Ministering to Children with Special Needs

A few years ago, when I was children’s pastor at Akron, East Market Street Church of God, I found myself in an interesting situation. Thirty-five students regularly attended children’s church including several children with special needs: a preteen girl who was mentally challenged, a young boy who dealt with mental and physical challenges, a young girl who was in a wheelchair, another boy who had severe autism, and a pre-teen boy who suffered from bi-polar disorder. We also had three or four students diagnosed with hyper-activity.

I didn’t plan to become an expert on children with special needs, but when circumstances were thrust upon me, I learned some principles that helped me serve them. At some point in your ministry to girls, you may also encounter challenges that come with children who have physical, mental, and developmental difficulties. Remember that God has sent them so you can help them draw close to Him. Those who society thinks the least of are special to the heart of God.

Matthew 25:41 (NKJV) And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

The principles I’m giving you for ministering to children with special needs are keys I learned through experience, articles and books I read, and a lot of prayer.

Be flexible. Flexibility is one of the most important aspects of teaching children with special needs.

We all have guidelines for placing children in classes. A girl will go to Sunbeams, then Bluebelles, then Joybelles, then Young Ladies according to her age and grade. With some young ladies, you need to throw those guidelines out the window. Place children with special needs in the classes they best fit, not according to age or grade.

You also might need to do some trial and error. If one age group doesn’t work, try another. The important thing is to meet the child’s developmental needs, not to follow age requirements. Parents are the best resource you have. They know their children better than anyone and can help you find the best fit.

Flexibility is also needed in the classroom setting. A parents can help by giving you advice on handling episodes her child has, behaviors to look for, and tips to help the child handle the classroom setting.

One mother of a child with severe hyper-activity told me that when she allowed her son to hold something, like a toy car, it was easier for him to sit still. I didn’t normally allow toys in children’s church, but I allowed him to have his toy car. It worked wonders.

Another time, a father of a child with autism instructed me that if I tried to get the child to stay in the room, he would become upset and have an episode. It was better to let him wander around. So I assigned a worker to follow him and keep him from getting hurt while I continued teaching.

Have an assistant who can take care of any problems that arise. Children with special needs present challenges. You’ll want to include them, but you don’t want them to disrupt the class so much that other children don’t have a chance to learn. The best way around this is to have an aide who knows what to do when a student with special needs requires attention. She can take care of any problems that arise.

Finding assistants is not always easy, but if you want to effectively minister to students with special needs, it needs to be a priority. Try asking parents or responsible teen-agers to rotate or discuss it with your pastor. He may have some suggestions.

Don’t be afraid to enforce rules. Children, all children, do better when they have firm boundaries and know what is expected of them. This is even truer with students with special needs. You may have to adjust the rules to fit with their challenges, but once those rules are in place, don’t be afraid to enforce them. Children need the consistency they receive from knowing where the boundaries lie.

Praise them often when they’re doing well. Depending on the disability, some children are constantly being corrected. Some of this is necessary, but if all you ever do is scold a student, she will feel she can do nothing right.

Look for ways to praise a child with special needs. If she disrupts the class five times instead of the ten times she normally does, mention that you’re proud of her for improving. If she calms down from a tantrum quicker than normal, praise her for improving her self-control.

If you praise these girls often, they will improve to get you to notice. That isn’t only true of children with special needs. All children thrive on praise and encouragement.

Don’t start a special needs class. There is a movement in the church world to start special needs classes for children complete with curriculum to follow. I’m against this for several reasons.

First, every child is different. That goes for children with special needs more than most. If one student is mentally challenged and another is physically challenged, isolating them from other children by placing them in a class together is not going to help either of them. Special needs vary so greatly, you’ll never be able to have a class to meet all of the various requirements of your students.

Second, separating those who are different deprives them of being a part of the community of believers. Every child should feel welcome without being escorted to a special class where they won’t bother the others.

Third, students with special needs give you an opportunity to teach the other children in your class to show love and compassion. Enlist your students’ help with these children. In this way, you’ll show them how to respect differences and display the love of Christ.

Children with special needs present challenges. But they also give us a great opportunity to share the love of Christ.

Ministering to Special Needs Children by LaQuita Propes

LaQuitaToday, I’m very excited to have a guest author, my friend LaQuita Propes. LaQuita’s daughter, Summer, is a special needs child who was in my children’s ministry when she suffered the stroke her mother talks about. She is a delightful person that lights up them room when she’s around. Her mother, LaQuita, knows first hand how important it is to minister to special children like her daughter.

Ministering to Special Needs Children

On March 2, 1989, our daughter, Summer Joy was born.  She had no major health problems except for a two – three year developmental delay.  But all was well, in that she was learning, thriving in school, taking no medications, and was just like her name, full of sunshine and joy.

Then on May 25, 2002, our lives forever changed.  Summer suffered a stroke.  Her left temporal lobe burst and she had a cerebral hemorrhage. Survival took emergency surgery and 13 days in ICU, fighting for her life. The medical team told us in the beginning, “She may know who you are and not be able to respond, or she may not have a clue as to who you are.”  It was the darkest night of our lives.

Almost eleven years have passed…surgeries, seizures, medications, are all part of our lives now.  It’s been quite a journey and yet, through it all, I am so reminded of God’s faithfulness.  I can’t tell you as to why all of this had to happen to a sweet innocent child but there are a few things that I do know…God knows all about it, He knew it back in 2002, it did not catch Him by surprise, she’s alive, she knows who we are, and she is able to communicate.

That brings me to you, the ones who minister weekly to students like Summer and others.  You are loved and appreciated more than you know.  The attention and care you give are life saving for them and their families.

It only takes a moment watching the news to realize children are crying out for help.  Whether it is a visible physical illness or one that’s not so visible, we must be attentive and hear their cry.  You are making a difference.

And while it’s challenging on many levels, let me remind you of a couple of things that could help you minister to them…

  • You do not need special training, learn as you go.
  • Each child will be different so there’s no ‘one size fits all’.
  • Remember a little TLC (Tender, Loving, Care) goes a long way.
  • Be patient, speak to them, and be interested.       They will know you care.

I’m reminded of I Cor. 12:22-25 22On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

Thank you!  Great is thy reward…

~ LaQuita Propes

A Summer StorySummer Story

by LaQuita Propes

(This is my book that shares the journey of our daughter’s brain hemorrhage, resulting in a stroke at age 13.)

“Nothing about this journey of pain makes any sense if we are only spectators sitting in the stands. God invites His children to meet Him on the “field” of suffering. This is where we risk everything to know His heart and His will right now in our desperate situation.

How He enters that game is the best adventure novel you will ever read, only it’s your own life and you are actually living it! The only thing He asks is that you cling to him and resist the urge to crawl back into the stands.”

Note: The book can be purchased at

About the Author

LaQuita Propes is a member of the International Women’s Committee for the Church of God. She has served as the state women’s discipleship director in the Great Lakes Region, Northern Ohio, and South Carolina and was a member of the International Women’s Ministries Board of Directors for eight years. She is a graduate of Armstrong Atlantic State University with a degree in Dental Science and is a registered dental hygienist. She received the prestigious Robert I. Phillips Award, which is given to the most outstanding dental hygiene student.

Born in Florida, LaQuita met her husband in Georgia, where their journey began. She is married to M. Thomas Propes, Secretary General for the Church of God (Cleveland, TN). They have two children, a son, Matthew and his wife Jennifer, and a daughter, Summer.

You may contact her at: