Teaching Our Special Needs Children Biblical Concepts
By Tom and Sherry Bushnell
Each child has what he or she needs to do the will of the Father through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that comes to all believers. We as parents need to see that our children overcome their limitations as best we can, but we need to acknowledge that their Maker has equipped them with all that they need to do His will. God "…has given us all we need for life in Godliness." 2 Peter 1:3 (No exceptions for special needs.)
"While we are preparing to teach our children the academics that they are capable of, we must not forget the training of that most important aspect of their bringing up: spiritual training. Somehow it is so easy to overlook this area.
Christian parents can spend valuable years and considerable sums of money trying to help a child, only to come to the conclusion that no one knows for sure what the child’s needs are or how to help him.
This frustration can be relieved somewhat by acknowledging a fact that should be fact that should be self-evident: next to the Lord Jesus Christ, no one—not the teacher, not the administrator, not the public education system in its entirety— knows as much about the child, cares as much about the child, or has as much responsibility for the child as his parents. They are the primary teachers. They bear the primary responsibility to God, and they have the greatest opportunity to influence their child for God." (quoted from Special Education: A Biblical Approach, edited by Joe P. Sutton, emphasis mine)
When Becky Vaughn was a preschooler, she was diligently striving to overcome the severe physical disabilities to her body caused by a major body burn at the age of two. After about ten minutes of struggling to turn the page of a little book with her weak and fingerless hands, in childlike curiosity she asked her mother, "Mommy, when I get bigger, will I have hands like Debbie (her big sister)?" Her mother wisely replied, "Becky, Debbie has the hands that God has given her to do her job in life, and you have the hands that God has allowed you to have to do your job in life." In this loving response, there is a tremendous illustration of the basic principle of Christian special education. Every child has everything he needs in order to do God’s will for his life. That does not mean he should not be trained, educated, and informed as far as possible, nor that he just needs to be polished by his education. Certainly, there will be changes and the gaining of new skills and insights. What we mean by this statement is that within the promises of Scripture every child can find hope of accomplishing God’s will, regardless of the God-given circumstances or limitations that he or she must face.
We believe that every child should strive to overcome, as far as possible, every physical and mental limitation that would hider his service for the Lord. But if there is an insurmountable and therefore God-given difference between that child and others, he should be taught to graciously accept that limitation as from the Lord and find some way to compensate for it or use it for God’s glory. Every effort should be made to avoid the exploitation of these distinctions for the personal benefit of the individual or his family, but using the limitation publicly for the glory of God should not be thought of as selfish exploitation.
The distinction between Christian education and secular education is that the former is Christ-centered and the latter is man-centered. A Christian education mandates the preeminence of Christ, not the student. Thus, a true Christian education helps a child to become like Christ: it does not merely tell him about Christ.
When Sherry and I look toward helping our children become more like Christ, we have found some really fun tools. Of course there is nothing to take the place of the only God-inspired book in the world, the Bible. Next to this tremendous, irreplaceable resource, we have found some helps. We have found scripture memory an invaluable way of implanting the Word in our hearts. Here is a resource that is both fun and usable by not only Jordan, our five and a half year old with Down Syndrome, Sheela, our four and a half year old who is blind, but the rest of us, too!
Can your child talk but not read? Then this might be a good resource for you.
In this program developed by CRI (Christian Research Institute) President Hank Hanegraaff uses pictures to help you memorize scripture. After we finished with the Memory Dynamics Bible Series, Volume 1 we simply applied the principles we learned in order to be able to recall important passages from God’s Word.
The Bible Series, Volume 1 is a color workbook, accompanied by two teaching tapes. Discover how, in just minutes, you can memorize material like these: the books of the Bible, the Beatitudes (our son Joshua’s favorite), the full armor of God, Romans 3:23 and more. It really is FUN for the whole family!
P.O. Box 667
San Juan, Capistrano CA
There are many more ways that we incorporate a spiritual emphasis into our daily lives. First of all, let it be said that, just like homeschooling, training in Godliness is an all day, twenty-four hour, non-stop way of life. We cannot hope to impress our children the importance of living for the Lord if we turn our spiritual lives on and off like a switch Sundays and Thursday nights. Admittedly, it is hard to be consistent. There are angry moments and grumbly days in our house, too! God can work even in those for His glory. By apologizing and recognizing that we are weak and disabled without the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we model to our children proper repentance. This is something they need to learn.
One way we have fun learning truths is through song. We love to sing. Sherry plays the piano on Sundays and we make a point to learn a new hymn or song monthly. These songs and hymns carry over all week. It is so encouraging to hear the praises of our Heavenly Father coming from the lips of our children! It is such a blessing to hear "…trust and obey, for there’s no other way…" or "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty…" Sheela then incorporates into her daily voluntary piano practice those songs and hymns that stick out in her mind. The boys rush to the piano to clap and sing as she plays. What joy!
We have really made Bible time a priority. All of us participating in the discussion of scripture and valuable insights has lead to an open communication line with our children. We hope that this Bible sharing time will always be a segment in our often busy days when Dad and Mom are available to answer troubling questions and listen to life’s deep ponderings as they grow into full-fledged youths. We have found that we need not comb the Scriptures and spend an inordinate amount of time preparing, but simply read the Word. The Lord uses wherever we are at to speak to all of us.
Tom and the boys have been looking at Old Testament passages that point to and show Jesus Christ. Getting into more of the "meat" of Scripture has really started our boys thinking. One morning, Joshua asked, "Does God have a temple here on earth now?" I responded, "Don’t you know that you are the temple of God if the Holy Spirit dwells within you?" (I Cor. 3:16) Then Jake chimed in, "Yes, but there is no incense burning inside my temple!" We were then able to talk about how incense is symbolic of our prayers to the Lord today, and how the law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. (Hebrews 10:1)
It has taken lots of talking, explaining, and ground work for us to be able to notice that our children were comprehending these concepts. It certainly did not happen over night. It has taken a consistent (there is that word again) discipline on our parts to ensure that not only are we prepared to give of our time to this effort, but that we require our children to pay attention when we have Bible. Even our two year olds (developmentally) can sit in their high chairs and share this important time of the day. It has become one of their favorite times and they wouldn’t let us forget it!
Teaching our children to pray has been another way to help our children learn to live a Godly life. We have found that if we naturally reach out to our Heavenly Father in times of need, they do, too. When we are in times of stress or are faced with difficulties, holding hands and agreeing together about the situation not only seems to help in putting their little hearts at rest, but teaches them to lean on the Lord. When we ask for wisdom in a situation, we have learned to not necessarily expect the answer we want, but to accept what God has in store for us in total trust that "…we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him." (Romans 8:28a) So often in our lives we have our minds set on temporal issues: what does my child need to succeed in living a functional life when he/she is older, can my child keep up with the skills other his or her age are accomplishing, why is it taking so long for him to reach his next milestone, etc. These are important, but what is more important is sowing for his or her eternal life. This life, full of failures, disabilities, and weakness is only temporary. What really matters is what we have prepared for when we reach our forever home. This life is merely a stepping stone, a tiny blip compared to the millenniums to come. Wouldn’t it make sense to plan for them?
We believe that spending consistent time each day preparing our children and ourselves is invaluable It may seem that our child with special needs is not comprehending or even aware of the truths and concepts. How do you know how much your little one is being ministered to in his/her spirit by our Comforter, the Holy Spirit? We thought, for instance, that Sheela was not able to follow us when we had Bible. That is until one day she perked up and repeated word for word, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…,"from memory! Boy, were our eyes opened! Jordan, although his attention span is small, has learned to sit with us and at least try to repeat verses. His gibberish is a real effort and I know that the Lord is honored.
Just like the bookSpecial Education: A Biblical Approach says, "Every child has everything he needs in order to do God’s will for his life." We as parents need to be ready to help our children grow spiritually to whatever extent possible. Being consistent in teaching our little ones the Word is tough, but the fruit of our efforts is beautiful to the Lord—even if we cannot see it with our earthly eyes.