By Taylor Hunt
After birth, many families of children with special needs, whether physical or mental, struggle to fit in. Schools refuse to work with parents, people in public places such as stores are not accepting, but the last place families expect to find hostility is within the Church. Sadly, many families find themselves ostracized from the Church and are left struggling with the question of, “what’s next?”
Yet, some churches such as CrossPoint Community have worked hard to provide a safe place for special needs children and their families. In fact, CrossPoint Community Church has designed a program especially suited for children with these needs and each Sunday, five unassuming classrooms can be found filled with children learning, singing, playing, and talking.
Started in 1997, Bridges began with the needs of the local congregation in mind.
“There were very few around our area, much less in California, for us to visit. Most of the ministries we visited had buddy programs but no individualized programs for kids who could not be mainstreamed. We contacted a Christian organization back in Texas and studied how they ran their program then started our ministry and it began with just three students in an individualized program and it just grew from there,” retired Bridges’ director, Tracy Blount explained.
Today, the Bridges program helps a wide range of families, from medically fragile to mentally stunted by providing special needs classrooms and a one-on-one buddy program. Each student is taught and helped in a personalized manner, to whatever fits their needs and their family’s needs.
According to the CrossPoint Community Church website, the curriculum in the classrooms is adapted to allow attendees to meet Jesus at their level with picture exchange systems, positive reward strategies as well as sensory-focused activities. The adult-to-student ratio in the classrooms is 2:1 and parents not only are able to watch their children while their in class but they are also given electronic pagers which allow teachers to contact them in service immediately if needed.
Even in today's culture of acceptance and tolerance, there is still a massive void for families with special needs. Many of the families that attend Bridges were turned away from other churches because their children were “too rowdy,” “too high-maintenance,” or “too much work.”
Families have admitted to being burned by churches, and for years not attending because they kept getting turned away. This is a massive failure on the part of the community of Christ.
Albeit, not every church can run a full special needs ministry, but it is still their responsibility to be an accepting place where families can meet and worship. Churches can share resources to provide a safe place for families, be open with families about the struggle to provide a safe place for their children, or be more like Bridges.
When we claim to love them both we need to actually do so. This requires a sacrifice on our part, but it is worth it.
According to Blount, “Each individual brings a special element to the body of Christ and those with special needs are no exception to that. We can learn and we do learn so much from them as they radiate God's image to us.”
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Human Defense Initiative.