Children (with Disabilities) Become God's Useful Servant
by Diane Ryckman
As a mother of eight, including a son with
Down syndrome, it is not difficult to look back and see how each of our children
arrived in our family as their own little person. Every aspect of their being,
every trait of their character was pre-designed by their Creator. The psalmist
David put it this way, “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my
mother's womb,” Psalm 139:13.
God’s unique design.
God has uniquely designed each one of us. Our children with “disabilities” are
actually created by his planning. Carefully He has laid out every aspect of our
character. Every distinctive quality that makes us who we are, was put in place
before we took our first breath. It is impossible to understand the bigness of
God, but in some way His creating each of us involved risk, because within the
fabric of our being he interwove choice. Not only that, but the materials He had
to work with were flawed by sin, and that which He so carefully designed with
the capacity to reflect His glory also has the capacity, when ruled by SELF, to
do great damage.
Selfishness or Self expression?
The challenge in
character development is distinguishing between selfishness (I want to do what I
want) and self expression (this is who God made me to be). One is a ruler (a
tyrant!), the other that which is to be ruled. The challenge in life is learning
to yield that which makes me “me” into the hands of the LORD so that He can be
Somehow it is freeing to realize that I am who I am because God designed me this
way, inside and out. He calls me to love Him with all my being – every aspect of
the person He made me to be. Every day presents me with the choice of whom I
will serve with the abilities and characteristics He's given. Will I serve self?
Will I serve God?
Choosing to serve God involves learning to walk within the parameters of the
Word of God. We are told to “work out your own salvation...” and as we do, we
can experience the unfolding of the adventure to which God has called us as He
works in us “both to will and to do of His good pleasure” Phil. 2:12-13.
What about our children, even those with special challenges?
How do we help them to grow into all that God has planned for them without
catering to the selfish nature inherent in each one of us? How do we distinguish
between behavior that is just different from who I am, and behavior that is
This past spring, our eldest daughter graduated from Bible
school as class valedictorian. She was introduced as a young woman who wasn't
afraid to ask the tough questions. I thought back to when she was 5, then 6,
then 7 as I was trying to teach her to read. At the time she had seemed to
resist all attempts and methods with “This doesn't make sense...”, until I came
across a reading method that explained all the quirks of the English language.
Her questions answered, she had no difficulty moving on. As I listened to her
professor's introduction, it hit me that this characteristic which had been such
a point of frustration for me as she was growing up, was actually a part of her
design. How God had made her. For His own purpose. If only I had seen that then,
it could have saved us both much grief!
Our responsibility is two-fold:
1.To learn to recognize and respect the uniqueness of each of
our children – the way God designed them to be, and
2. To teach our children to live, uniqueness and all, within
the parameters of the Word of God.
There is one command in the Bible directed specifically
Ephesians 6:1 says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord,
for this is right. Honor your father and mother...”
is not something children will do automatically! They need our help as parents,
first of all learning to obey, then learning to honor us. Proverbs 22:6 says we
are to train up a child in the way he should go. To “train” means to “narrow”.
As parents we have been entrusted with a life to care for, nurture, and train.
Just as a plant can be “trained” to climb a trellis by being pruned and shaped
to grow a specific way, so our children are to be trained (narrowed) to live
within the confines of “the way he should go”. They need to be taught to say
“no” to self and to yield to others, and this begins with their parents. They
also need to see us live before them the two greatest commandments – loving God,
and loving others.
does obedience look in your home?
How this will look in
your home will differ from how it looks in ours. You will have a way
of training and modeling that will be unique to your family. Yet despite our
uniqueness we have a common source of help available to each one of us. God
offers us wisdom for the asking. He longs to strengthen us with His might in our
inner man. He invites us to come to Him for grace to help in time of need, and
He promises to be with us always. God is more than big enough to supply all our
needs in raising our children, as we choose to submit into His hands the
uniqueness of who He made us to be, and then live for His glory day by day.
Excerpt from the CHASK book, by Sherry
Bushnell and Diane Ryckman: Training Our Children In Simple Obedience:
Training our special needs children to be
cheerfully obedient and a pleasure to be around is the kindest thing we
can do for them. In most cases, someone will have to live with them for
the rest of their lives. A happy child-turned-adult, that loves life, is
a pleasure to be around. A willful, stubborn child (turned adult) bent
on leading a life of self-gratification, dislikes himself and is a real
torture to live with.
The Bible has only one direct command to children.
Ephesians 6:1 and 2 says, “Children obey your parents in the Lord: for
this is right. Honor thy Father and Mother; which is the first
commandment with promise.” As parents we need to keep this in mind. Our
Heavenly Father, in His wisdom, has really made it so simple. Because we
love our children so much, we earnestly desire they come to know and
serve the Risen Lord, and training our children in simple obedience to
Behavior Modification Techniques?
the process of training challenged children in godliness has become a
confusing array of worldly behavior modification techniques. There is a real
dearth of godly child training materials that give practical how-to’s on
teaching children to obey simple commands. Parents are told to be content
with cultural examples, not God’s standards. But Colossians 2:8 says, “See
to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy,
which depends on human traditions and the basic principles of this world,
rather than on Christ.”
Our adversary, the devil, works hard at blinding
parents to their child’s real needs: the fact that all children, even those
with special needs, have a sin nature and are in need of loving training by
their parents. He does this by creating confusion and a lack of confidence
in the area of child training. Parents are encouraged to ignore tantrums,
self-stimulation of all kinds, screaming, greediness and general misbehavior
as “it’s your disabled child’s way of expressing him or herself.”
Ungodly behavior by children with special needs is
often excused away with comments such as, “It’s all part of the ‘syndrome’
or ‘common with this type of disability’.” While it is true that our
children will never be “normal”, they can be trained to obey simple,
reasonable requests with a good attitude, as much as they are physically and
Training is not punishment. It is taking the time to
show our children what we want from them. It may require the use of a light
rod, a simple tool to get our children’s attention and let them know we are
serious. The Bible says in Matthew 18:6, “But whoso shall offend (or hurt)
one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a
millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth
of the sea.” The Bible also encourages parents in Proverbs 23:13 and 14,
“Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with a rod,
he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with a rod, and shalt deliver his soul
It is very obvious from these two verses taken in
context together, that the Lord would have us use the rod with careful
consideration of a child’s development capabilities and limitations.
Parents that have a working relationship with their
child can read their child’s emotions like a book. Proverbs 20:11 says,
“Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether
it be right.” Loving parents know (or can learn to know) what their children
are capable of. Proverbs 22:6 says that we should train our children in the
way they should go; and when they are old they will not depart from it. The
Bible also says that we are not to exasperate them by asking too much of
them or something they are not capable of. (Ephesians 6:4.)
a beneficial learning time, for both you and your child’s good. The goal is
understanding and then obedience. A child with a teachable heart, is willing
to work with their parents. When working with challenging behavior, be a
proactive parent, and not reactive. Do not wait for your child to displease
you and push your buttons. Take the time to train them to easily obey before
a child who is presenting special challenges, the most important thing we
have found for success is prayer. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lack
wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth
not; and it shall be given him.”
Are your child’s needs met? Learn to distinguish
between needs and wants.
Not hungry or thirsty.
Dry and warm, not cold or uncomfortable.
Not sick or in pain.
Given a normal, sufficient amount of positive love
and attention. (Some children direct attention to themselves constantly,
even negative… as long as it is all about them.)
Ice Cream Cone Test
effective training, a bond of trust of sorts should exist between parent and
child. Strangers are not as effective, unless the method is total cause and
How do we know our children can hear us or understand our requests? We give
the ice-cream test. When our children are lagging in “understanding” or seem
not to hear us when we are asking them to do something, we use a verbal (or
sign) request that we know they should be able to hear or understand. For
instance, we might say, “Jordan, would you like some ice cream?” If he looks
up and smiles and responds, we know that his hearing is fine. If we are not
sure whether our child can understand us, we may use another request the
same level of comprehension a few minutes later.
It is not the
actual teaching and training of simple commands that is hard. It is the
enforcing the newly required behavior consistently. That is the hard part.
But, if we are taking the time to train our children, we will be actually
So, the key to effective and successful training is
both consistency and loving objectivity. Stay in control. You can train your
child to come with your first request…. Or fourth request! Deliberate
defiance from a child (even those with special needs), calls for a calm,
loving parent, whose goal is not to produce comfort for themselves, but to
help their child learn self control.
Having a special needs child who comprehends
instructions more slowly can be a real test of patience. Do not despair,
don’t give up. If you are in doubt if they understand, it is time for
training, not reacting.
- Diane Ryckman
To order the CHASK book, visit the