As a teacher or leader, you want everyone to receive benefit from your group session. When someone with special needs could benefit from your group, you wonder how to meet his or her needs. How can you bring a sense of belonging to someone who usually feels like a misfit?
Here are some suggestions I have used in various situations to integrate special persons into a group:
Hearing impaired: Linda (all names have been changed) was in the young adult group when we studied the calling of Christ's disciples. Talented in arts and crafts, she made a poster to illustrate how Jesus chose the Twelve.
During role-play, depicting the judgment of God, Linda took the part of Jesus. When God started to pass judgment on a person for a sinful deed, Linda intervened to spare the person from the consequences of wrongdoing. This gave Linda an opportunity for drama and self-expression. I always provided her with clearly written directions and allowed her to take a nonverbal role in a skit.
Another way to include hearing-impaired persons is to write a question on the chalkboard and ask the entire group to respond in writing. Passing out papers and pencils can boost a person's morale.
Sight impaired: I am currently the substitute leader of a senior adult group that includes Melanie, who suffers from macular degeneration. For the most part, Melanie enjoys listening to the discussion. Sometimes the leader injects a bit of humor to recognize Melanie's personhood, something like, "How would you like to (participate in a ridiculous act), Melanie?"
As I write this, I am thinking of another way to minister to Melanie. I will offer to call her through the week and read to her the Scripture we will cover during the next session.
If arrangements are made ahead of time, some sight impaired individuals might be willing to address a particular subject that has personal relevance. (This is also a good way to help introverted persons to open up.)
Non readers: I once embarrassed myself as well as Nancy by calling on her to read. She replied, "I d-d-don't read be—because I c-c-can't read." It never occurred to me that Nancy might have a problem in this area because she did a wonderful job as a soloist. With Nancy, I used some of the same methods I used with the hearing impaired.
Speech impaired. Nancy's stuttering also impaired her speech. I often asked group members to respond by raised hands to questions addressed to the entire group such as, "Do you agree or disagree?" "Do you prefer _______or _______?"
Non verbal. When I worked with children several years ago, I had eight-year-old Lisa, who did not talk. An early trauma seemed to be involved because she was a very bright child. During the comments of other children, I often said, "Lisa, I imagine you would do so and so"—always something positive. She usually responded with a radiant smile and the nod of her head.
In a Christmas program, Lisa portrayed an angel who followed cues to place spiritual fruit on the Christmas tree.
Mentally challenged. Gordon was in my young adult group. He could communicate but preferred to do so in writing. Others in the group were understanding about the many writing exercises we did. When he made an off-the-wall comment, our laughter was followed by a comment that made sense out of the ludicrous and put him at ease.
You may not have any people with special needs in your group. I have probably had more than most people. It is always good to think about how you might handle an unusual situation if it comes up. As new people with special needs come into your group, it is good to allow them to keep a low profile until you can determine any possible limitations they might have. If you remain alert to conditions that prevent full participation in group activities, you will soon develop alternative methods to deal with varying situations.
The important thing to remember is that everyone needs community that can be offered by a small group like yours.