Faith Development For Children With Special Needs

February 20, 2012

Faith At Home

Luke’s simple statement, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52, NIV) sums up Jesus’ development through the ages and stages of childhood. Even more important, the statement clearly recognizes four basic areas of development:

  • Wisdom= Intelligence
  • Stature = Physical
  • Favor with God = Spiritual
  • Favor with man = Social

It is essential that developing faith be as intentional as are a child’s cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development. Just as these other areas of the child’s growth develop in stages, so does his or her faith!

Who’s responsible for faith development?

I know that as a parent I am the one who is primarily responsible for modeling and teaching my boys about the awe-inspiring wonder of who God is, how to have a relationship with Him, and what it looks like to live out our lives for Him and through Him:

  • My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.  I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old—things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us.
  • We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done.
  • He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children,
  • So the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.
  • Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands (Psalm 78: 1-7).

The challenge (not excuse!) however as a father to 3 boys who are on the autism spectrum, is that I’ve struggled with the development of faith with my two boys who are on the moderate and severe end of that spectrum.

I can google “faith development” and come up with hundreds of articles about the faith development of “neurotypical” children.  But what about children with intellectual disabilities?  As it turn out there is hardly anything written on the development of faith for the child with an intellectual disability.  That didn’t catch me by surprise because so often our children with special needs are not included in much of the typical research that goes on for children.  So, I decided to do a little bit of research and learning myself.

If I believe that the Holy Spirit is God’s chosen teacher in our children’s hearts and that His in the one who causes spiritual growth when and as He chooses, then my part in this is to learn how to individualize the way I share God’s truths.  And I need to do that in a way that accounts for my son’s intellectual disability. 

What I’ve discovered over the last several months is that in many church-based early childhood programs, the philosophy in the area of faith development is often based on the work of James W. Fowler. His studies and writing clearly shows that faith is developmental.  So, based on an understanding of Fowler’s work and a knowledge of child development, I set out to discover how to be more equipped to respond to my children with autism in the area of faith and broaden their understanding of God’s love for them.

What I discovered has helped me as a parent to be able to understand “what?” my boys are able to learn about God and “how?” they are best able to learn His amazing truths!  Does that make me an expert?  No!  I’m simply a parent who struggles with knowing how to create the spiritual spaces that allows God’s Spirit to transform my boys’ into His likeness.  It’s the same journey that thousands of parents who have children with special needs travel EVERY day.

The results of what I’m learning will be a series of on-line training presentations that will attempt to merge Fowler’s work with child development theory in order to help parents find a more productive and efficient way to create an environment in which their child can learn that God has a place for them in the big story that He is writing!

Make sure that you either subscribe to this blog or click “like” on the Special Friends Ministry facebook page to be notified as each on-line training presentation is published!  Here’s the first:

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About Michael Woods

Christ-follower, husband, chocoholic, and peanut-butter lover! I'm a father to triplet boys...each on the autism spectrum.

View all posts by Michael Woods

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2 Comments on “Faith Development For Children With Special Needs”

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