Over the course of my career I have gone through different seasons of my ministry when I have had from one to half a dozen students who have had some sort of social learning challenges. We have had students who are autistic, had aspergers, ADD, ADHD, social anxiety, learning handicapped, and many who were never formally diagnosed.
Having students who have these challenges have proven to be a challenge for me in a number of ways.
For one, students who have social learning challenges seem to ruin the amazing, warm fuzzy community that I am trying so hard to develop. When I look around at many of the youth ministries I strive to have mine look like, I realize that they, as well as me, have made little space for them. But once I get my head out of my butt, and realize that students with social learning challenges are the exact students that need the love and care that a youth ministry is designed to give.
Instead of being frustrated by these students, instead of shoving them to the side, instead of praying they leave, maybe there is a better option. What if we actually attempted to understand them as people who are precious to our God and to us as well. What if we spent some time getting some education and training, and then passing that on to your leaders and even your students.
I have found that when I get over myself and seek to actually engage these students and strive to understand them and then make the relativity small tweaks needed, my ministry can now truly be the community that God has designed it to be.
I realize that I am blessed above all my colleagues for several reason. But the reason that is most pertinent to this post is that I have the pleasure of working with a great youth pastor who oversees our Jr High Ministry. He is killing it and I love him to death. He happens to be married to one of the sharpest women I have had the pleasure to know. And her area of smartness centers on caring for and equipping people who have social learning challenges and those who love them.
She recently wrote an article that is a MUST READ for every youth worker, on http://www.socialthinking.com/. It is all about giving youth workers, leaders, and coaches some tools to make life for these students and for the group a win. Here is the introductory paragraph. Continue reading for some good wisdom and practical helps so that can truly have a ministry that reaches out and makes space for every and all students!
"As a coach, youth leader, volunteer, or teacher, you may have come across a child in your group who just doesn’t fit in with the other kids. He might be smart, but you notice he has difficulty following the group plan or stays on the sidelines, unsure how to interact with other kids. Maybe she seems anxious in new situations or she’s eager to contribute, but her comments are out of sync given the topic or the conversation. Perhaps the child’s parents mentioned the social difficulties ahead of time. Now what do you do – how do you help?
As a volunteer leader in a youth program myself, I know it’s not easy to run the program, keep everyone motivated and engaged, and support the child with social challenges. However, it is possible to be a positive influence with your group by taking a little time to understand how these individuals think and process information. Then try incorporating some of the practical strategies that follow. They can be used by any adult who interfaces with youth or adults in a group situation, and the strategies can benefit all your students, players, or club members, not just those with social learning challenges!"