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All the children

Website helps in teaching those with disabilities

A new portion of the Primary website at www.lds.org includes helps and guides for teaching children with disabilities.

"As we have traveled and visited with Primary leaders, we have sensed an increasing need for helps in teaching all children, regardless of the varying circumstances," said Sister Gayle M. Clegg, second counselor in the Primary general presidency. "Some children come with two living parents, others with one parent, some come with disabilities. We feel our focus is to teach all children the gospel of Jesus Christ. All children need to feel loved, to feel welcome, to feel the Spirit."

Sister Clegg explained that in an increasingly growing Church there is a corresponding need to be aware of the special needs of children in all circumstances, including those with disabilities. By visiting the Primary website, she emphasized, leaders, teachers, parents and other members can find new ways to integrate children with special needs into the classroom and activities settings — and experience the resulting blessings.

Visitors to www.lds.org make their way to this site by clicking on "Serving in the Church" on the main page, then clicking on "Primary," then "Leadership Responsibilities" and finally on "Children with Special Needs." Once there, visitors are greeted by a quote from President Thomas S. Monson given during the October 1993 general conference: "What power, what tenderness, what compassion did our Master . . . demonstrate! We, too, can bless if we will but follow His noble example. Opportunities are everywhere. Needed are eyes to see . . . and ears to hear the silent pleadings. . . . Yes, and a soul filled with compassion, that we might communicate not only eye to eye or voice to ear but, in the majestic style of the Savior, heart to heart."

At this point, the visitor has options. By clicking on "Children with Disabilities," the user finds several helps, including: "Help Each Child Feel Loved and Accepted," "Responsibilities of the Ward Primary President," "Responsibilities of the Primary Teacher," "Helping Children Develop Appropriate Behavior," and "Dealing with a Child's Disruptive Behavior."

By clicking on "Helps for Specific Disabilities," the user finds specific information on some common disabilities.

By visiting this website, teachers and leaders can find a wealth of information in not only teaching children with disabilities, but also in being a support to parents of children with disabilities. For example, by clicking on "Help Each Child Feel Loved and Accepted, " one finds the following suggestions:

• 1. Seek to become aware of and understand the child's specific disability.

• 2. Recognize that the child is a child of God; look beyond the disability to the child's spirit.

• 3. Get to know the child and his or her family. Build a positive relationship with the child as you take time to show genuine interest and concern.

• 4. Find out about the child's strengths and challenges. Focus on his or her abilities and talents without giving undue attention to the disability.

• 5. Be friendly and natural when communicating with the child. Speak directly to the child rather than to someone who is assisting him or her.

• 6. Encourage the child to talk about his or her feelings. Listen attentively and with love.

Sister Clegg emphasized that the best sources or experts on the disabilities and abilities of a child are the parents. In addition, she points out under "Responsibilities of the Ward Primary President," ". . . Do not assume the child has been diagnosed with a specific disability. Primary leaders or teachers should not label a child or try to diagnose his or her condition. Visit with the family, communicate concerns, and ask for suggestions to help the child have a successful experience in Primary."

Continuing, Sister Clegg pointed out the site's suggestions of songs from the Children's Songbook to teach principles on loving children with disabilities. These include one of her personal favorites, "I'll Walk With You."

Sister Clegg expressed her delight in the potential this site has in helping leaders and teachers not only teach but also include children with disabilities. She pointed out a comment from the site: "Integrating children with disabilities into Primary offers unique opportunities for spiritual growth and development for the disabled children, for the other children, and for their leaders. Children with disabilities have the same needs as all children. . . ."

She shared the account of her visit to Portland, Ore., during a fast and testimony meeting when a child with learning disabilities walked to the stand and said, in halting speech: "I belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I know who I am . I'll follow Him in faith. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen."

"The words of that (Primary) song gave him utterance of what was in his heart," Sister Clegg related. "He was capable of great things.

"All children need to know they are a child of God," she added. "He is there. He will hear their prayers, even if they have no speech."

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