Books that Spark podcast cover with a topic on Books about special needs and helping kids gain understanding

Episode 181: Special Books for Special Needs

In this episode, we talk about books about special needs to gain understanding and appreciation for each person’s uniqueness. This is our last episode for Season 6, and we’ll be back for Season 7 in four weeks. We will post some replay and updated episodes for you during the break. 

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Books Discussed in This Episode:

Show Notes/Transcript with Links:


Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books that help us with everyday discipleship, every day, sparking important conversations with our children.


Hi everyone. I’m so glad you’re here today. I’ve been wanting to share some of these books for quite some time and today is the day. As you know, I have raised four children with my husband and three of those four are on the autism spectrum. The other fourth one has had her own things that she’s had to deal with throughout her life, such as anorexia, anxiety, the normal things that kids deal with. And so I’ve experienced a little bit as a teacher and as a mom dealing with special needs kids and special needs adults and so they’re near and dear to my heart. We’ve done ministry with special needs adults and children in church on mission trips and just in life in general.


I have found some really beautiful books that have helped us and have helped others to walk through these unexpected situations in our lives. And I know every parent has something unexpected that they have to deal with. So I want to share some books for the parents as well today and for those who want to minister within Sunday schools and Bible studies with special needs kids. I’ve got some great resources we’re going to talk about. And then I want to just share some great books that deal with some of the other special needs that I’m familiar with. And so I know these books are really good because I’m familiar with these concerns, with these disabilities, with these special needs. One of the things that I experienced as a mom with special needs kids is feeling ignored in church–feeling like nobody wants to address your issues or help or they don’t know how to.


I don’t think they’re trying to be mean; I just think they aren’t sure how to approach the situation. They also don’t want to draw attention to your children if that would make you feel uncomfortable. And so they want you to feel comfortable, but they don’t know how to make you feel comfortable is kind of how I felt about it being the pastor’s wife made it especially interesting in some of our situations and I just never really got to worship when my kids were little. My whole focus was just on them. And I know that that’s true. Whether you have special needs kids or not, if you have your kids in church with you and they’re little, you’re not going to get to worship like you would if they weren’t there because you have to focus on them. So your focus is divided. So sometimes because of all that we’re doing with our kids during the week, we’re exhausted by Sunday and our whole life is just exhausting.


That is one thing to just remember that if you can help give the parents a break, if you can help have a children’s church or Bible study time with the children where the parents can have their own Bible study time, that this is such an enormous blessing to these families because they know their children are loved and cared for and being watched after. And they can then feel free to relax and enjoy the time with other adults and get to study the Bible themselves. So even if you don’t know how to meet every need or do something for every situation, at least you can provide a safe environment for children. Let them have some time to worship and to learn about Jesus while their parents get that hour or whatever, to really dig into the scripture and talk to other adults and have some time together.


It was one of the few places I also could share my heart. And when I was just so beat up and so beat down with just being exhausted from all that we were carrying. One day in Sunday school I just shared my heart and one of the ladies in the Sunday school said, I’m coming to your house. And she told me what day, like Thursday night, and you and your husband are going to dinner, and I’m going to watch the kids. And it was like I started crying. You know, nobody had offered to do that. And it was amazing to have that opportunity. She even brought pizza and drinks for the kids and gave us money to go out to dinner because we were broke back then. Money was so tight, it was such a blessing. But anyway, there are some books to read with our kids that will help them be more aware of church and ministry and also special needs and how they can be a part of helping others and blessing them as well. And this will also help us to open up that conversation with our kids that if they do have someone in their classroom who is a little bit different than they can know what to expect and not feel like it’s such a strange thing. Let’s dive in and talk about some of these books that I think are so fantastic.


So the first book I want to talk about is When I Go to Church, I Belong, and this is by Elrena Evans. She’s also written one of the adult books I want to share with you as well in a minute. But this is a picture book and it’s illustrated by Rebecca Evans. And in this book they talk a lot about all different kinds of situations, not just autism, not just you know, specific disabilities, but many different situations they deal with. And so they talk about how the child feels accepted, the child feels safe, and when they’re afraid there’s a helper there who can come and talk to them when they’re overwhelmed by overstimulation. There’s a place where they can sit with their family or with a helper that is quiet and they can put on headphones and not be overwhelmed and overstimulated. And so I love that this book is helping a child understand that other children have different needs and so we need to just be kind to one another. But as adults reading this, it gives us ideas of how we can very easily accommodate some of these children’s needs so that we can minister to their families. So it’s a fantastic book and I think it would be a great one for everyone to read.


And this one is not specifically about special needs, but I just love it because it does deal with church and it’s by Jared Kennedy, illustrated by Trish Mahoney. And it’s called God Made Me for Worship: Helping Children Understand Church. And I just like it because it’s kind of a companion book in a way that’s talking about church and talking about what worship is. And so I think between the two books that it helps us really have some good conversations with our children and what to expect at church, what to do at church, what it means to worship, what it means to minister to others. And it’s just great. These are both great tools for us to use.


Now another book that I just love, it’s not a Christian book, this is a general market picture book, but I love, love, love this book. And it’s called Playing Possum by Jennifer Black Reinhardt. It is about this little possum who’s so shy, he just plays dead and he meets this little armadillo who when she gets scared, she rolls up in a ball, they meet some other friends. And what’s fun about this book is you have science mixed with dealing with emotional education as well is they meet all these different animals and it talks about how they respond when they’re afraid and what happens. And so you’ve got the possum who plays dead, you’ve got the armadillo rolls up in a ball, they meet all these new friends who each have their own anxiety, their own issue that they’re dealing with and how they deal with it. And they wind up feeling comfortable enough that they can become friends. And so this book is just wonderful for that kind of a conversation for that kind of a topic.


Another one that I like that’s along the same lines a little bit as Invisible Boy, and I’ve talked about it before. I really like that book as well because it deals with a child who’s not automatically accepted and is kind of excluded from his group. It’s a really great book as well. Invisible Boy, he doesn’t necessarily have a special need, he just is a very creative child, and he’s kind of introverted and so the other kids don’t include him a lot of the times. But this book is by Trudy Ludwig and it’s a wonderful book as well. And those are both general market books playing Possum and The Invisible Boy.


There are some books that deal with specific disabilities, and one is an old book Reading Rainbow Book. That’s how old this book is, but if you can find a copy of it, it is one of the most precious books about a child who is deaf. And it’s called, I Have a Sister, My Sister Is Deaf by Jean Whitehouse Peterson. The pictures by Deborah Cogan Ray are beautiful. They’re sketches, they look like pencil sketches throughout the book, but she talks about her experience of having a little sister who’s deaf and how she deals with that. And it’s just very matter-of-fact how they go through their day and what she does and how she gets her attention. And I just think it’s so beautifully done. So I highly recommend that one if you can find a copy of it at the library or even buy your own copy. Mine is very worn out because I’ve had it for years and read it many times to my students. I just really think it’s well well done.


In my family, we’ve dealt with autism, and like I said, anxiety, we’ve also dealt with clefts. Two of my children were born with cleft lips, cleft palate. So I have some books about clefts, and craniofacial awareness month is in July, I believe it is. And so these are some books you could give to families who are finding out they’re going to have a cleft baby. Because we have 4D imaging now or whatever that is that they do that’s so detailed, parents will know way ahead of time usually that they are having a cleft baby. They don’t know what to expect, they don’t know what it’s going to be like, and they’re usually quite nervous about it. And I’m in a group online where we minister to each other and answer questions, and of course, you know, the things they know now compared to what they knew when my kids were born are different. But we share our experiences and one thing that most people don’t understand about clefts is that you’re dealing with it for years. It’s not a, you know, when they’re born they do a surgery and then they’re done. This is something that is a process that will not be finished until they either are teenagers or adults. My children are adults and they are still going through surgeries and procedures partly because of their autism, some of it was delayed. They should have been finished around their 16th, 17th birthday, but they’re still going strong with their treatments and all they have to do. They also often have to have occupational therapy and speech therapy. And so there’s a lot more going on other than just surgeries. Craniofacial differences can be more than clefts as well and it can also involve the midline of the body. So they may even have heart defects and other things going on. So just being aware that this is much bigger than the family. First of all, they may not have expected it if they didn’t do ultrasounds and they didn’t do the imaging. They wouldn’t even necessarily know it’s going to happen. And then second, when they do, if they’re like me, they think it’s just, oh, let’s go sew the lip closed; we’re done. And it’s a lifelong process or at least a very many-year-long process.


So here are some books that you can give to families or read yourself to learn more about Clefts. One is Jack’s New Smile: Having a Baby with Cleft Lip and Palate. And this is just a wonderful little book. These are all very short paperback books you can get on Amazon. And this is written by social workers and medical doctors. So it’s written by Ruth Trivelpiece, Suzanne West and Jennifer Rhodes and illustrated by Brooke Nunez. So this little book tells a lot about having a baby with a cleft and kind of what to expect.


Another one for when the Baby’s first born is I See a Smile: Preparing Families for a Baby with a Cleft Lip. And this is written by LaTasha Reinhardt and illustrated by Emily Hercock. This book is really little, but it is a wonderful book written by a family, what they went through preparing the big brother for the baby coming home with a special smile. We often refer to a cleft as having a wide smile because that’s how we look at it. You fall in love with that baby’s face once they’re born. It’s your baby, and you love that baby, and that’s what they look like. It’s not something that is scary or anything like that. One of the main things with dealing with clefts is children want to know if it hurts and to let them know that that child is not in pain usually; they’re fine; it doesn’t hurt. They might have trouble eating or they might eat, you know, a little bit sloppy, like the food may come through their nose sometimes and just to not make it a scary thing but just let them know this is the way it works and it’s okay.


Those are the special needs that we’ve dealt with in our family: clefting, autism, anxiety, and then of course the anorexia that my daughter went through, how we got through all of that. And we’ve done a podcast interview with my daughter about her experiences with that. And I will put the link in show notes if you want to listen to that interview as well. I think we did it as a special one, not one that’s on my website all the time but I’ll put that link there and you can listen to her experience and how we got through it, why it was so important to keep conversations going.


So many times with when we’re dealing with a child with special needs, if they’re experiencing bullying or teasing or they’re struggling with how they feel about something or they have questions they want answered, we need to be able to open up those conversations. And of course with autism, we do have the situation where sometimes they are not verbal and that makes it very difficult. But when our children are verbal to help them put words to their feelings, words to their questions so that we can keep conversations going with anorexia, that’s just vital. If we can’t keep the conversation going, it’s really quite scary.


I want to mention one last book that I think is just beautifully done for the picture book section and that is God Made Me Unique and this is by Joni Eareckson Tada and Friends or Joni and Friends. And it’s just a really well-done book. It’s a beautiful little picture book. And so that’s another one I think is awesome, and it shows a lot of different kids dealing with different things again in this book. So it’s not specific to one special need.


Okay, now for books for parents, I have a few I’d like to share with you that I have found really helpful. One is Leading a Special Needs Ministry by Amy Fenton Lee. And this book just outlines ideas of how to begin a special needs ministry and how simply we can do that and, and just gives you ideas of what that involves. Anytime we’re doing a ministry, it takes our time, it takes our energy and it requires us to learn. If we want to do a ministry well, we need to learn. I remember one of the first times I went in to minister in a Sunday school class with special needs adults. I overwhelmed them. I was trying to teach them a song in sign language, and I was saying we could maybe share it with the church at Christmas. And several of them had like total panic because I scared them with the idea, and they were talking about wanting to do a song for Christmas. But the way I presented it, I overwhelmed them. And so I learned very quickly to be more careful in how I introduced something or an idea that we cannot overwhelm people. And so it, you know, it’s learning things like that that help us do a better job. Thankfully people are gracious and they understand we’re trying to learn, and so I just backed off and said, no, no, no, don’t worry, we don’t have to do anything, let’s just have fun. And so we were fine, but I just learned that I had, you know, jumped the gun and went a little too far too fast. So anyway, learning these kinds of things, well this book deals with those kinds of ideas and ideas of how to get your rooms ready and those kind of practical ideas.


A devotional that I really like is by Elrena Evans, who wrote the first book I shared with you. It’s called Special Grace: Prayers and Reflections for Families with Special Needs. It talks about her experiences with her special needs kids, what she went through at church, what she went through with school, but then it has prayers in there for you to pray together or to pray for your kids and scripture. And it’s a very unique book the way it’s written, but I found it really a great blessing to read that book.


Then another devotional book with a forward by Joni Eareckson Tada is Unbroken Faith: Spiritual Recovery for the Special Needs Parent. And this is by Diane Dokko Kim, and I’ve heard her speak. I’ve met her at different writers’ conferences, and she’s just a wonderful person to talk to and her son is doing so well. He has autism and he’s just amazing. Her book is just really a blessing. It’s devotionals for families and I can’t read it without crying because she so hits the nail on the head. She knows exactly how you’re feeling and what you’re going through. I mean, it’s just really, really well-written.


I wanted to share two books with you also since we mentioned anorexia, even though it’s not necessarily considered special needs, it is a ministry, and it is a need. So one book that I found very helpful as a parent is called, First You Cry: A Handbook of Hope for Families by Diane McLaughlin Meraglia with Alfred Ellis. So this book is devotional as well as informational to help you as you walk through this with your child and with your family. The thing that’s so hard with anorexia is some children are in self-destruct mode, and you can’t do anything about it. You feel very helpless as a family and as a parent. And like I said, we felt that as long as we could keep the conversation going, we would come out okay. And I would, I am so thrilled to tell you that my daughter now has overcome with the help of God in her life, and it’s still a struggle to keep her mind where it ought to be. She said it’s always there, there’s always this little voice in her head telling her that she’s not perfect, but she’s accepting that now, and she’s dealing with that and she eats very healthily and she also exercises, but she’s not over exercising. She used to either over exercise or undereat or both, and it was really frightening. She got to the point where she was having chest pains and passing out, and I didn’t know how much longer she would be able to survive if we didn’t get her help.


Then the other book that we found helpful going through that was Life Without Ed and of course Ed is Eating Disorder. How one woman declared Independence from Her Eating Disorder and How You Can Too by Jenni Schaefer with Thom Rutledge. And this book really helped my daughter. She also found some great websites and blogs, podcasts that helped her as well. And talking to people who’ve been through it was tremendously helpful.


And the reason I want to share that is because we have so much shame in our lives about different things like this, and if we can just step out of our fear and share our stories, we can help others walk through it too. In 2 Corinthians, that’s exactly what God says. You’ve survived this, you’ve come through this so that you can help someone else go through what you’ve experienced, whether it’s a temptation, an addiction, or if it’s some sort of an eating disorder or just a struggle with depression or whatever you have gone through, you look around you, and God will bring into your life people who need to hear your story and who need your help. If we have hearts of ministry and compassion like we’re supposed to have as believers in Christ, we’re not just going to pray for someone, we’re going to minister to them as well. Yeah, we need to pray for them. That’s tremendously helpful, and it is very powerful. But we also can do more than that most of the time. Most of the time we can also minister in other ways, and I would just like to challenge all of us to keep our minds on that, to be open for God to open our eyes and help us see around us the people who need the help that we can offer, the people who need to hear our story and we can share and even if we don’t share our story, that we can just show compassion because we’ve been there and we understand. It’s so important. People need to know they’re not alone and that they’re not the only ones walking through this.


It’s just so hard to see your children struggle, whether they’re struggling with special needs or they’re struggling with an eating disorder or struggling with fear. We, our hearts ache for our kids, and we want to see them succeed. We want to see them happy and fulfilled, and I think some days we’re never going to get there. You know, it’s so hard to watch your children struggle, and we know in reality we all struggle. Life is never easy. This world is full of sin and just problems, and so life is going to be hard. Life is going to be a struggle, but overall we pray and pray and hope that our children will find fulfillment, will draw close to the Lord and follow him, and that their lives will also be light to this world and salt to the earth. I want to encourage you today that whatever you’re walking through, whatever struggles you’re having with your children, that God knows and that God doesn’t make mistakes.


He does call us to special ministries even within our own families, and he equips us for those ministries. I remember the first time a pastor told me that my children were not a mistake. I cried. Just having someone say Your child is not a mistake was so powerful. Our children were born for a reason. They have a purpose just as much as anyone else. God has a plan. God can use anyone and anything in our lives to help us grow and can use our children’s lives to help other people in their walk. And he has a plan for them, and we just need to trust in that plan. Trust him.


I would love to hear from you, what are your experiences? What have you gone through? What books have you found helpful as you’re walking through your particular situation and your need? And if there isn’t a book about your situation or the problem that your child is going through, is God calling you to tell your story in more than just talking about it but also writing it down. You never know. It might be that that’s what he wants for you to do. I hope you’re blessed today and I hope you feel God’s presence with you, whatever you’re walking through, that he is carrying you, he is with you. He never leaves you nor forsakes you. And he is with you and with your children and he loves you dearly.


Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” where we encourage each other to grasp those teachable moments sparked by great books and to live out everyday discipleship, helping to equip our children to follow Christ with their whole hearts. If you enjoyed this episode, please like and share on social media so people know we are here or leave comments on one of the podcast host sites. We truly appreciate you. If you would like to connect with me, you can join my mailing list or comment on We love to hear from you, and we respond to every comment and question. We pray you feel empowered as a parent or caregiver to walk by faith and to embrace everyday discipleship every day with the children in your life.

Your Host: Terrie Hellard-Brown

Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.

Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.

Her blog posts discuss living as a disciple of Christ while parenting our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ and to use the nooks and crannies of our lives to disciple our children.

Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.

Her motto is “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be WONDERFUL” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

Child reading a book with animals around her

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