Is your church, school, club, or playgroup struggling with how to best integrate children with special needs into worship, classroom, or play time?  Many individuals and organizations have the desire to integrate those with special needs into their activities, but are unsure of how to do it well.  We all know the public school system has been working at this for years.  Some schools are doing a great job, some are not. Many large churches have invested time and staff into helping those with special needs. There are some great programs out there if you can find them.

But what happens when a small group, church, or private school wants to include those with disabilities? Often they feel they don’t have the staff or education to do the right thing — so they do nothing. Many have put in place policies meant to “protect” those with health needs, which in reality do not protect, but reject. Fear and uncertainty rule.

Maybe you are thinking, “Sure, we’d include someone with special needs if they ever showed up, but we don’t have anyone like that in our organization.”  Perhaps you don’t have any special needs people in your group because their families don’t feel the group would be able to adapt. Perhaps there are families you could actively reach out to if you felt you had a plan in place to appropriately integrate them.

Signposts would love to help. We want to consult with churches and other organizations to help craft solutions to your problems. Buying a program or attending a seminar sometimes does not provide specific enough information for you to apply to your individual situation.  Needs change. Group dynamics change. You need someone there who can trouble shoot with you. We want to be available for any questions you may have along the way, not just provide you with an information packet and a lecture.

There are many ways to include those with special needs: inclusion, contained classrooms, reverse inclusion, to name a few.  We can help you construct all of these scenarios.  There is also a method called the Peer Helper Model. The Peer Helper Model works well for small groups because it does not require a lot of extra staffing. Peer Helpers benefit the children with special needs, but also provides a unique learning experience for the children being trained as a Peer Helper.  Peer Helpers are not to be babysitters or “workers”. Peer Helpers are to be friends that have been educated in their buddy’s disability.  Depending on individual situation, children as young as 5 can be trained as a Peer Helper.

Dr. Stephanie Kemper, a licensed psychologist that works with children with special needs, has designed a model for Signposts to share with the community.  She lists the benefits of the Peer Helper Model as such:

  • Individualized support for the child
  • Modeling of appropriate social behaviors
  • Showing the child how to perform tasks (sitting correctly, listening to the teacher, specific work tasks, as well as what to do when the child is unsure)
  • Helping the child pay attention
  • Encouraging the child’s efforts and noticing their achievements

If you are interested in learning more or getting assistance with the integration of people with special needs in your group or organization, please feel free to call Signposts Ministries at 704-219-8981 for a free consultation.  We will be happy to guide you through the entire process and assist with any training necessary.


Annie Beth Donahue is the founder of Signposts Ministries and the mother of four children, and each of them have special health needs. Annie Beth is a specialist in musical therapy and a talented singer. She and her husband, Brad, live near Charlotte, North Carolina.