My church is working on developing our special needs ministry, which is an exciting process to be a part of. We have a significant number of children with special needs, perhaps because although we are typically a denomination referred to as the "frozen chosen" our church allows for jubilant and excitable little ones. If you're looking for a safe place to bring your little one on Sunday, a place where people wont be upset by the occasional outburst, you'll find our church pretty welcoming.
As this population of children grows we are finding we need to find ways to adapt our ministry to our kiddos' needs. This is an interesting process because church works differently than school. In school we have a set routine, administrators, clear rules, and everything is child-centered. School, I am learning, is a much easier place to work with special needs children. Church is once a week and although has routine isn't set up in a structure that typically accommodates behavior plans, lesson modifications, or adapted expectations. For instance, we can't just say, "Well, he's not bothering anyone when he hums so we'll just let him hum during the sermon."
However, not letting him hum may cause a child to yell, kick, or engage in other more bothersome self-stim behaviors. Which of course bothers other members of the congregation.
In school there is also a more set way of addressing such needs. I can do my little "we all have different brains" lesson and we're done with the questions about "why does he get to sit there?" In church I can't very well stand up and address the congregation about this.
In church you have older members of the congregation who can't hear as well when children aren't silent during the sermon. They don't really care about the different brains lesson, they just want to hear the lesson since they worked so hard to come to church on a very cold winter day. Yet of course our parents of children with special needs worked very hard to come to church that morning as well.
We've debated whether or not to allow children to use stress toys for self-stim behavior during worship. This was finally axed, although I did some stitching projects with two children today.
I'm enjoying this ministry and being able to apply skills I learn in my job at church. I will say though that it is teaching me it is much easier to be a special education teacher than a parent of a child with special needs. I have always had a lot of respect for these parents, but it only continues to grow as we consider these questions in our ministry.
If your church has done something similiar I would love to hear how it works.