Editor’s Note: Raising my son D (who is autistic) and contemplating what a religious education — whether in a day school or a Sunday school — has to offer children like him is something I’ve thought a lot about. While I never considered enrolling D in our local Sunday School or religious day school (because his needs were to great for them to accommodate), I know others in my community who have struggled to get their special needs children enrolled in a religious educational institution.
Indeed, because religious organizations are exempt from the Americans with Disabilities Act, it can be quite a process. After all, when it comes to disability and inclusion issues, despite good intentions, as my friend and disability advocate Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi says, “Many religious institutions don’t even know what they don’t know.” She goes on to say:
It is up to people with disabilities, and the people who love them, to educate and advocate for people with disabilities in religious life. This is especially true in the context of enabling children with disabilities to have full access to religious education.
In all likelihood, your child with special needs either goes to public school or a private school specifically designed to serve children with disabilities. Their teams are (or should be) steeped in knowledge around accommodations, IEPs, differentiated learning. That is generally not the case in most religious schools, so there is a learning curve.
Jennifer penned this extremely useful list of tips to help parents find success in religious educational institutions for their children with special needs. Faith inclusion expert Rev. Bill Gaventa and myself helped with editing and research. We hope these tips will help you, if you are seeking place for your special needs child in a religious educational setting, whether it be a religious day school or your mosque’s Sunday School.
Next: You are not alone.