RYM 042: Taking Care Of Students With Special Needs In Youth Ministry

Students show up where they’re wanted. This is true for all students—including those with developmental disabilities. But what does it really look like to create a ministry environment that attracts and engages students with special needs? On this episode, join ministry leaders for a conversation with special education expert Melinda Anderson all about engaging students with special needs in your community and equipping leaders to effectively serve those with developmental disabilities.

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In 2016, 1 out of every 14 kids between the ages of 3-14 have been diagnosed with some kind of developmental disability. (3:00)

What is a developmental disability? (3:45)

As a ministry leader, if you don’t have a background in special needs, it can be very intimidating to step in to this area. (7:00)

What is inclusion when it comes to special needs students? (8:30)

Do students with special needs need to be included in regular programming or have their own program? (10:00)

How do you include your students with special needs in your youth ministry? (10:30)

What is an IEP? (11:00)

As the adults in the lives of students with special needs, we need to align the language we are using to help them win. (15:30)

One of the things we get wrong in student ministry is when we make students with special needs our mascots. (19:00)

If the goal is inclusion, we must make them a part of our group. (19:30)

Parents of students with special needs have unique challenges. (24:00)

Students flock to where they’re wanted. (26:00)

How would you train a Small Group Leader to lead students with special needs? (28:00)

View each special needs student as a student first, and never assume they don’t know what you’re talking about. (28:30)

We have to teach our leaders to let go of all expectations of how a student will receive what you’re teaching them. (29:00)

Tap into the resources that exist in the local school system. (32:00)


We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic and this episode! To join the conversation, leave us a comment here on our episode page or in our Facebook Group. Not a member of our Facebook Group yet? Click the button below to join!




CJ is the Managing Editor for XP3 High School and Social Media Strategist for XP3’s blog and social media platforms. CJ has been leading small groups for middle school and high school students at North Point Community Church for the past 10 years. He also placed 5th in his 8th grade class fun run. CJ and his wife, Teri, live in Alpharetta, GA.



Ashley Bohinc serves as the Director of Middle School Strategy at Orange, co-host of The Think Orange Podcast, and co-author of The Art of Group Talk. She’s worked with students in public education, athletic, and ministry settings since 2005. Ashley is most passionate about resourcing the local church, communicating onstage, developing leaders, working with students, and engaging in world missions. Additionally, she’s the USA Director of Carry 117. In her downtime, you’ll find her watching Friends, cheering on the Cleveland Cavaliers, traveling, reading, or on one of her Fairytale Friday Adventures.



Crystal currently leads the XP3 High School initiative at Orange. Before that, she spent 10 years as a high school teacher and student ministry leader, doing everything from leading small groups to speaking to curriculum design. Crystal and her husband, Tom, live in Alpharetta, GA with an ill-tempered chihuahua named Javier.



Melinda has 23 years of experience teaching students with special needs. She has also had the privilege of volunteering in middle school and preteen ministry environments for the past 13 years. Melinda is a mom of two fantastic sons, Paul and Ben, and wife to her loving husband, Dale.

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Orange Conference 2018