Good for you! Your small group has found it’s groove—as steady a rhythm as possible for a group of rowdy elementary boys and quiet, reserved girls (or vice versa!)—when all of a sudden, a new student is added to the group. No problem, you think. You, of course, have already been so magnetic, fun, crazy, and welcoming, that your group imitates you with new members, spreading the love with high-fives, fist bumps, and welcoming introductions.

So….what if the newcomer has special needs? Let’s break it down quickly into two categories:

• Visible special needs (wheelchair, leg braces, serious speech defect, erratic behavior)
• Invisible special needs (autism, non-verbal, ADHD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder—from a recent or ongoing serious trauma)

Category #1 is easiest to deal with right off the bat, because you already know to ask the new student’s parent, “Is there anything you’d like us to know in order to make ___________’s time with us great for him?” The parent-expert will be delighted you asked, and will be more than willing to give the best advice you can get.

Category #2 will require both a thorough intake form filled out by a parent and some pre-training for both you and your small group. But succeed you will, because after all, you lead an elementary small group! You’re already half-crazy and fully determined, right?

However, no matter the child, no matter the special needs, the most important way to help everyone succeed in this new dynamic is to open up continuous communication with the parent. No one knows a child better than a parent. Especially in the case of a child with special needs—no one knows the day-to-day ins and outs of a child’s needs better than the parent who has spent every day and night with the child, been to every doctor appointment, and read every piece of information out there about their specific condition. Use this invaluable resource! Partner with the parent through email, text, phone calls, etc. to reassure both the parent and yourself that your group is the perfect place for that child to thrive!

Best tip: ALL intake forms should ask the question, ”Does your child have any special needs of which we should be aware? Please describe and call us at __________ so we can serve your child well.” This always keeps you one step ahead in spotting a child with special needs and making sure he or she is included!

Do you have a child with special needs in your group? What are some ways you have successfully included them each week?

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