Special Needs in the Sunday School Classroom

Every year, we invite parents to add “Notes” to their student’s Sunday School registration.

Is there anything we should know about your child?  Any special needs, dietary restrictions?  Please offer any information you feel would be helpful to your child’s teacher.

We hope that any parent who knows that their child could benefit from special techniques or approaches will offer that information here, or at least be reminded to approach the Sunday School teacher to discuss it in person.

In many cases, we have students who we know have special needs, but parents for whatever reason, do not bring it up.  It’s a tricky subject, and teachers in the Sunday School are not generally trained to handle it well, so we often simply do not ask.

Recently, our parish women’s group, Philoptochos, undertook a beautiful effort to raise money for several wonderful groups in our city who work with children who have various different kinds of special needs. To our surprise, they set aside some of the funds they raised for us.

Our Sunday School — like most Sunday Schools, I imagine — had not thought to budget any funds for special equipment to help students with sensory disorders and the like. We weren’t aware that there were products we could buy that might be useful, and even if we were, we don’t have the personnel or tools necessary even to investigate what kind of special needs our community might have. We gather the children to talk about the faith for less than an hour a week, and we do our best. We didn’t even know that we could do more.

The ladies of Philoptochos approached an occupational therapist in our parish, and asked her to consult.  She’ll be visiting our classrooms, watching us in action, and then she’ll try to help with expert advice and recommendations for purchases of items like special pillows that children can hold to help them feel grounded and secure.  She’ll consult with us on the physical arrangement of the classroom, and how little things, like how we decorate the walls of our rooms, can aggravate or alleviate issues our children might be experiencing.

It’s our goal to make our Sunday School a safe place for every student, a place where they can come to feel God’s peace.  We want our kids to be in an optimal state for receiving information and healing.

We plan to invite this parishioner to come on as a permanent consultant to the Sunday School, helping us to keep abreast of developments in the field that might help us to better serve all of our children.  Is there someone like this in your parish, who could consult in your Sunday School?  It’s worth checking.


    1. Most people teaching in the Sunday Schools would love to provide appropriate help, but don’t know how to go about it. I hope to post some advice from our experiences at Transfiguration to help teachers become aware of some solutions they can implement to make class better for all of our kids.

  1. If you’re interested, our Philoptochos chapter made a video about their efforts for the National Philoptochos convention:

    (My kids appear in it here and there.)

  2. One reader has pointed out that if you don’t have professional therapists in a parish, there is likely a parent who can serve as a consultant. That is very true — the parents of children with special needs have usually become very well-educated on the needs of their child. While parents don’t always speak up, teachers are wise to approach them and to ask for ideas and feedback about the current structure of things. It’s likely that they already know what we can do better, if we’re open to hearing it.

  3. There’s an option that’s even better than talking to parents of children with disabilities. Listening to those adults with disabilities who have actually grown up with it can provide a first-hand perspective that even well-meaning parents can not.

    1. Bint, that is absolutely true. If an adult in the parish has good advice for teachers based on their own childhood experiences, it would be good if they could share that advice. I’m not sure how to solicit it (doesn’t seem wise to start approaching people and asking if they had special needs…) but if it’s offered, it should be accepted.

      One of the obstacles that I’ve seen in our parish is that parents don’t necessarily tell the Sunday School what their child’s diagnosis is, and the teachers are clearly not prepared to diagnose anyone… I guess the same would be true of recognizing special needs in the adult parish family.

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