How Sunday Teachers Can Assist Special Needs Children, Part 2 of 3 Part Series

Over the years my children have had some great teachers in church and I have also had the opportunity to teach other special needs children in church.

I have learned some things from these wonderfully patient teachers and from my own experiences.

Love the Children

Children are smart.  They know whether or not we like to be with them. If you are struggling to like or connect with a child, they will sense it. Look for the good in each child.  Find what is unique and special about them and let them know you see it using an “I noticed” statement.

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For example, maybe a child is good at remembering a lesson.  Tell them: “I noticed that you remember the lesson each week.” Or another child has a great smile: “I noticed that your smile makes the other children smile.”  If you can’t seem to find anything positive in their behavior, pray!  Find something that you can appreciate in each child.  If we look for the positive aspects in their behavior that is what we will notice.

Pray to feel love for each child; especially the ones that can be harder to love. They need it so much.

Noticing what is wrong with their behavior is easy; everyone has already done that.  So be unique; find the good and let them know it.


Children crave routines!  They feel more in control when things are predictable and orderly.  Create a routine in your classroom.

Start each lesson with the same activity.  It could be learning the books of scripture in order.  It could be a song.  Or a quick game of hang-man.  Whatever it is, create a routine.

If you have children that need even more structure, create a picture agenda. Place it on the chalkboard, or give it to the student who needs it.  As you complete each activity during your lesson, check off the activity.  This creates a sense of control and stability.  Children with autism use these picture agenda’s in school and they can easily be transitioned to work in the church setting.

Change It Up

When I had some boys in my class with ADHD I quickly realized that teaching a 20 minute lesson was never going to work.

I broke my lesson up into 2-5 minutes bits, and varied my teaching methods.  A lesson might go something like this:

  • Attention Activity: Object Lesson
  • Tell Story of Moses
  • Watch quick video clip of Moses
  • Discuss what they learned from the video
  • Put together the Puzzle picture of Moses
  • Reach scriptures about Moses
  • Learn Song

You get the idea.  Alternate teaching with activities, movement or audio visual aides.  You will need to think outside the box and become creative with how you teach the lessons. Doing this will allow your children with shorter attention spans opportunities for movement and will help them be able to focus during the short quiet times.

Some ideas to help you vary your lessons:  Use games, puzzles, Twister,  music, treasure hunts, walks, guests teachers, dressing up, dance, Simon Says, hangman, paper folding, crafts, role playing, story telling, coloring, etc.  The list is endless.

Sensory Ideas

Some children have sensory issues that can create difficulties for their learning.  I have 3 children with sensory issues. Clothing, noises, and lights and all been issues for my children.

When a child has a sensory processing disorder, the senses can become hyper aware, or they can become more dull.  For example a child with touch issues can either hate being touched because it hurts or they can seek touch, deep pressure and possibly injure themselves because they are not aware of how hard they are hitting something.

For children with sensitive ears, wearing headphones might help.  Speak at a volume that doesn’t hurt their ears.  Although good luck on getting the other children to do the same. Perhaps playing calming music during the lesson could help a child refocus and calm down.

Weighted blankets are great tools for children who are active and are seeking deep pressure.  The blankets have a calming effect.  My sweet mom made blankets for each of my children, just remember the blankets should not be heavier than 10% of the child’s body weight. We want to calm them down, not squish them.

Soft fabric to rub or touch might help some children sit and listen longer.  We all have that child who carried around their blanket until it fell apart.  Rubbing and touching soft fabrics has a calming effect on children.

Be aware of the lighting in your classroom.  One of my children hated florescent lights. He could hear them hum and they flicker. It bothered him and he hated going to Walmart because of all the lights there. Turn off the lights, or bring a lamp to class.

Some children have difficulty sitting in chairs.  Allow them to sit on the floor.  Or some children concentrate better when sitting on a yoga ball, or in a bean bag chair. For one of my children, the yoga ball would eventually be launched at someone’s head, but for some children this may work well.


Some of the kiddos I taught needed something to do during the lesson.  I created worksheets with crossword puzzles, word scrambles, dot-to-dot images, etc on them.  I tried to have the worksheet relate to the lesson so it would reinforce what I was teaching.



Some children need to have a “helper” assigned to work with them one on one.  This allows that child to go to a class, but be able to leave if things get overwhelming.  The helper can modify the lesson by using pictures or objects to hold the attention of the child.  My sister worked with a child who was blind and autistic.  Her whole goal was to help him feel of her love and the love of God for him.  She allowed the child plenty of walks, she brought objects that were interesting to hold and touch, and she gave him all of her attention.  What a blessing a helper can be to a child with more needs than one teacher can give.

Allow Some of the Behaviors

Some behaviors that we would not allow a typical child to do, can be allowed as long as they don’t interfere too much with the lesson or others.  I had a child who liked to wander around the classroom. That was not a problem as long as the other children could see and he didn’t interfere with the teacher. If he did, I would gently direct him back to his chair, and help him get interested in something there.

Some children yell, or have outbursts in class.  If this is explained to the other children, it can be a behavior that everyone just ignores.  It doesn’t have to be interfere or interrupt as long as others don’t laugh or join in.

Escape Plan

Some special needs children get overwhelmed at times and need an escape plan.  Allow the child the ability to leave if they need to.  For non-verbal children, have a picture of a child going for a walk that they can give you to indicate their desire to leave for a bit.  Or a verbal child can be given a key word that allows them to leave as well.

Ask the Parents

There is a great blog post on Chicken Scratch and Sniff about talking to the parents of special needs children.  Maria Eckersley from has an autistic son and gave some great ideas about how to do this.  Since I don’t believe in recreating the wheel, click on the link above and watch the video.  Great ideas!


God knows these children better than we do.  Better than their parents do.  He wants you to succeed as a teacher.  Please go to Him in prayer and ask what you can do to teach His child.  Not only will this strengthen your relationship with God, but He will help you strengthen the growing testimony in the child you have been assigned to teach.


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