Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Let All The Children Come

If you’re a teacher or ministry leader who wants to include children with special needs without radically changing the program for everybody else, Let All the Children Come To Me: A Practical Guide to Including Children with Disabilities in Your Church Ministries is for you.

I was drawn by the book’s title and then hooked by the preface -- a retelling of each author’s personal connection to a child with special needs.

What brought me to devour the entire book, refer to it frequently and recommend it often, is that it’s quick-to-read, easy-to-follow, and loaded with practical information.

Each of the authors -- MaLesa Breeding, Dana Hood and Jerry Whitworth – is a specialist in the field, and could have written an important (but perhaps boring) reference book on the subject. Instead, their book presents inclusion in a way we can all understand, motivates us to work toward that goal, and gives us practical tools and strategies to accomplish it.

The authors are clear about their conviction that every child can learn, so it’s our duty to teach them. At the same time, they emphasize that “good teaching is good for everyone”. The best inclusion is inclusion that meets everyone’s learning needs.

The book’s tools include lists of strategies for encouraging positive behaviour, a chart of the strengths and learning styles of multiple intelligences (ways of being smart), and descriptions of the challenges faced by students with specific types of disabilities. There are many, many more – all as useful when teaching typically-developing children as when teaching children with special needs.

I strongly recommend this book, but with one small “disclaimer”. In contrast with the book’s overall tone of warmth and acceptance, there are a few places in which the authors use language that makes me wince.

For instance, in Jerry’s retelling of a Bible story (p.21), he describes leprosy as a “dreaded, ugly and usually contagious disease” and a “disgusting affliction”. We now know leprosy is not highly-contagious, and, more than that, I think he could have used words that are more appropriate than “disgusting” and “ugly”.
On another occasion, MaLesa says of a young lady with cerebral palsy, “Looking at Sarah is almost painful.” Here, too, she could have used more sensitive language.
These isolated, regrettable word choices contrast with the book’s prevailing message that every child is precious and we must allow “all the children to come” to a life of faith. One of my favorite passages says “The first duty of (the teacher of the child with special needs) is to look at her as a whole and complete child of God...She has as much to offer us as we have to offer her.”
With that, I wholeheartedly agree.
-- Reenie
(Let All the Children Come to Me: A Practical Guide to Including Children with Disabilities in Your Church Ministries; MaLesa Breeding, Dana Hood and Jerry Whitworth; NexGen, Cook Communications Ministries, Paris, Ontario, 2006)

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