What? Teaching adults with special needs in a separate class? I thought that wasn’t the way we do things anymore. But it’s important to remember that one size doesn’t fit all. One type of classroom doesn’t meet everyone's needs. Just as all children with special needs don’t need the same thing, neither do adults with special needs.
Usually, children with special needs can find a place in Sunday School with other children close to their same age. Adults with special needs may also find a place in Sunday School or Bible study as part of the large group. However, just as we all enjoy being part of a small-group Bible study where the others in the group share some commonality (such as a moms group, singles group, couples club, etc.), adults with developmental disabilities may enjoy Bible study together. This type of study could be held on Sunday morning during the Sunday School hour, on Wednesday evenings, or at any other time that might be suitable for the individuals in the group.
A few reminders:
- Your students are adults, and should be treated as such. Adults with developmental disabilities are not just children that never grow up, living in adult bodies. This is antiquated and inaccurate thinking. Your students may understand and learn in different ways than the “average” adult and they may need more support in regard to daily living skills or behavior, but they have had a lifetime of experience and deserve the respect that you would give any other adult.
- Verbal skills do not equal faith. A person’s ability to speak, read, or write is not the measure of a person’s faith. The Holy Spirit works faith in the hearts of God’s people through the washing of Baptism and the hearing of His Word, not out of any merit, worthiness or skill on our part.
Occasionally, we receive calls here at CPH inquiring about curriculum and materials to use with a special class for adults with developmental disabilities. While we do not currently publish a curriculum specific to adults with special needs, I believe we do have a wide variety of options that would work well for that purpose.
Here are some resources for leading a Bible study for adults with developmental disabilities:
- Start with prayer. The Holy Spirit will lead you and your students as you study God's Word.
- The resource 120 Bible Stories is a good place to start. If you’re having class on Sunday morning, you might choose to use the same scope and sequence as the Sunday School quarter that the rest of your church is using. That would provide more options for activities from other sources and would give good starting points for conversation among congregational friends.
- One reason I like using these stories is the availability of good Bible art to use as a visual aid. The art in 120 Bible Stories is not at all childish, and the realistic pictures help to depict the essential message of the Gospel.
- Another source for Bible art to illustrate your story is CPH Bible Story Posters. You can buy all of them at once, which would last you for years of lessons, or you can buy them in Old and New Testament Sets. These are a terrific way to illustrate the story. (In fact, I wish our pastor would use them for our adult Bible study.)
- Another great option for activities is our Cross Explorations Sunday School curriculum. With an adult class, I would not use it according to the site-rotation directions, but Cross Explorations has all manner of wonderful activities that can be put together in any way a teacher thinks would work best for his or her particular students. Here are some of the ways you could use this curriculum:
- Start with the Engage openings. The leaflets and corresponding PowerPoints provide a structured litany to start each lesson. The PowerPoint slides provide a great visual aid to guide both student and leader. Also included are a selection of hymns and songs that are engaging and energetic. If you have readers in your group, they can read the slides along with you; if not, the leader can read them. Everyone can enjoy the music. What I like about these is that while they are often used with children, they are not childish, and adults also find them enjoyable. In our church, we use these when we do intergenerational Sunday School and everyone loves them.
- Another place to find lesson-specific activities in Cross Explorations is in the Express Activities & More CD. This CD is a treasure trove of ideas! Included on this CD are group activities and games, snack ideas, service project ideas, and science-based object lessons.
- The Express Craft Booklet is chock-full of craft ideas for each lesson.
- The Express Skit CD has a skit for each Bible story. These are not performance skits, but ideas and scripts for actively engaging students in telling the story through drama. These are great active-learning opportunities for students at all levels.
With these print and electronic resources, a teacher can easily sort through all the options and choose the most engaging way to tell the Bible story of the day to best meet the needs of their unique group. True, it would not be all laid out for the teacher in one spot like in a traditional teacher’s manual, but how many times do you go through a teacher’s guide with your pen and mark through things that don’t fit your group, circle what you do like, and scribble changes in the margins? The only difference here is that you can pull just the activities that work for you and your students. This approach is a little more customizable, which is what good teaching is about, anyway.
I hope that these ideas and resources will help and encourage you as you minister to adults with special needs in your congregation.