Special needs in parish and school

For many persons with special needs, who are abandoned or alone, the Church‘s institutions, who welcome them, are often their only families. The Synod expresses profound gratitude and deep appreciation to these institutions. The process of integrating people with special needs into society is more difficult because of an enduring stigma and prejudice — even to the point of a theorisation based on eugenics. On the contrary, many families, communities and ecclesial movements become aware of and celebrate the gifts of God in these people with special needs, particularly their unique communication skills and ability to bring people together... If the family, in the light of the faith, accepts the presence of people with special needs, they will be able to recognise and guarantee the quality and value of every human life, with its proper needs, rights and opportunities. (The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World, the Final Report of the Synod of Bishops to the Holy Father, Pope Francis. 24 October 2015)

The awareness that all people are made in the image and likeness of God and are therefore to be accorded dignity and respect, guides our attitude to those who have special needs. Special needs may be a condition that some are born with or something that develops later in life as a result of sickness or old age.  Whatever the situation there is a need for parishes and schools to welcome and ease the access of these people.

‘Valuing Difference people with disabilities in the life and mission of the church’ was a Bishops’ conference document of 1998, it still has validity and can be downloaded from the Bishops’ conference website.

In a parish there are many ways that those with special needs can be welcomed, just a few ideas might include: a loop system for those with hearing difficulties, large print newsletters and Mass books for those with sight difficulty. A comfortable chair, space for a wheel chair and easy access to toilets.

The series of books I Call You Friends, published by the National Project to deliver religious education for children not in Catholic schools, includes those with special needs.

A range of Widgit symbol supported text, developed by the special needs adviser Liz O’Brien is available on line to match most of the activities and all the prayers in the programme.  

The RECD 2012 recognises that RE should be accessible for all pupils. The NBRIA levels of attainment contain ‘P’ scales to chart the progress in R.E. of  pupils with a range of learning disabilities. They are based on experiences, expressions of feelings, listening and awareness, recognition and simple ritual actions. 

The primary R.E programme Come and See also provides many activities to accommodate different learning styles and abilities. There is online an extended range of activities particularly for pupils who benefit from a multi-sensory approach and who are reliant on use of symbol supported text resources to assist with communication, plus a multi-sensory resource bank for all the themes.