Friday, February 9, 2024

A Difficult Decision

Fourteen years ago I felt the Lord tell me to start a Sunday school class for kids with special needs. I've been leading this class almost every single Sunday since then.

We began with one student and grew from there. Chuck, Diana and Beth all helped for the first few years and as other teachers joined, they were able to step back. We've been in three different classrooms, each new one having more amenities than the last. Each new room was a better fit for the students we had at that time.

Most students were younger grade school age and over time would grow mentally and emotionally where they could attend the typical classrooms.

The years before covid we had 5-6 leaders and up to 10 students at a time. Most of the students had mild autism and participated in the Bible study and crafts, snack, etc.

(This was taken in 2018. The classroom looks so different now.)

Post covid - everything changed. Only one teacher came back after covid, and the students mental and emotional state is different. The students have behaviors that are very complex. They come into the room, pick up the first thing they can get their hands on and throw it across the room, shattering it against the wall.  Or they give an ear-piercing scream and wipe everything off the table because another student took something they had planned to use. Or they crawl under the large round table, lay on their back and using their feet begin pushing on the table causing everything on it to slide to the other side, triggering the other students to scream or yell... 

This ministry is for the parents as well, allowing them to bring their kids to a safe, quiet space so they can spend a couple of hours in the main service worshiping and being filled with the word of God. We try hard not to contact them during service but lately we're doing it more often than we'd like. Last Sunday we put up with a lot of poor behavior from one student but when they tried to bite the other teacher, that's when I called the parents.

I find myself just standing in front of the door all morning (many are runners) and I just observe the students and try to stop behaviors before they happen. How do I 'teach' in that environment? The kids will throw tantrums, and kick and sometimes you're in the way and get kicked. I'm not even sure I understand the behavior, where it stems from, what triggers it, let alone how to deal with it. I've heard that students all over the U.S. (and maybe around the world) are struggling with the aftermath of covid and I get it. I just don't know how to address it.

I'll be honest, I've been trying to lead this class under my own power for many years. I haven't prayed like I should: for the other leaders, the students, their families. I haven't been regularly seeking the Lord for guidance... and I'm weary. I'm burned out and exhausted. I find myself dreading Sunday mornings. Not surprising.

So I've made the decision to close the class for a time of restructuring. I've got to spend some time in fasting and prayer, seeking the Lord for HIS vision for this ministry. He's already shown me three areas to focus on: recruit volunteers, provide training, and change the room a little to accommodate the students we have now. I've added things over the years but I still have a lot of things for four- to nine-year-olds. Now the average age is nine - fifteen. 

Please pray with me that I follow the Lord's leading this time; that people who have a heart for kids with special needs will volunteer; for me to find specialists to come in and train us to lead post-covid students; and for the next fourteen-plus years to be even better than the first!

Me, Beth and Kathy - she was the first non-family member to join me in this ministry.


Pamela M. Steiner said...

Wow, what a story! first of all, thank you for doing this for so many years...what a ministry that has been for both the parents and the children! But now I am grappling with this thought about the "post-Covid" syndrome". Could the vaccines have something to do with their changed behavior, or was it simply because they were separated from society for so long and the good behaviors they had learned were somehow forgotten? That is an interesting study, and I pray that people are paying attention to this and trying to figure it out. You are wise to take a step back and reevaluate the situation and perhaps come up with a new and better plan and structure for this group of children. Sounds like perhaps there is too large of an age range put together to be able to properly address their needs. Just a thought...I'm no professional and don't have the experience you have, but from the outside looking in that was my first thought. I am praying with you and for you as you consider this whole situation. Praying for those dear children as well. Jesus loves them, this I know, for the Bible tells me so!! Little ones to Him belong...We are weak, but He is strong!!" Praying for you.

ellen b. said...

So hard. Reading Pamela's comment I found myself agreeing with her thoughts. Praying here for good direction for you.

Latane Barton said...

That certainly hit a nerve with me. God bless you for all you have done for these children but I know from experience that it is overwhelming.I hope you get some rest, redirection and peace.
My grandson is severly autistic. He was in a home until Covid hit but they closed the home and he came back to his parents to live. He's nearly 30 years old, 6'5" tall, a big handful. His behavior changed drastically during Covid. My daughter could not provide the constant hands on with him and he seems to lose his direction therefore he lashed out, punched holes in the walls, destroyed things etc. But, he's better now, thank God for that.
I stand in awe every moment of every day of my daughter and of people like you who give it all so that these precious ones can have the care they need.

Terri D said...

I am sure you have made such a difference in many lives over the years and under your leadership! I hope your plan to step back a bit and bring in professional help to guide future volunteers in leading children with special needs will help get the class functioning even better going forward. Do please keep us posted on the progress!! God bless you for knowing how important this is for so many.

Susan said...

I agree with the rest of the ladies. You really need a break and time to pray about it.

Anonymous said...

Such a great ministry but clearly you need more help. While the goal is to allow the parents to have a break, you may need them to take turns in the classroom. Or, unfortunately, there just may be a student that you aren't able to handle. Not fair or safe for the other students if one child is throwing things or biting.

Are the older kids ones that have been in your church for some time, or are they new?

Hope that your break brings peace and a good resolution.

Anonymous said...

My son had behavior issues, and I went to SS with him for years. The teachers weren't equipped to handle him, and they shouldn't have to. I was the one that had him, and it was my job to keep the other children around him safe! In my opinion, the parents need to be involved, or your SS won't work no matter what or how hard you try.

Rebecca Jo said...

I would think we've been so far out from COVID - 2020 - is that really the issue now? Especially for younger kids? I wonder if its more parenting... I also know working with youth for over 20 years, we go through periods of kids that influence the behavior of others... maybe its just a group that needs some growth. Regardless of the reason, I hope God leads you in the best way to proceed. Praying for the right leaders to come help & a new beginning ahead!

Anonymous said...


Meredith said...

I am so proud of you for starting this amazing class and also for being such a wonderful support to the families of kids with special needs. If some of your Sunday school students have ASD diagnoses, then they would have ABA therapy as a benefit. In our case, our daughter’s private insurance allows for anywhere between 10-40 hours of free ABA. A BCBA would be a great addition to your team of leaders or on a consultant basis (in my eyes, without any fee for the church to pay because they would begin by helping their client out there in the community at church). Or (community) college students who are training as an RBT (behavior tech) could volunteer. I know it’s so challenging to network because I’ve been there but this is such a great idea to restructure and add in many layers of training and support. The kids will love the new program and feel much less anxiety / stress.