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How to help a loved one with a disability reach his or her potential

My oldest son has seizures, attention deficit disorder, asthma and has a mild mental disability. We suggest the following in helping a loved one with a disability reach his or her potential:

  • Do not blame yourself for your loved one's disability. In the case of the blind man, Jesus told His disciples that this is a test of faith, that neither he nor his parents had sinned.- Educate yourself and others. When people in our ward are afraid or don't understand, I tell them about my son and his progression.
  • Keep a journal. It will help you keep a balance and is a way to vent frustration and anger.
  • Treat your child with a disability with the same respect you give to the other children. They are all gifts from God.
  • Have faith in your loved one and yourself. If your child is 15, don't treat him like he is 3. I remember my son's first time on a slide. My husband had a fit. Our son was 4. Yes, he could fall down and have a seizure, but so could our 3-year-old daughter fall down and break an arm.
  • Don't leave them out of things. My son can fold his arms for prayers.
  • Remember that time is not important. Have an eternal perspective.
  • Pray for help, guidance. Do not cut yourself off from Heavenly Father.
  • Mirror what you see in your child. My son is a teacher of men. When it comes to understanding, forgiveness and unconditional love, he sees the best in mankind, and he never gripes about the unfairness. - Amada Minks, Sullivan, Mo.

How we did it:

Lift spirits

Recently I underwent major back surgery that has left me disabled. I used to be very active. Now, the hardest thing for me is I can't do many of the things I used to do. But as the old saying goes, you can always find something good in a bad situation. I now have more time to spend with my two sons. I also have the opportunity and time to study the scriptures.

I always remind myself that this condition is temporary, only a mortal situation. As far as what others can do to help me, the following is helpful:

  • Say, "It's nice to see you again."
  • Ask if there is anything as far as housework is concerned that could be done as a service project.

Most importantly, I know from my own experience that a disabled person needs to be around people who will bring their spirits up, who will support their efforts, and most of all will show their unconditional love. - Rebekah Snowden-Lubach, El Cajon, Calif.

Be respectful

Our brain-injured child's prognosis was bleak. He was doomed to a life we refused to accept. We worked on him with an intense program with specific goals. His development is miraculous. Potential is defined as "something that can develop or become actual." In helping our loved ones reach their true potential, we help them progress in this life as they help us progress toward the next.

The following has helped us:

  • Examine in your heart what is possible and realize how much effort you are willing to put forth.
  • Pray and you will be sent to those who will help your loved one.
  • Treat your loved ones with respect and expect them to reach their true potential. - Name withheld, California

Constant prayer

When our 5-year-old daughter, Kaylene, was 3 months old, she was diagnosed with a severe seizure disorder called infantile spasms. Because of damage to the brain from the seizures, we were told she would never walk or talk. But with priesthood blessings, constant prayer, hard work, therapy, patience and a lot of love, Kaylene is walking and is starting to talk.

I try to be positive, expect great things from Kaylene and never give up. When I feel like things are hopeless, I pray to Heavenly Father, and He helps me and gives me the strength and hope I need to help Kaylene with her progression. Kaylene's special spirit has brought so much joy to our family. I am so grateful that I was chosen to be Kaylene's mother. - Rene A. Lybbert, Quincy, Wash.

Grades improved

My 12-year-old daughter hated reading and was failing all her classes because of poor reading skills. She loved to be read to and took real interest in the stories I read out loud.

I selected some books of her liking and sat down and read two or three chapters to her, enough to create a hunger for what was going to happen next. Then I left the open book in a conspicuous place. She would coax me to continue. I said I couldn't, but why not try herself and see what was happening in the story.

I did this with three or four books, and she was hooked, reading on her own. She read 53 books that year and was really proud of what she'd achieved. Her grades went from Fs to Cs, and as an adult reading is now one of her pleasures, besides making life a lot easier. - Beth Ryan, Idaho Falls, Idaho

High expectations

My husband and I were blessed - and I do mean "blessed" - with a beautiful daughter 10 years ago. She has Down syndrome and, thus, a lot of challenges that some of the rest of us do not have. I am truly convinced that a loving Heavenly Father watches over her and that she was sent with her own special "package" of tools to help her walk the paths of mortality.

My husband has always expected a lot out of Jen, and, as a result, she really performs for him. We've tried this same approach at school and with her academic responsibilities, and we've found that Jen, like any other child, really lives up to what we expect.

I've worked very hard to create an acceptance of Jennifer and her capabilities with friends, family, classmates, teachers, school districts, etc. Jennifer is a happy member of the regular 4th grade at Lindstrom Elementary this year. - Cynthia Fredrickson, Bellflower, Calif.

Our 4-year-old Brittney has Down syndrome. We treat her like one of our other children. To us she doesn't have a disability. She has different strengths and weaknesses just like all of us. We help her reach her potential through the following:

  • Use repetition and follow-up. For instance, we give her instructions or directions two or three times.
  • Include her in normal family activities. For example, during family home evening we have her lead the music.
  • Give her exercises that will catch her interest. For example, we can't just read a book together. We might have to get books that have musical stimuli. This way she is able to go through the whole book which helps her increase her attention span.
  • Help her increase her vocabulary. So far, she has communicated through sign language. As she increases her sign language, she finds that words mean something. Now she has dropped some words from sign language and says them.
  • Don't give up. A lot of times it is easier to do something for her, but then she wouldn't progress. - Julie Wilson, Shelley, Idaho

How to checklist:

1 Pray for help; remember all are children of God.

2 Have faith in them; include them in activities.

3 Educate yourself, others; have respect, understanding.

4 Set goals, expect the best; be patient and never give up.


WRITE TO US:

Nov. 12 "How to engender understanding of differing religious beliefs among family members and loved ones."

Nov. 19 "How to minimize holiday stress."

Nov. 26 "How to help someone trying to come back into Church activity."

Dec. 3 "How to help your children develop self-reliance.

Dec. 10 "How to keep the Sabbath day holy."

Dec. 17 "How to filter out the bad from television and music while utilizing the good."

Had any good experiences or practical success in any of the above subjects? Share them with our readers in about 100-150 words. Write the "How-to" editor, Church News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, Utah 84110, or send fax to (801) 237-2121. Please include a name and phone number. Contributions may be edited or excerpted and will not be returned. Due to limited space, some contributions may not be used; those used should not be regarded as official Church doctrine or policy. Material must be received at least 12 days before publication date.

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