A note from Samantha Boutan
Calvary Chapel Brighton has recently relaunched its special needs ministry. We have developed a wonderful program that makes the children’s ministry more fun and inclusive to all. The special needs program at this church was started up in 2018, but it has taken a break due to the lack of need and the pandemic making it difficult to have a children’s ministry at all. Recently there has been an uptick in the amount of special needs children in the Sunday school classrooms, varying in severity of disability. The main populations of special needs that are becoming part of children’s church are children with ADHD and autism. Because of the differences in disorders and severity, we are now incorporating a “two-pronged” approach in order to make all children at Calvary Brighton feel included, loved, and comfortable. One “prong” is the buddy system and the other prong is creating a classroom setting that would be inclusive of those with special needs. Let me introduce myself and my background in special needs. I am Samantha Boutan. I have been a part of Calvary since birth and am happy to call this church my home church. Since I was a child, I have found different ways to be involved in the church. Whether that was through the foodbank, the children’s ministry, or the worship team, I have always enjoyed being a church volunteer. A few years ago, I was helping in the children’s church when our children’s pastor started the first special needs ministry. I was eager to help, so I volunteered to be a part of the buddy system and I was eventually paired with a boy in 2nd grade. Both he and his younger brother were in the buddy system that Calvary Chapel offered. Through this process I found that not only were the children benefitted, but the parents were as well. The parents had expressed that because of this system, they were able to attend church for the first time in years. I also was a buddy when I worked at a Christian camp called I’dRaHaJe. They had a similar system to Calvary’s and I am honored to have been a buddy to several children at that camp.
I am also currently going to school for a degree in social work. In my classes I study different theories about disabilities and I now have an ever-growing interest in how best to help those who have disabilities. I have learned that helping those with disabilities actually helps all people. This can easily be seen when looking at classroom accommodations for those with ADHD and autism. A lot of the solutions encourage having a more structured and hands on approach to learning. This approach is simply a better way to teach children as compared to the typical sitting down in a chair listening to a lecture format. Because of my experience working with children who have special needs, I am working on having proper accommodations in the classrooms and incorporating a buddy system as well. These accommodations and helps will range anywhere from providing fidget tools to allowing for a low-sensory room, also known as a quiet room. How will Calvary incorporate special needs children into the classroom? The answer is quite simple actually. The curriculum used by Calvary, called Answers in Genesis, is an extremely good curriculum. It is filled with a lot of information and resources for the teachers. It also presents the same lesson to each classroom in different ways allowing it to be easily understood by all ages. The adaptations to the classrooms are to provide a schedule of class events, incorporate fidget tools, and to focus on reiterating the lesson through games and other fun activities. This more hands-on approach will help all children, but especially those with ADHD and autism. I recognize that these small changes may not be enough for some children with greater needs. That is why the buddy system is also going to be incorporated. What is the buddy system and why does it help? The buddy system is not an uncommon approach when incorporating special needs children into classrooms. This approach has been utilized in many schools and community-based programs. The buddy system at Calvary Chapel is unique in that it does not focus on increasing the social skills but rather it tries to ensure that the Sunday school classrooms feel safe and comfortable for everyone. Usually buddy systems are created to help with communication skills, social interaction, and to ensure inclusion of the child. While this is a part of Calvary’s system, the main focus is to love the children as Christ would. The buddy system is where volunteers are paired with a special needs child in the children’s church on Sundays. This volunteer would learn about the child’s specific disability as well as meeting with their parents to know how it presents in that child specifically. They would be equipped with the wisdom of the parent in order to know how best to take care of the child. This buddy would then, through time spent with their buddy in class, learn how to read the body language and connect with the child. There are several resources available to those in this program. There is a “quiet room.” This is a room that takes out a lot of sensory input. This room is helpful for when a child becomes overstimulated. It is important to have such a room because it will allow the child to be able to safely return to a felling of comfortability after being overwhelmed with stimuli. Sensory overload can be extremely difficult for some children and can even be described as physically painful so some with certain disabilities like ADHD and autism. This room would allow the children to avoid that feeling of pain and thus allowing them to feel safe, comfortable, and able to hear the Gospel. The relaunch of the special needs ministry at Calvary Chapel Brighton represents a significant step towards creating a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all children. The implementation of these strategies is not only beneficial to special needs children but also enriches the experience of all children attending Calvary Chapel Brighton. By embracing inclusive learning practices, the church is fostering a sense of unity and compassion. This relaunch signifies a step towards creating an environment where all children, regardless of their abilities can experience the love and acceptance of the church community which ultimately, fosters a nurturing and supportive environment where every child can flourish and encounter the Gospel. If you would like to know more information about this program, you can contact: Jessica Warnely: firstname.lastname@example.org Samantha Boutan: email@example.com