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Most families with special needs children do not receive the nurture, support and care of a local congregation. That’s what my friend Bill Neal, president of Developmental Disabilities Ministries, told me recently.

The reason, he explained, is that most churches simply do not provide places for their children to worship, learn and feel accepted.

So the organization he leads is hosting an excellent opportunity for church leaders, parents and others to learn more about this important area of ministry. The “Opening New Worlds” conference will be held April 17-18 at Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, Ga., just east of Atlanta.

A Friday morning session (10AM-12PM) titled “Autism 101” will help church educators and others to better understand and relate to autistic persons. Workshops throughout the afternoon will address a variety of other important topics.

Here are some examples: “Starting a special needs ministry in you church,” “Accessibility is more than a ramp,”Home adaptations for people with disabilities,” “Special diets for people with special needs,” and “Transforming challenging behaviors.”

Parents and other caregivers, church ministers and volunteers, and any other persons looking for good answers to questions about ministering to and with families with special needs will want to participate.

Practical information is not the only offering. Two inspirational events are also on the schedule.

Paralympic champion Al Mead will speak at the Friday luncheon. And Patrick Henry Hughes — featured in ABC’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition — will perform in a closing concert beginning at 12:30PM on Saturday afternoon.

For detailed information and registration, visit the DDM website, email or call 1-888-340-5820. Special rates are available for those coming from the same church.

Church leaders often talk about reaching out widely. Here is a chance to broaden that embrace.

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