A few thoughts gathered for the Office of Religious Education in-service tomorrow "Reaching Out In Mercy to Those with Special Needs")
1. Meeting with one-on-one with parents/guardians, both, if possible.
Questions to ask:
1. What are your child’s interests?
2. Are there any sensory needs or dislikes that we should know about?
3. Is there anything that your child finds upsetting or uncomfortable?
4. Is an aide required? (Sibling, parent, or professional care-giver?) Will the aide, if an adult, be willing to complete the Diocesan Child Protection Policy steps to be present with youth?
Assure them you are honored to be part of the team with them and appreciate their patience as you and team members learn some of the things necessary. Together, create a file that outlines any specific needs the student has, including medical issues, behavioral issues, or psychological issues.
2. Meeting one-on-one with the teen (and parents or aide) so s/he can get to know and feel comfortable with you.
Ask: What are your interests?
Ask: What are your concerns, if any?
Try to find a specific way the teen can be of service at your Church (i.e. if s/he is good at singing, pair him/her with your VBS music group to help; if s/he has great computer skills, then ask him/her to work with a team to create a PowerPoint prayer service for a youth event, etc.)
3. Check your facilities to see if any alterations need to be made to better accommodate the youth with different abilities (may also want the parents to check with you as they will have additional insights and suggestions.) Consider access to rooms in use, restroom facilities, doorways, outdoor activity terrain, etc.
4. Ask if any of your youth ministry team members have experience or expertise in working with youth with disabilities? You may be surprised at the wealth of expertise available at your parish when you consider:
Would they be willing to either work directly with the teen or train someone else how to assist the teen?
5. Prepare your team members/catechist/volunteers – see what resources they may need to be able to comfortably integrate the youth.
Good news: Because of the main-streaming trend in school systems, most of our teens will already be fine with members of differing abilities… So that will help! You may find teens very willing to volunteer to be a buddy with the new teen to assist at an event.
Keep lines of communication open with the teen, his/her parents, and your team members.
What additional suggestions would you have to add?
Cindee Case, MAPS
Director of the Diocese of Youngstown Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry.