Welcome to LifeKids Buddies! If you’ve served even once in the Buddies program, you probably know that it can be both an overwhelming joy—and a challenge. Sometimes we flat-out don’t know what to do when we see unusual behavior in kids. Don’t worry, I totally understand, and a few years ago, I was there too.
My name’s Addison. I have a sister with special needs. She has Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and for almost five years my family really struggled to understand how to help her. We had no idea what made her anxious and what made her comfortable, and sometimes it can be extremely frustrating. Here are some tips and tricks that I’ve learned after years of living with my sister and working in a special needs program at my church. Hopefully they’ll help you be the best Buddy you can possibly be.
First things first. Imagine you have a toolbox when you go into the room with your special LifeKid. Imagine there are a hundred different tools in the toolbox. At first—you’re not sure which is the right tool for the job. You might not have much information about the child, such as the specific diagnosis, disabilities, or triggers, so you have to walk in prepared for anything. Remember your tools. Be ready to try out every tool you have until one works.
What tools do you have in your toolbox? Here are some we can all pick up and use.
- Using comforting physical touch
- Making up a quick distraction
- Having a playful interaction
- Changing the child’s location in the room
- Moving out of the child’s personal space
- Moving into the child’s one-on-one space
- Reducing eye-contact
- Singing a song
- Offering a sensory toy or a comfort object
In other articles, we’ll talk about some of the specific tools in more detail, For now, the main idea is that a Buddy must be flexible. When one tool doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean we’re failures, it just means that we need to try something else.
Don’t be afraid to be creative, and remember: work on being patient. What you’re doing matters and is working little by little, slowly but surely.
Try to use whatever is around you as you interact with your special LifeKids. Maybe it’s obvious things like toys or sensory items, but it could also be something you just happen to see around you that would make a fun or interesting distraction like a paper towel, shoes, or anything else you can think of. Don’t be afraid to be creative, and remember: work on being patient. What you’re doing matters and is working little by little, slowly but surely. Sometimes results aren’t immediate because special needs kids have a tendency to have anxiety about change, even if it’s a very small thing. So don’t give up. One tool may not work the first week, but maybe it will the next week, and vice versa. Be patient with the child, but also with yourself.
Before you enter the room, always remember to ask God to give you wisdom so that you can make the child feel comfortable and loved while they attend church. Be patient, and never stop trying new things. I know it can be scary and sometimes we feel extremely unprepared, but try to focus on loving the kids. When you love the kids, it’s much easier to do everything you can to make them feel comfortable. You can do this!