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Woo hoo! It’s the 500th anniversary of the Reformation! Perhaps you’ve heard? Hehe, of course you’ve heard. It’s likely that your church or school might even be planning some big events. Everyone enjoys big special events, right?
I have a confession to make. When I was a special education teacher in Lutheran schools, I didn’t always love the big special events. Not because I’m no fun or didn’t want my students to have fun, but because what was supposed to be a wonderful event could sometimes turn out not to be so wonderful for my students.
First of all, my students would often get forgotten. Sometimes, teachers would forget to let them know about a party, or forget to give them a part in the school play. It was never malicious, just a simple oversight, but that didn’t make my students or their parents feel any better. No one likes to be forgotten.
Invite everyone. Always. The “welllll, we didn’t think you’d like it” excuse doesn’t cut it. Let the person or family make that decision.
Second, while special events are exciting and novel, they also disrupt the day’s routine, and some of my students relied very heavily on their routine. Routines provide predictability and security and structure.
- Plan for problems. Think ahead. These types of events can really throw off students who are sensitive to change or overwhelmed by larger groups. Plan for what you can do to mitigate those issues.
- Prepare students for the change. Talk about who’s going to do what, when is it going to happen, and how.
- Answer any questions the students might have. You’ll be surprised at what their perception of what’s going to happen is, and what they are worried about might be very different from your thoughts on the matter.
- If possible, use picture cues to prepare. Cues might indicate the event or what type of behavior you want from them.
Third, when it comes to participation, be strategic, not punitive. Collaborate with the child and teacher or parent to figure out the best way for the child to participate. Think carefully before you take things away “for the child’s own good.” We might say, “You can’t do this because it’s not safe or because you can’t pay attention that long” or any number of other good adult reasons, but all the child hears is “you can’t do this.” And that’s not the point of celebrating or experiencing a special event.
Find ways for the child to participate in positive ways.
- Think about what the child is good at and find a way to connect to that.
- Think about giving the child a partner to do a spoken part together, to sit with, or to walk with. Maybe everyone would benefit from having a partner.
- Give the child some visual cues to help with participation. This could be hand signals you use or pictures that you hold up to help the student know what to do. Be creative.
- You might be surprised to find other students who benefit from some of these same strategies.
The 500th anniversary of the Reformation is a once-in-a-lifetime special event, but as we keep saying, it’s still all about Jesus. We have special events in the life of a church or school all the time that continue to point people to Jesus. Make sure everyone has a chance to participate and hear the good news of Jesus.
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