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Long IslandLI Life

Asking the Clergy: How can religion be made more inclusive for special needs children?

I.J. Singh, the Rev. Dr. Henrietta Scott Fullard

I.J. Singh, the Rev. Dr. Henrietta Scott Fullard and Samantha Tetro Photo Credit: I.J. Singh / African Methodist Episcopal Churches / Judy Donnelfeld

People with special needs number among the nation’s largest minority groups. Nearly 40 million, or 12.6 percent, of Americans have a disability, according to a report released last year by the Pew Research Center. This week’s clergy discuss bringing their message of faith to young people who are challenged by difficulties with hearing, vision or other serious mental or physical disabilities.

Samantha Tetro

Samantha’s Lil Bit of Heaven Ministries, East Northport

For a brief time I assisted in a Bible study class created specifically for children with special needs. I will never forget the experience. I wanted this class to be a blessing for the children, but I had the tables turned on me when I was the one who got blessed. I learned so much from them.

God tells us in the Bible that if we want to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must come to him as little children (Matthew 18:3). Basically, God is saying: Keep it simple. Do not reason or think too much, just receive by faith. Showing God’s unconditional love is the absolute foundation and prerequisite for a child with special needs.

Seek God’s wisdom (Jeremiah 33:3) on how to interact with each child. Allow the Lord to gently help you to discover how they learn. By listening? Visually? Musically? One on one? In a group? Find out and soon they will be open to receive, learn and grow. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Share his word by speaking it aloud to children; be his word by living it. It’s all about building a relationship. As the child connects with you, they will in time (by faith) connect with your savior.

The Rev. Henrietta Scott Fullard

Presiding elder, Long Island District, African Methodist Episcopal Churches

Special-needs children must be taught religion with compassion and tender loving care, using not only verbal communication but the visual arts, such as pictures of scenes from the Bible. Ministries should include Saturday classes or Sunday school with such accommodations for young people who have special needs as Bibles and mobile devices that help them focus better on the lessons. Each learning style must correspond with the individual child’s needs.

Religion can encourage an individual to be more self-reliant through Bible studies. Jesus was very specific in his ministry to those with special needs. Scripture shows that Jesus provided counseling to those who did not understand life’s journey. He motivated the sick according to their special needs, and demanded them to walk in their own authority by depending upon the power of God to lead and guide them, along with human help. He encouraged the mentally challenged to use the power of God to be the cure for all that besets us. Therefore, it is the primary duty of religious entities to use the teachings of Jesus to change the life conditions for children who have special needs.

Religious teachings must be faithful to the practices of Jesus. Religion can and must teach the children to believe in their own abilities. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The teachings of Jesus give people hope and determination to overcome all physical conditions.

I.J. Singh

Bellmore author of six collections of essays on his journey as a Sikh in America

From the first moment that a person enters a Sikh temple, Sikhism reaches out with langar, a free meal prepared and served by men and women volunteers, given to all irrespective of their religious label or their physical or mental abilities. It is a simple meal, the hallmark of a Sikh congregation, and the first stop for people who may have traveled some distance to reach the place of worship.

The Sikh religious service, too, is also accessible to people with disabilities. It is largely delivered in music, and it includes a congregational prayer. However, there is still much to be done to welcome people with disabilities, such as creating specially designed facilities for the physically handicapped and training special religious teachers for children with attention disorders, language comprehension and communication challenges.

The primary idea is to never ignore the hungry or needy child but to find ways to attract and hold his or her attention. Kindness, love, charity and generosity are fundamental to all religions. Each of us has our strengths, and to do our best learning and living we need special circumstances. Why then should we ever isolate the visibly handicapped from our communal life?

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