Every Sunday, as Christy apprehensively nears her Sunday school classroom, in her heart she secretly hopes this will be the day that she finds acceptance. She so desperately wants to fit in and be included by her peers at church. Her classmates awkwardly look at her, acutely aware that something about her is different. That difference is her disability called cerebral palsy, which challenges her speech and motor skills. Uncertain how to respond to these differences, her peers turn away, leaving her alone and feeling abandoned. She questions … does God really care? The same Sunday in a church down the street, a different scenario is played out. As Drew enters his classroom he is greeted with welcoming squeals at the door. He is drawn in by his peers who don’t even seem to notice or care that Drew has Down Syndrome. Somehow, they have looked beyond this thing called disability and have fully embraced him, allowing him to feel the love of God through their friendship and reminding him that he has a place to belong. Two places of worship … two different responses … to a kid who is just a kid but happens to live with a disability. What is it that makes some kids more accepting of those who have a special need, while others are nervous or reluctant to welcome their peers with special needs into their circle of friends? Here are five suggestions intended to help you teach your kids how to include those with disabilities in your ministry and in their lives. 1. Lead the way. As children’s leaders, we need to set the example that all people matter to God. When we are exposed to behaviors or differences from kids that take us out of our comfort zones, our first reaction may be to avoid or not draw attention to the situation. But we have an opportunity to validate these kids who have different capabilities. Do your kids see you speaking with and interacting with kids with disabilities? When possible, do you include them in illustrations, highlight their abilities and achievements, validate their existence and even use them as helpers? Do you make special provisions for kids with special needs to participate in group events? Or even be included in your typical settings? You are contagious. Your kids catch your affirming words and inclusive actions. As they watch you interact with their peers with disabilities, you can help take away their fear and encourage them to take the first step. 2. Educate your kids about disabilities. It’s human nature to stay away from things we don’t understand. But with understanding will come greater acceptance. If you have kids with specific disabilities represented in your ministry, learn about this disability and find ways to communicate this to the kids in your ministry. Help them understand about behaviors or characteristics that might be associated with the disability and suggest ways they can respond. If Johnny uses a communication device, explain to the kids that this is his voice and show them how he will respond using his tool. If Suzi uses a wheelchair or a walker, you can explain that her legs don’t work, so this equipment serves as her legs to help her move around. Give kids the opportunity to ask questions. There are many great resources in the community that can help provide basic information, but also remember that oftentimes parents are your best source. When appropriate, invite the child or the parent to talk about their disability and ways the church family can be helpful. Raising awareness in general and sharing stories about people who have disabilities and how they overcame will inspire your kids and help them see beyond the disability to the possibilities. 3. Help kids understand that we are more alike than different. If we’re not careful, it’s easy to focus our attention on the differences that disability may bring, rather than on the things that all kids have in common. Help your kids see the things that are common among all kids. The message can be as simple as “We all need to be loved and to love. We all need Jesus.” Disability does not change that. Challenge them to think about things that all kids have in common. 4. Provide opportunities for kids to connect. Find ways to intentionally connect typical kids with kids with disabilities. Assign them as partners in activities and projects. Roberto’s friends were not going to allow him to miss the chance to perform with kids’ choir. Though his physical disabilities made it more difficult to coordinate his moves and maintain his balance, throughout the performance his friends surrounded him and offered guidance and support. If the disability requires regular assistance, perhaps an older peer can serve as a Jr. Buddy Friend and offer this support. Participating in a disability walk or event is great exposure to some amazing kids who happen to have disabilities. 5. Teach kids that we all belong in God’s family. Help your kids understand that as 1 Corinthians 12 teaches, we are all part of the body and have a place. The body has stronger parts and weaker parts, but they are all important. When part of the body is not completely healthy and needs some support, we don’t cut it off. How awkward that would be! Instead, the stronger parts need to help the weaker parts, because it still belongs to the body. Kids with disabilities have a place in the body. We must learn how to support them when there is a weakness, but also recognize that they have a valuable contribution to make to the body as well. Teaching kids to welcome and include those with disabilities may be lessons taught in the classroom, but it is an education that will last a lifetime. Kids who develop friendships with those with disabilities will acquire greater hearts of compassion and gain a greater acceptance of the diversity of God’s people that will forever impact their lives. It’s not really about the disability, but about the kid behind the disability…. who is just a kid who God wants us to include so that He can use them to teach us invaluable lessons. Marie Kuck is a Mom on a Mission. She’s the co-founder of Nathaniel’s Hope, a growing national ministry that cheers on and assists kids with special needs and their families and helps churches get equipped to do the same. She anticipates being reunited with her son Nathaniel, who moved to heaven at the age of 4 1/2.