We are so grateful to Eden Prairie UMC for allowing The Ministry Lab to listen in as they prepared their Adaptive VBS for last summer. They have now been gracious enough to share their planning and several implementation materials with us. Thanks, Rachel Casper and the caring team at Eden Prairie UMC for this Great Idea!!
Rachel and her team discerned a giant gap in VBS curricula that was geared only toward neuro-typical kids. So she and an amazing group of adults adapted an existing curriculum to address the multi-sensory needs – and triggers – of kids on the autism spectrum.
We wrote this up at the outset of their efforts, last year. That intro may be helpful if you are new to the idea. Find our previous Adaptive VBS Great Idea here.
The planning and implementation Team was key to this VBS’s success. Members included parents of kids on the spectrum; an older adult who only recently was diagnosed with autism; and social workers and teachers with training and years of experience working with neurodiverse kids.
If you ask around, you will find these folx in your community, too. Parents, teachers, adults on the spectrum: they are everywhere! If no one in your congregations raises their hand, check at your local school and/or partner with another congregation in sharing this summer’s Adaptive VBS
OPEN HOUSE / CAMPER PREP
Preparing parents and kids for what to expect is an important step in the Adaptive VBS process. Create opportunities for community members to visit your church building, talk through daily schedules, learn about dietary needs, triggers, etc.
Allowing parents to notice the care and intentionality of your preparations will help them feel comfortable and confident leaving their children with you. Letting kids become acquainted with the space and hear and see what they can expect at ‘camp’ will help them adapt and feel ready to make this change in their daily summer schedule.
Registration forms were hugely helpful at EPUMC, which used them to get a record of all dietary needs, potential triggers, best interventions for each young person, and particular nuances that would enable leaders and mentors to work appropriately with each camper.
You can find their registration form here.
Training was carefully and intentionally created for all adults and youth. Be sure to create as safe, consistent, and responsive an environment as possible – for kids with diverse needs – with appropriate leader training.
You can access EPUMC’s leader training slideshow here.
Due to the variety of needs – physical, emotional, and dietary – EPUMC decided to shorten the length of the day and not include a meal.
Snacks were provided every day, based on kids’ limitations and abilities.
A key element to Adaptive VBS was the layout of the day: sessions that lasted too long would be a challenge for kids with short attention spans; but not long enough and other kids would struggle with the constant interruptions and changes.
You can get a sense of EPUMC’s daily flow from these agenda notes.
Given the diversity of needs, EPUMC decided to create at least one ‘Quiet Zone’ in the building. If a camper needed a time-out this safe space was a place to go where they knew they could have a few minutes of quite.
The leader/youth training included interventions to help distract a camper who got overwhelmed or triggered, along with ways to encourage taking a break in the Quiet Zone if/when that was needed.
The Quiet Zone was equipped with fidgets, coloring pages, and other quiet, single-person activities to provide options for how to de-escalate.
EPUMC invited kids on the spectrum from around the Twin Cities (we publicized on our website!) to join them, recognizing that this is a need for more people than just their congregation or Eden Prairie.
If you take the time and energy to create an Adaptive VBS, you may find greater participation by casting the net on the ‘other side’ – as in, cast it wide.
Many parents of children with autism have been shunned by worshiping communities who do not understand neurodiversity. They may be reluctant to re-enter a space that has been traumatic in the past.
But, parents and kids on the spectrum are looking for places to build community and thrive. Your Adaptive VBS could be one of those places. Be sure to learn and listen carefully to what parents and kids in your community are interested in, best practices, and specific individual’s needs and you can build a space that is safe, inviting, and faith-forming for kids who often are left on the margins of Christian community.