Does My Kid Get It? Teaching the Bible to the Intellectually Disabled.
I firmly believe in Psalm 139:14, that everyone is “fearfully and wonderfully made!” I also know that we are ALL created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), whether we have special needs or we are neurotypical. God created each and every one of us just the way He wanted AND in His image. We are not a mistake! It is also part of God’s plan for individuals with special needs and those who are intellectually challenged to be able to learn the Bible and learn about God. But, as a parent, I have asked the question myself, “Does my kid get it?” If that answer is no, it could be because of HOW we are teaching our kids. I know from personal experience that you can teach the Bible to any individual in a way that they will be able to comprehend and understand who Jesus is. However, it is not our sole responsibility as a parent, as the Bible teaches us that the Holy Spirit will be our Teacher (John 16:7-11) and lead us in Truth. We must trust God to work in the hearts, minds, and lives of our kids the very same way He worked in us. Therefore, it is our responsibility as parents of children with special needs to create environments for the Holy Spirit to do His work!
Usually, as a parent, when we teach our children something, we do it in an age appropriate manner. This includes teaching the Bible. However, when we are working with our children with intellectual disabilities, we need to focus on their development age and not on their chronological age. So if your 12 year old daughter has the developmental age of a 5 year old, you would teach her as if she was 5 instead of 12.
There are multiple things that you can do as a parent. Spend time reading the Bible to your child. This could be a Children’s Bible or even a picture Bible if that makes it easier. Repetition is key to learning for our kids, so consider spending several days (if not an entire week) reading the same Bible passage and discussing it to help your child understand it. You could use stuffed animals or pictures to help act out some of the Bible stories that you read together. Spend time praying about what you read with your child. You can also search the internet and see if you can find some coloring pages or word finds or puzzles dealing with the story that you read which will help further their understanding. The more unique ways you can share the same information with your child, the higher the likelihood that they will grasp what you are teaching.
One great tool in helping your child understand the Bible is Scripture memory! My desire is that my children would love and uphold the truth of Scripture in their hearts regardless of their abilities. Scripture memory can be done in a simple manner, only requiring repetition. Incorporate it with one of your already established routines, like bedtime. You could read the passage of Scripture you are memorizing before tucking them in. You can also create hand motions or make flash cards with a word, a picture, and a hand action to help act out the entire verse. This is perfect if your child is non-verbal. You can use Google images for the pictures. Next, you can have a “treasure hunt” where you hide the cards throughout the room and your child will go on a treasure hunt and find all of the cards and then place them in the right order. This fun game aides in the memorizing of scripture. Put a verse to a familiar tune like ABCs, Happy Birthday, or London Bridge. This could be a fun way to try to memorize the verse!
When picking a verse, make sure you don’t pick too many verses at one time or one that is too difficult. It is also fine to select a smaller portion of a verse to help deliver success without taking away the meaning of the verse. An example would be 1 John 3:23 “Love one another.” Just be patient; if it takes a month or two to memorize a simple verse, that is OK! They are memorizing Scripture and that is the win. Your kids are also very much like you, they will be more interested in memorizing a verse that is more applicable to them, therefore, avoid picking verses randomly to memorize.
Lastly, realize that every child is different so you will need to individualize your approach. Be patient, pray through it, use lots of repetition, and you will soon see your child with intellectual disabilities storing Scripture in their heart!
Create times of worship to help your child learn the Bible. Many great Bible verses have been made into songs. Sing these songs to your child, with your child, or play them on the CD or radio. Listen to worship music in the car while you travel anywhere. Sing hymns and create an environment where you can worship God through song. Allow the Holy Spirit to speak to your child through music!
As parents, we need to make the most of any opportunity we have to share spiritual truth with our children. Whether or not you believe your child is able to understand, pray over him, continue to diligently read the Bible with him, sing Christian songs with your child, help him to memorize Bible verses, and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work! Be patient, take your time, don’t rush it, and use frequent repetition! With time, your child will amaze you with what they understand and how they respond to the Word of God! Never forget that you (and your child) “can do ALL things through CHRIST who gives you strength!” (Phil 4:13)
— Doc Hunsley