Routines, schedules, and activities have all been interrupted lately. That’s not easy on any family. For a family that includes children with special needs, who thrive with established routines and often depend on support from a team of professionals, this is an even more challenging time. It’s critical that we reach out and support these families in our circles. But what does that look like?

We recently asked some ministry leaders to share what they’re currently doing to support and partner with families with children with special needs during this time. Here are some main takeaways and practical ideas from that conversation.

You know your families best, so try to identify what the greatest wins for them would be right now. Consider what’s appropriate and possible within social distancing best practices in your area.

1. Support them physically

  • Send a care package. (Use the intake form you might have had the family fill out to help you customize what you send. Try to customize it to meet the child’s needs and preferences—and don’t forget about any siblings!)
  • Send gift cards for food delivery
  • Share resources for how to identify anxiety/fear like this one: “How Are You Feeling?” And resources for calming strategies like this one: “Breathing Exercises”.
  • Many schools are providing lunch pickup. Can you have a volunteer team pick those lunches up and deliver them to families with special needs in your community?

2. Support them educationally

  • Many schools are offering items or manipulatives to be borrowed from school. Can you have a volunteer team pick up those items and deliver them to families with special needs?
  • Raid your church’s supplies and send home things that might be helpful for getting schoolwork done (think: crayons, manipulatives, sensory items, furniture, etc.).

3. Support them relationally

  • Have zoom calls or other virtual gatherings. (Keep them short and simple—music is a great option!)
  • Connect families to each other
  • Create a parent group (on Facebook or on another platform) where you share encouragement and start conversations. It should be a safe place for parents to interact.
  • Create a mom’s chat. Host an online gathering for moms to spend some time with other moms of children with special needs to foster community and comradery.
  • Connect families with special needs to your ministry volunteer team
  • Ask buddies/volunteers to schedule one-on-one video calls—video connections are important.
  • Continue to care for and pour into your volunteers, and ask them to stay in touch with families in creative ways.

4. Support them entertainingly

  • Send home items from your ministry sensory space that the child would enjoy.
  • Put together a Facebook group where you can host weekly events/challenges like a talent show, art show, or dance party. Ask families to submit pre-recorded videos so everyone can scroll through at their own availability.
  • Host an online game night for families like Bingo & Bingo Ball, or other digital games like Drawful.

5. Support them spiritually

  • Create a social story to help children navigate whatever online content you might be providing to set parents up for success.
  • Consider making custom videos that use visuals to communicate the Bible story and/or read a story out loud in a fun way.
  • Pray for your families and encourage other families to reach out and support them.

Now is the time to show up and support families to help them ramp up to a Sundays-at-Home mindset. Consider each family with children with Special Needs in your planning and resources. Look for unique ways to partner with them outside of but including their spiritual growth and development.

This unique time has the potential to be isolating and overwhelming for families with Special Needs. But this is also where the church can lean in and provide practical help, loving support, and never-ending hope.