Developmental delays, communication difficulties and/or motor planning and sensory processing challenges can impede a child’s ability to express himself. Traditional therapies focus on helping the child to overcome these deficits. We may, however, become so bogged down in these necessary therapies, that we overlook the importance of enlivening the spirit in a child.
Arts and religious education programs can provide a space for children with special needs to express themselves freely, openly, and creatively—without judgment. When children have a place where they are loved and accepted for exactly who they are, they can grow exponentially. Shy children come out of their shells; overzealous children learn to take turns. All develop a stronger, positive sense of self and become part of a dynamic community.
Children who during their school day may be involved with self-stimulating behaviors, or may be aggressive due to feeling misunderstood, often come to creative arts and religious classes open, loving and receptive to others. They talk about the importance of friendship, their love and appreciation for their parents and siblings and caring for the environment. Kristen runs to check on Alana when she notices that Alana is crying; Brett hugs a fellow classmate and asks why he wasn’t in theater class last week; after winter break, Clara, who rarely speaks, calls each staff member by name and says, “I missed you.”
I have witnessed nonverbal autistic children type intense thoughts and insights in religious classes. Neal types, “Nothing is random; all things happen due to kind acts.” They are embraced by the more verbal teens; Wyatt says, “There is a wisdom of the heart.” Music composition classes can turn these words into song lyrics; these songs can become part of a live musical production; repetitive movements can become a dance; children with special needs can be seen and heard. In programs where children sing, dance, and share creative experiences, there is no separation between typically developing children and those with special needs. Instead there becomes empathy, emotions, community… where miracles happen everyday.