Family discipleship is an important element of the Christian faith. But when your family has atypical children, it might look a little different. Family discipleship for atypical children can be frustrating and overwhelming at times, but take heart. Your children are gifts from God to be stewarded and loved just as they are. Here are some practical tips to consider as you begin.
Family discipleship with atypical children usually requires letting go of expectations.
Your discipleship time may not be as quiet or as stationary as you might hope it will be. Many atypical children require noise and movement as a means to self-regulate and better focus. My son uses both to help him pay attention and retain what’s being taught. Would it be nice if we could circle up and quietly dive into the Word? Of course. But that simply isn’t our reality, and there’s no shame in that.
Just because our discipleship time doesn’t look like everyone else’s doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It matters not how we learn, but what we learn. Discipling atypical children well means we must be willing to accommodate and adjust to our child’s needs.
Unique children may require unique teaching methods.
As parents, it’s up to you to study your kids and with some trial and error determine how they best learn. Perhaps you can act out Bible stories with playdough characters or felt boards. Or maybe you can read a proverb and encourage your child to jump towards the heavens on their trampoline as he listens. You can fill sensory bins with nativity pieces that your child can search for and set up. A fun round of hopscotch can help with memorizing the ten commandments. Small pillow shields and wrapping paper roll swords can bring David and Goliath to life. A toy boat, plastic animals, and bathtime create a memorable watery environment for a retelling of Noah’s ark. There’s no shortage of ways you can use your God-given imagination in order to disciple your young ones. Discipling atypical children well often means getting creative and thinking outside the box!
Your atypical child may not always look like they’re paying attention to what’s being taught, but we still are called to train them up in the way of the Lord.
Just like at mealtime, we continue to feed our children despite knowing they at times they may not eat it all, devour some offerings, pick at others, or even turn their little noses up at the entire plate, we also diligently feed our children the scriptures. We do this trusting that God will continue to nourish their bodies and souls.
God commands us to train up our children in the way they should go even when we see little to no evidence of our efforts. We plant seeds, water them, protect them from the elements when needed, and at the end of the day, we trust the good Lord to do what only He can–grow them (Prov 22:6). The farmer is under no illusion that he can physically force a seed to bring forth plants or produce. Rather, he educates himself about his environment and the harvest he hopes to reap, and then he tailors his care accordingly, while waiting for his hard work to bear fruit. We as disciple-makers are called to do the same. Discipling atypical children well means having faith that God will nourish the soul with the seeds He helps us plant.
All children can be difficult at times, but atypical children can be particularly challenging.
Our patience, selflessness, generosity, and self-control are all tested daily, and usually for periods far longer than most. We may not have dependent children home for just eighteen years, but potentially for the rest of our earthly lives. This reality can push us more quickly into fatigue and exhaustion. Because of this, we must learn to fully rely on the Lord to sustain us. While it can feel like we have wider hurdles and taller obstacles than others, God is still God and He provides the way for us to continue to run our race with endurance (Heb 12:1).
On days that we feel weak, we must not forsake our own training, but grab our Bible and find a few minutes in a quiet corner to study God’s word. When our kids go to sleep at night and we want to crash, we must set time aside to meditate on and memorize the scriptures. By developing these daily habits, God will teach us the discipline of perseverance, and walk beside us as we proceed toward the crown that awaits us (1 Cor. 9:25). When we are faithful in our stewardship over the precious souls God entrusted to us, He promises to renew our strength and sustain us (Is 40:31). Discipling atypical children well means diving headlong into the Word and continually dying to oneself for our children’s good and God’s glory.
The world will try to conform you and your atypical child to its definition of what’s important.
To the world, your child must be able to spell their name, properly set a kitchen table, and self-dress if you want them to have a “fulfilled” life on this earth. Christian parents should arm themselves against such things. One’s hope for a fulfilling life doesn’t hinge on our kids’ capacity to add or subtract. Toilet training won’t determine one’s happiness, and academic achievements won’t elevate one’s worthiness or value.
When it comes to our children, we must never lose sight of the end goal: to see them walking with Jesus. If we teach our children all the math, science, history, and language arts the world has to offer but none of them know God or the gospel, we have taught nothing of worth. Academic success, worldly achievements, and temporal gain pale in comparison to the cross. Discipling atypical children well means setting our eyes on things above and remembering that their souls should be tended to first and foremost (Col. 3:2).
Discipling atypical children is not easy. But when we study our children, determine how they learn best, labor faithfully, sow truth, and trust that God will do the rest, what a joy and comfort it is! We can trust that God is sovereignly in control over our child’s physical and spiritual growth, regardless of any disability or diagnosis, and we praise His name for the precious gift He has given us.
Lindsay Armstrong is a stay-at-home mother of three, navigating the world of autism from a biblical worldview. You can follow her at @autismotherhood