What’s your favorite part about being a Switch leader? Most likely, it’s connecting with students to show them how much Jesus loves them regardless of their background, social skills, emotional needs, sensory needs, cognitive abilities, and physical abilities. But some of the students we’re trying to reach need more support than what you as an individual small group leader can give. That’s where Switch Support leaders and peer mentors step in.
When you recognize that a student needs extra support, you can enlist the help of the Switch Support leaders at your campus. They may sit with you in small group discussions, using sensory tools to help a student stay focused. They may give an overwhelmed student a safe place to take a quiet break if needed. Peer mentors are dedicated friends to students who may feel lost, lonely, or overwhelmed at Switch without them. This article will explain more about what Switch Support leaders do and the students they may serve.
Before you read on, though, take note of this. A student may have an identified difference or disability, but that does not always mean they need additional support. Switch Support is for any student who is dysregulated and demonstrating that their emotional, cognitive, or sensory systems are overloaded for any reason. For example: A student with Down Syndrome may be able to participate in Switch without any additional support. Or, a student without any known disability might be dealing with a new foster placement. That student may require extra assistance to be able to stay comfortable at Switch. This list will give you some examples of a few of the special needs students who use Switch Support display.
What Do Switch Support Leaders Do?
- A one-on-one Switch Support leader provides one-on-one leadership and attention to any student who needs it. Switch Support leaders consistently work with and get to know the student so the student will feel safe. The student will be safer, too, because there is an extra set of hands and eyes to monitor the student’s needs. A one-on-one support leader may work with a student for several weeks, months, or years as needed.
- On-call Switch Support leaders work with Switch staff.
- They can work with any new students who may arrive at the campus whose family specifically asks for extra support.
- They work with campus staff to identify and work with students who may need extra support.
- Example: Any student can have an “off” day, causing them to display challenging behavior that requires extra support. At the discretion of the staff, the on-call Switch Support leader can work with you in your small group to support a student so you can focus on your small group more easily. They may step in and out to help other students as needed.
- Switch Support leaders partner with the whole family. It’s stressful for moms or dads who are sometimes called to pick their student up from Switch due to challenging behaviors. A family with a Switch Support leader can enjoy peace of mind because the leader works closely with them to learn what works at home or school, and helps apply those methods to offer a consistent, effective experience at Switch for the student.
- A Switch Support leader is not always needed. The goal of Switch Support is to provide one-on-one support for only as long as it’s needed. A student may have a developmental breakthrough in Switch at any point. When they’re able to participate in Switch using the same supports as their peers, their assigned Switch Support leader can begin to work with a new family.
- Switch Support leaders aren’t meant to follow around every student with differences. A parent dropped off a student to Switch and mentioned they have autism. Do you need a Switch Support leader’s help? Maybe not.
- Switch Support leaders are an incredible blessing to students who need them, but they’re not a catch-all, mandatory support system to be called in simply because of a student’s diagnosis.
- Be confidential about a label or diagnosis the parent told you about unless it becomes obvious the student needs additional support.
- Many students with differences don’t demonstrate challenging behaviors and may just need more time to get used to their new environment.
- Switch Support leaders reinforce the curriculum with a student at the student’s level. A great Switch Support leader will figure out what their student is interested in and will use that as their starting point for bringing Scripture and God’s love into the student’s world. Creative strategies include:
- Learning ways to communicate with a student who is non-verbal
- Singing to a student who doesn’t respond well to speech
- Using a sensory fidget support to help a student calm and refocus
Who Are the Students a Switch Support Leader Might Work With?
It’s worth repeating: A student may have an identified difference or disability, but that does not always mean they need additional support. Switch Support is for any student who is dysregulated and demonstrating their emotional, cognitive, or sensory systems are overloaded for any reason. For example: A student might be dealing with a new foster placement. That student may require extra assistance to be able to stay comfortable at Switch. This list will give you some examples of a few of the special needs students who use Switch Support display.
A student has an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
- This student may have difficulty with language. They may not be able to speak and may not understand all the words they hear. A student with autism may have an enormous vocabulary but may be unable to talk about anything outside of their special interest area (such as Fortnite or sports cars).
- This student may not have age-appropriate social skills like sharing, turn-taking, waiting, etc. They may not understand that the adult leaders are also the authority at Switch. They may have no interest in interacting with other students (or you).
- This student may become easily overstimulated by their senses. They may seem to overreact to smells or become very upset if they touch something sticky. They may strongly dislike touch, even a gentle one. Or, they may crave deep pressure like a bear hug.
- They may want to repeat an activity they like nearly endlessly. For example, they may like to flick a light switch on and off for hours or sit on the floor and rock back and forth.
A student has a vision impairment.
- This student may be blind, have low vision, or have a modified field of vision. They may need support to follow visually cued directions, to move around the experience, to interact with other students, or to follow along with videos.
A student has a hearing impairment.
- This student will have hearing loss. They may hear your words very faintly, or they may hear no sound at all. They may need support to follow audial directions, to interact with other students, or to follow along with videos.
A student has a physical disability.
- This student may come to Switch in a wheelchair, have braces on their legs, or have other mobility or dexterity limitations. Many students with physical disabilities do well in our rooms without any extra support. Some may have additional needs and will benefit from extra support.
A student has a significant Attention Deficit Disorder and/or Hyperactivity Disorder.
- This student may not be able to focus or may become distracted very easily.
- This student may be hyperactive, have difficulty calming down after stimulating physical activity, or may be restless when transitioning from hangout time in the lobby to more structured group activities, like sitting with small groups during the message.
- This student may have trouble complying with requests and directions quickly. It may be difficult for them to switch focus from what they’re doing to what you have asked them to do.
A student has Sensory Integration Disorder or a Sensory Processing Disorder.
- This student’s senses work together in atypical or unexpected ways.
- They may have difficulty processing more than one sense at a time. For example, they may have to alternate between watching your face and listening to your words.
- They may dislike a gentle pat on the shoulder, but love a big bear hug (or vice versa).
A student has a seizure disorder.
- This student has a neurologic condition that may cause a brief disruption in the function of their body or mind. They may blink, fall asleep, convulse, need to be reoriented to time and place, have a change in mood, or their behavior may be affected.
- They may need to wear a helmet to keep them safe in case of a fall.
- They may need to remain outside the auditorium and participate from the lobby during worship if lights trigger their seizure activity.
A student has Down Syndrome.
- The student will be behind their peers developmentally. They may have fewer words or be less coordinated than other students, or they may have trouble taking turns and interacting with peers in a socially appropriate way.
- About half of students with Down Syndrome may also have a vision or hearing problem.
A student has a history of neglect or abuse.
- They may have severe trust issues.
- They may need extra support to feel safe and secure in their surroundings.
- They may respond to adult authority in unexpected ways. For example, they may obey instructions given only by leaders of a specific gender or be overly timid or defiant around adults.
The bottom line? If you’re becoming frustrated or overwhelmed by challenging behaviors or feel like a student is unable to receive from Switch, a Switch Support leader may be able to help that student become better regulated and to better understand what God wants to do in their life. Switch Support leaders and peer mentors can assist you as you lead everyone in your group to feel included and safe enough to let down their guard and join their peers as they follow Christ together.