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Sunday School Inclusion

Christian education for students of all abilities

​Sunday school should be for all children, not simply most children. This was Christy Weems’ conviction that led her to become one of ADN’s Student Associates when she was a college student. She had a vision that children like her brother, who has Down syndrome, would have the same opportunity as anyone else to learn about Jesus.

Christy worked to create a resource list for the conference library which serves the Western District and South Central Conferences of Mennonite Church USA. There, Sunday school teachers can check out books and materials to grow in understanding of the unique needs of children with intellectual disabilities. Churches elsewhere can take advantage of her resource recommendations.

Recommended videos and downloadable resources.

Book recommendations

Indispensable

As the Apostle Paul reminded the church in Corinth, the members who seem weaker are indispensable in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:22). A church community that is living up to the call to live in the reign of God will provide children with disabilities a place to belong and contribute. Books and websites from our resource list offer congregations a way to learn about including people with disabilities by drawing on the experiences of others.

Erik W. Carter, in his book Including People with Disabilities in Faith Communities, points out that parents often choose a congregation largely based on the quality of programs available for their children. If a child with disabilities is not welcomed and included, the family may never return. As a rule, churches do not intentionally exclude children with disabilities. When exclusion happens, it is more likely because church members are unaware of the unique needs of a student with disabilities or because they do not know how to meet needs caused by the student’s differences. ADN can assist with awareness and know-how.

Advantages of inclusion

Classes that integrate students with and without intellectual disabilities have many advantages.

  • Encouraging relationships between people with disabilities and those without
  • Building on the experiences of inclusion that children have in public schools
  • Breaking down attitudinal barriers that focus on difference rather than things held in common
  • Calling for creative thinking within existing programs rather than requiring a church to create an entirely new program
  • Available to congregations of any size

Barriers to inclusion

Since Sunday school teachers are usually volunteers, they may have little formal training for teaching students with intellectual disabilities. Teachers with no training related to disabilities may lack confidence for teaching people with disabilities, especially when a class contains students with diverse learning needs. Further, inclusion classrooms need thoughtful planning so that children with disabilities are not merely present but also engaged and learning. A few tips below, drawn from Erik Carter and others, may spark your thinking.

Strategies for inclusion

  • Name a coordinator to assume responsibility for seeing that children with disabilities are welcomed and included.
  • Work toward inclusion one child at a time.
  • Identify the needs. Tools for assessing needs are described here.
  • Make sure you have a system to provide one-to-one or extra support for children who need it.
  • Communicate broadly a statement of welcome for people with disabilities.
  • Use respectful descriptive words. Intellectual, developmental, and cognitive disability are terms that self-advocates with disabilities much prefer to mental retardation, which has too often been turned into a term of hurt and hate.
  • Provide support and training for teachers and helpers.

ADN can help

Ask ADN staff about recommended resources to assist Sunday school teachers as they learn to welcome students with intellectual disabilities into their classrooms. Some are available to borrow or purchase from ADN. Public libraries and interlibrary loan may be other sources of borrowing books at little or no cost.

Contact us if you would like to offer a teacher training workshop in your location or via videoconferencing technology.

 

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