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5 stories about what really matters in our interactions with individuals who have special needs

by | Jun. 03, 2020

The June 2020 Ensign is full of stories on the topic of those with special needs and circumstances. Written from the perspectives of loved ones, teachers, and those with special needs, the articles share insights on focusing on individuals rather than their challenges and on bringing the Spirit into every situation.

Special Lessons

Elder Paul B. Pieper of the Seventy and his wife, Melissa T. Pieper, said there are special lessons they have learned from having a child with special needs. For example, they have learned to focus on what their daughter Dora can do rather than what she can’t do. Her smile and her hugs brighten everyone’s day, and she has a gift for making others feel loved.

“With those amazing gifts, why would we ever want to define her as ‘disabled’ or ‘handicapped’? She has influenced hundreds of lives for good simply by being who she is and doing what she does,” the Piepers wrote.

They also believe that while Heavenly Father could heal Dora if it was His will, she may not be healed until the Resurrection. But whenever it happens, they look forward to that day.

“It takes as much faith to accept God’s will that these precious ones not be healed now as it does to believe that He can heal them now,” the Piepers continued. "Dora was sent to us with a purpose, and we have felt cautioned not to seek why but to ask Heavenly Father what He wants us to learn.”

Read “Special Needs, Special Lessons.”

The Gospel is Still True in the Foyer

Caroline McClellan is 17 years old, but functions at a three-month-old level, said her father Jeffrey S. McClellan. Whenever she is being especially loud during church, McClellan, his wife, or a ward member will take Caroline out into the foyer and help calm her.

► You may also like: Mental Disabilities at Church: How Ward Members and Parents Can Help

Once, in an attempt to calm his daughter prior to the sacrament, McClellan sang the words of the sacrament hymn to Caroline and came to a powerful realization.

“I looked into Caroline’s big blue eyes and felt deeply the tender, personal truth of those words. Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world, loves Caroline with a boundless love. When she is sad or hurting, when her parents are clueless and incapable of comforting her, there is One who is her Everlasting Friend, who knows how she feels and how to succor her.

“I felt the Spirit in the foyer that day, and I was impressed with this thought: The gospel is still true in the foyer.”

McClellan continued, “We all spend time in the foyer, figuratively speaking. We each face challenges that make us feel on the margins of the congregation. But the gospel is still true in the foyer.”

Read “What My Daughter’s Disability Taught Me about Grace.”

Baptism

The Steed’s son David was approaching baptism. But since David has autism, his parents wondered if he should be baptized and whether he was ready for that commitment. They decided to seek revelation and search out doctrinal insights on the matter. Here are a few of the things they considered:

  • • The age of accountability versus accountability: An individual’s accountability is determined by “both his wishes and his level of understanding.”
  • • Disabilities and innocence: According to Doctrine and Covenants 137:10, “all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven.”
  • • Asking a child how he or she feels about getting baptized: David had a desire to be baptized to be like Jesus.

Read “Is My Child with a Disability Ready to Be Baptized?”

► You may also like: All In Podcast—3 Things Every Parent of a Child With Special Needs Should Have

Seeing Beyond the Wheelchair

Vance Taylor was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at age 7. Although his doctor said that Taylor would be unable to accomplish much during his life, he has since graduated from high school, college, and graduate school. Now, he is also a husband, father, and working professional. However, “some struggle to see beyond my wheelchair and consider the strength, value, and contribution that I can offer,” Taylor wrote.

But one Saturday while at college at Brigham Young University, Taylor shared how his friends did the opposite, by helping him up the Y mountain in Provo, Utah. Since his wheelchair didn’t have a seat belt, they strapped him in using their neckties, carrying him pharaoh-style up the many switchbacks. Even though the journey became harder and the rests more frequent, no one uttered a complaint, determined to “achieve what seemed impossible.”

Read “Hiking to the Y in My Wheelchair.”

Inclusion and Unity

Want to include and better support deaf individuals in your congregation? Try to make meaningful connections with them by seeking interpreters for sign language in your stake, ward, or branch. Interpreting agencies, FaceTime, or other video chat apps can also be a good way to communicate.

► You may also like: 7 Gospel Words with Powerful Meanings in Sign Language That Might Change How You Think of Them

Other options include learning sign language, becoming an interpreter, or asking if the deaf members in your congregation are willing to teach a sign language class as well as extending callings to them.

Finding creative ways to use the resources in the Gospel Library app and on ChurchofJesusChrist.org in sign language may also be helpful.

Read “Supporting and Including Members Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing.”

Read more stories about individuals with special needs and circumstances in the Ensign.

Featured image of Dora Pieper from ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
Danielle christensen

Danielle Christensen

Danielle is a features writer and editor for LDS Living. Previously, she served as web producer for Church News, where she managed their website and social media platforms. Danielle is a graduate of Brigham Young University in English and has been published with Deseret NewsChurch NewsBYU Magazine, and Spires Intercollegiate Arts and Literary Magazine.

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