News Articles

7/28/97 3 special-needs sons, divorce prompted dad to get involved

TUCSON, Ariz. (BP)–Divorce hits more than 80 percent of the families with a special-needs child. Weston Knipe knows. He’s a statistic.
Knipe, of Tucson, Ariz., married a woman with a developmentally disabled son. Two more were born into the family before she left in 1985.
“I became a bit angry,” Knipe said. “Where was the church in all this? I wanted to know. There needs to be something for families that addresses special needs, I said. Then God let me know I was the one to come up with the ‘something.'”
Knipe founded Special Family Ministry in 1987, two years after his wife left him with 2-, 6- and 8-year-old sons to rear. He had already left his high-paying job as an airline mechanic and, despite a lack of formal training, was working as a teacher’s assistant with special-needs children so he could be home when his sons were.
Special Family Ministry, sponsored by Catalina Baptist Association, offers counseling, training and a support group for parents with special-needs children and training for those who want to work with developmentally disadvantaged individuals.
Always there is a spiritual component, because that’s where Knipe, a longtime Southern Baptist, sees the need.
Special Family Ministry grew word-of-mouth from three to 24 families within its first two years. About 10 new families join each year.
“We set up a network of families that can support each other through prayer, shared experiences and encourage each other with spiritual support,” Knipe said.
“When I got started in this, the biggest cry was, ‘There’s no place for my child in Sunday school,'” Knipe continued. Bolstered by training he received in 1987 at the Congress of the Church and Disabled in Wheaton, Ill., he began training Sunday school teachers across the city.
The training focuses on the characteristics of various disabilities, relevant teaching techniques and adaptation of curriculum.
His biggest target group from the beginning has been special-needs adults. “Little ones we were trying to mainstream,” Knipe said. “By being mainstreamed they benefit from seeing the behavior of so-called ‘normal’ kids.
“But as children go into youth years, issues such as dating and sexuality are introduced, and in many cases must be handled differently for the developmentally disabled,” Knipe continued. “My oldest boy, Eddie, he will be listening to the conversation (in a regular class) and he might pick one part and is focused on it while the group goes on to something else.
“He might get bits and pieces, just enough to be dangerous,” Knipe said with a grin. “Our classes are much slower-paced and more simply stated — even for adults, because in many regular classes adults are really digging deep into various aspects of theology which would go way over the head of many of our students.”
Knipe operates Special Family Ministry with a donated $2,000 annual budget. His desk is his kitchen table.
The home he shares with his three sons in Tucson is unremarkable except that it is flat. There are no steps, not even a bump across a threshold. That’s because of Chris, who uses a wheelchair. Eddie and Tim are more mobile. The three boys and their dad work as a team, sharing household chores and activities.
“The disabled is one minority any of us can join at any time,” Knipe said. “Auto accident, swimming accident, slip while walking — who’s to know when it could happen to you? And the way you treat others might be the way you get treated if you join this minority.”
A minimum of 3 percent of the population is disabled, statistics show, Knipe said. The number is rising as the population is increasing.
“Treat the developmentally disadvantaged like you would any other person,” Knipe said. “They have feelings, emotions. They laugh and cry. They hurt — just like we do. Usually they’re a lot more loving.”