Help Students With Disabilities Respond

You can learn how to help someone with a disability make a personal or group response to
  • God
  • Insight
  • Holy Spirit
  • New Information.
It works with typical groups or an individual or group with disabilities. It is a gift you can easily give.




Response is the last step in a learning (change) process, and it is important to enable it. Curriculum (all experiences, not just printed word) has many forms that help someone grow. The formula for designing an event, session or program or for writing for a group usually follows this sequential form:

1. Focus on an idea.

2. Explore different facets of that idea.

3. Respond to the focus and new exploration.

It’s easy to come up with ways to focus and explore, but it can be a challenge to enable a person with a disability to respond, especially those who are non-verbal or who have thought processing impairments.




There are hundreds of reasons for speech and processing disabilities with therapy provided by specialists, however, church teachers with limited time and expertise can deal only with what is present in the group.  But they can learn about response as a tool for teaching or worshipping.

Many students have deficiencies in FOXP2, a gene that seems to be essential to language both in its brain formation and the actual carrying out of saying, such as forming the lips to say words.  Until the pictures or words formed in the brain are expressed, the process seems incomplete. There may be long time lapses before a positive response happens, but here is always a response, either immediate or later, and some are negative such as postponing a reaction, a blank stare indicating either slow processing or lack of understanding, a shrug that says response is not important or an immediate shift to something concrete in the room that says, “This is of no interest to me.” Or the wandering interest response may say, “My attention span is used up.” The result of negative response can be loss of self-esteem as well as the loss of opportunity for celebrating something learned or felt. With planning, leaders can help persons take action.




The following are some ways leaders can help persons with disabilities express praise or new insights or ask questions of the faith:

§      Use a picture board – point to a picture, maybe clap for it. Or select a picture to Velcro to the board.

§      Wave a pom-pom.

§      Move in sync with the group any part of the body that will move.

§      Declare by pounding on the table, ringing a bell, humming or singing.

§      Jump for joy.

§      Program words into a voice box, getting a group’s attention then playing the words. Thus, the words come directly from the person; it’s their voice. (Okay, so please don’t interrupt!)

§      Pray silently, sometimes with verbal direction.

§      Encourage the use words or songs when possible.

§      Choose a word or picture card from a group of cards.

§      Use sign language, high five sign or thumbs up sign.

§      Sit in silence.

§      Splash water (especially good for person who is blind).

§      Drama such as acting out or doing puppets.

§      Hug or appropriate touch.

§      Play.

§      Make a person feel so comfortable that any response is valued.

Learn to read celebrations and expressions such as a giggle or cheek rub or puffing into a voice machine. Many students will simply express their worship or understanding through change in their behavior, leaving leaders to say thank you to God for the mysterious ways an environment that speaks love affects everyone. Celebrate!

Concrete examples or response can be found by reading Stories of Spiritual Growth.

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