority of the time what mom or dad are interested in is, "Do you have people who can love or care for my child?"
  • That doesn’t mean we don’t need to train people for specific situations or meet the needs of certain kids, but we don't have to start with experts in the field.
  • If someone shows up, the biggest thing they need to hear is, “Let’s have a conversation.  We really care about your child.”

2. This is a whole new world for us. 
  • Be very sensitive to the parent.  This wasn’t their plan.  This is new territory for them.
  • The scenarios that are happening in their kids lives that are different every day.
  • Ryan read the essay, Welcome to Holland by Emily Perl Kingsley, which gives a very powerful analogy for what it's like to be the parent of a child with special needs.

3. Understand church can be a challenge for me and my child.
  • Kids with sensory issues, etc, can be overwhelmed by our environments.

4. Please include my child.  
  • Even if they don’t raise their hand, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to play the game. 
  • Get to know kids so they you can understand who wants to participate in certain situations.

5. Provide an environment that is safe for me and my child.
  • Physically safe (Lakewood church in Houston is a great example of this)
  • Safe from judgment 
    • I’m doing my best.
    • My child’s behavior doesn’t necessarily reflect my parenting skills.

6. Don’t label or ask “what’s wrong” with my child.
  • Ask what he or she likes.  
  • Say, "We’re so glad to have your child in the church.  What can we do to help him/her learn the best?  Is there anything we need to know about Lucy?"
  • One workshop participant shared some questions they ask all parents who register children in their ministry. They ask all parents so that they don't single out special needs families:
    1. What causes your child stress or anxiety?  
    2. What helps to calm them down or encourages them to participate?
    3. Is there any information that will help his or her teacher?
    4. What is your child’s learning style - auditory, visual or kinesthetic?
    5. What are your child’s interests?
    6. What are your goals for your child in Sunday School here?

7. Unless absolutely necessary do not separate or segregate my child.
  • Parents want to see their kids happy and with their peers.  
  • Whenever possible include kids with special needs with other kids.
  • Don’t say, “We had problems with Isaiah today.”  Instead talk through strategies for success.
    • Is there something you can put in a child's hand to help them be successful in your Children's Ministry environment?
      • One boy did great just by having a plastic dinosaur to hold.
      • A girl named Angela was successfully included in the ministry by giving her a clear plastic box with various activities to go through at her own pace.
  • Mom & Dad would much rather their kids be a part of everything else that’s going on. 
  • If your church hasn’t done this yet, it’s worth investing in an iPad or two.
    • That gives you the freedom to say to the special needs parent, "Hey, the church has an iPad. What are a few of his favorite apps?"
    • This creates the potential of keeping the child with their peers.

8. Learn basic sign language.
  • Teach key volunteers 4 important signs: potty, drink, more & done.
  • This can be especially helpful with kids with autism who don’t speak a lot.

9. Be ready for anything.
  • You never know who's going to walk through your doors.  
  • Have some on-call people you can pull in - just loving, caring people who can come and serve a family who shows up unexpectedly.

10. Love, love, love!
  • Great quote from Ryan: "Think of a child as an opportunity to love, not a challenge or a problem."
  • The church is the arms and the hands of Jesus.

Action step: pray for God to give me . . .

1. A greater capacity to minister to and love special needs kids and their families.  

2. The key to understanding the kids and opening their potential for Jesus.  


  • Lakewood Church “Champions Club”  
    • Kidzmatter is partnering with Lakewood to promote this special needs curriculum in the near future. There's nothing else like this curriculum on the market, incredibly comprehensive and thorough.
  • Nathaniel’s Hope - This organization resources churches with opportunities, tools and training to reach out to special needs kids and their families.

Ryan Frank Bio:  
Ryan Frank serves as the CEO of KidzMatter and Vice President of Innovative Strategies at Awana. Ryan and his wife, Beth, are also the publishers of KidzMatter Magazine. Ryan served as a children’s pastor for 15 years at the church where he came to the Lord at age five.

He is the author of 9 Things They Didn’t Teach Me in College About Children’s Ministry (Standard) and Give Me Jesus (Regal Books). Ryan and Beth live in Converse, Indiana, with their three daughters. 

No comments:

Post a Comment