Lutheran Catechesis for Special Needs
It breaks my heart and baffles my mind that with 1 in 5 children facing learning challenges, we do not (yet) have from CPH formal, effective, confessional confirmation materials for our young teens with special needs. Here is a common question I received from a pastor this morning.
Q: Do you have any suggestions for catechesis/confirmation class materials for young teens with special needs? I can already tell that I will need to teach him individually. What can I use for teaching?
A: Yes, one-on-one will be best for instruction, although it might be nice to include the student in group recitations once a month. In this way, he could recite the same portions of Scripture & the Six Chief Parts, pray our prayers, and sing liturgical elements and hymn stanzas corporately. Sometimes children with autism can become surprisingly good memorizers with practice. Others might learn only the refrain of a hymn but can then join the singing at the refrain. A tutorial approach for catechizing often works best, and this is a good start; but even students with social challenges appreciate being part of a confirmation class for Christian community and, eventually, for photos!
What is his intellectual level?
Lower Level of Ability and Maturity
If he needs something basic and simple, and if he would not be “insulted” by something written for children, consider these resources:
1. My First Catechism Workbook Activity Book – look inside: https://www.cph.org/pdf/223069.pdf
2. The Small Catechism and LSB as written for the “spine” of your memory work and private instruction. (If this is too challenging, consider teaching from this: My First Catechism.)
3. For biblical literacy, you can teach from The Story Bible. I have lesson plans for 34 weeks of reading these, if you are interested. See also this copybook for Scripture memory work (sample here). For boosted comprehension (and bonus writing instruction), you could use this composition course based on The Story Bible (sample here)
If the above sounds good, teach from these with as much visual input as you can give: art posters, wall maps, posters of each of these: Ten Commandments, Apostles’ Creed, & Lord’s Prayer if he does not yet know these.
Give him the same sequence of lesson each day:
Hymn stanza sung together (stand)
Memory work recited together (stand)
Writing activity (sit)
Same hymn stanza sung together (stand)
Think repetition, repetition, repetition.
To add a devotional component for him to complete at home, you could assign one of these My Thankfulness Journals. Though it says for ages 6-12, this is a “cognitive age.” Few things are more important than thankfulness to cultivate in teens with significant special needs. Each page provides a repeated template for a prayer.
While much work for you, the above is the relatively “easy” scenario and could be satisfying for both of you.
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Higher Level of Ability and Maturity
If, however, your student is intellectually higher than this OR if he would deem all of the above “babyish,” then you will need to do more work on your own.
I recommend the following:
Your Lesson Plans/Goals:
1. Teach the first three of the Six Chief Parts of the Small Catechism to mastery.
2. Teach only 1-2 key verses of Holy Scripture (to mastery) that support each of the Six Chief Parts.
3. Teach and sing with him every lesson ONE key LSB hymn throughout his confirmation to encapsulate all you desire to teach him. Consider LSB 555 if he memorizes easily; We All Believe in One True God, if he does not.
4. Plan to read, teach, and reread every one of the Six Chief Parts with him, along with explanations.
5. Consider movement in your instruction. For example: standing bounce-pass. You say “First Commandment.” Bounce the ball to him. He says, “You shall not….” He bounces it back to you. You say “Second Commandment.” Bounce the ball to him, and so on. If he does not need or respond well to this level of movement, incorporate other memory helps:
a. underlining in different colors corresponding to Law/Gospel or six colors to correspond to Six Chief Parts.
b. chanting recitations to create a pleasing, memorably rhythm
c. word searches for key theological terms
d. mnemonic devices (S.O.S. — Law shows our sin/ Gospel shows our Savior)
e. call and response to learn hymn and liturgy portions
6. Include oral recitation, rather than writing, whenever possible. Ex. Orally recite the Apostles’ Creed in every class period. Close every session with The Lord’s Prayer.
7. Pray for him.
8. Enjoy the challenge! The needs of such students often help us “strip down” the task of catechesis into its essential elements and can be refreshingly simple in this way. Prepare him for the Lord’s Supper, as he will need throughout his life the forgiveness and fortification that comes only through Jesus Christ.
Both of my adopted twins (now 22) have ADHD, autism, severe mental illness, and social difficulties. Yet both have read through the entire Book of Concord with us. Possibilities abound. Most importantly, they both hear the Word of God and receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ for their eternal good every week.
If I can help further, please let me know.
And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:17 ESV
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Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child (Memoria Press, 2013)
Curriculum Resource Guide for Classical Lutheran Education (CCLE Press, 2014)
Eternal Treasures: Teaching Your Child at Home (LCMS, 2015)
NEW Simply Classical Curriculum for Special Needs (Memoria Press) voted #1 for Special Learners