Meet Gage. He is a fun first grader in our Awana Sparks Club at Faith Church in Valley Center, Kansas. He loves the Lord Jesus! He works for high-fives, puzzles, and walks. He happens to have an extra chromosome which the leaders think make him extra special! Of course, we are just a little bit partial.
When I first heard about Gage, I was told that he was basically non-verbal and when he spoke, you could not understand him. When I realized how old he was, I was burdened! Gage was being sent to the toddler nursery at the age of 5. I didn’t think this was fair to him or the kids in the nursery. I prayed about what God would want me to do to help find a more appropriate ministry placement for Gage.
I took time to hang out with him to figure out that “not speaking understandably” wasn’t entirely true! Notice I had to hang out with him. Time is a good investment especially with children with special learning needs. Another good investment was interviewing Gage’s parents. What did he like? What could he do? What kinds of tips did they have for us?
Meanwhile, I asked a friend and colleague who specializes in working with children who have behavioral issues to come help us. With our children’s ministry coordinators’ help, we had a luncheon-workshop for all of our children’s ministry workers. She had observed Gage, but also gave practical advice for any non-compliant child.
Next, we printed the verse labels for Sparkies with special needs found in ART under the Club Resources Sparks section. From there I took the words that I could and created PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) in a program called Boardmaker. These are 2″x 2″ pictures that have a black frame around the edge. We cut these and laminated them. Then put rough-sided Velcro on the back.
Next, I took an old notebook and put soft-sided Velcro strips on it. Inside the notebook I have ALL of the handbook PECS and a few behavioral PECS cues placed on laminated card-stock that have soft Velcro. We have one card-stock piece that has FIRST/THEN for a behavior strategy. For example, FIRST we work, THEN we do a puzzle.
Our church is blessed with 2 ladies, who work in special education. Last year, they would tag-team working with Gage. In addition, we have a few other workers that have developed a special bond with Gage. Here’s a short video clip that shows one of of our special education workers helping Gage learn a verse with the labels and PECS. We’re sure that you’ll fall in love with Gage, too.