A Sunday in the Special Needs Classroom
In the preschool wing of College Park, there is a room where the Christmas lights are plugged in all year round. Every Sunday, our room welcomes seven precious souls to church.
With the lights plugged in, the worship music playing in the background, the mats cleared and cleaned, the Bible story readied, it’s time to start one of the most treasured times of my week.
Audrey is usually the first one to get dropped off. “Let’s sing Wonderful, Merciful Savior, she offers, and we start cheerfully singing. Audrey is our song leader. She knows every word to every verse to any song ever sung at College Park, and she sings them with a joyful enthusiasm.
Anna comes in squealing with joy, all the more so if her beloved friend, Madonna, is there. When Anna sees Madonna, there are hugs, very loud squeals of delight, hearty laughs and the customary ‘wiggle dance.’ It’s a thing to witness!
Sarah sometimes drives herself in the room, as she is learning how to maneuver her pink power wheels through doors and around turns. She always enters with a radiant smile to share and quickly waves dad off once she’s settled.
Janet shows joy through her smile as well, grinning and singing along to the music with her own beautiful sounds. You’ll sometimes hear her laugh, at times even at the jokes we tell! She has a beautiful smile and laugh. Once she’s nice and comfy, it’s not unusual that she’ll enjoy a lengthy nap.
Hayley has a talking device, and it’s fun to hear what she comes up with. One morning, we heard “cake, hamburgers, roosters, soup” coming from the hungry, computer-generated voice during a lesson on Moses. Lately, it’s been “Super Grover.” Hayley can use her own voice to talk, but with not as many words as her electronic “talker.” Her own word that she uses the most? “No!” But she’s also quick to sincerely apologize when prompted.
Our other friend, Sarah, has the most infectious laugh. It begins as a snicker, then a giggle, then she’ll bring on the full belly laugh. By that time, the other Sarah is laughing, all the volunteers are cracking up and we’re having a blast. Sarah is enthralled with hands and if you sit beside her, she’ll take yours in hers, studying it with utmost fascination. It’s her way of connecting with you.
You’ll usually find Sabrina in the corner where we pile the beanbags. Sabrina has been absent from us for a few months. She’s seen more hospital rooms than a teenager ever should. Being non-verbal, it’s certainly a challenge for parents and doctors to figure out what’s going on when her body starts shutting down. Life has been challenging for this family, to say the least.
Now that everyone’s here, you may wonder “What on earth do you do in that room to teach gospel truth?”
We do it in many ways, actually. Libbi and Tyler Ritz faithfully serve our class each week. Tyler puts up a big screen TV so that the students can see the worship via live stream. We turn the lights off and worship with the congregation under the glow of the Christmas lights.
Sarah gets so excited every time the drummer comes on the screen. Audrey heartily sings along; sometimes Janet joins in with her sustained vowels. Anna prefers listening under her favorite white blanket over on the alphabet mat. Hayley and Sarah can be seen rocking back and forth in time to the music. Sabrina is cozied up in the beanbag corner and seems very content. Once the music portion of the service is over, we turn the lights on and the TV off.
Then, we pray. Sometimes, Audrey will lead the class in prayer. She has a knack for knowing who in the church body is suffering, and her compassion is humbling to the rest of us.
After prayer, we start our Bible lesson. We show the students where our story comes from and pass the Bible around. The girls know when it’s their turn, and they willingly reach out to touch the Bible or allow volunteers to guide their hands. Because repetition is so beneficial to our class, we spend a month on each lesson. In January and February, we covered Daniel. We made a furnace out of blocks and used paper for the flame. Nebuchadnezzar was played by a stuffed bear. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were played by our resident goat-puppets.
We have a new device that is helping us learn the catechism (thanks Libbi!) and the students have taken to it well. Audrey can almost recite the recorded explanation to the first question: “What is God?” The others, being non-verbal, hear the question we ask, and can press the button to “give” the answer. It’s an unusual, but effective means of acquiring proper theology.
Last, Mr. Alan Standridge comes and blesses us with the gift of music. He has the wonderful talent of putting God’s words to catchy tunes that he plays on the guitar. This time is both enjoyable and spiritually-impactful.
And just like that, the parents come to get their children.
Please consider this your invitation to come visit us sometime. We’d love to see you! We’re not your typical Sunday school room. We’re the room with the Christmas lights on all year long.