Serving children with disabilities

Church members are encouraged to follow the Savior’s example of offering hope and showing understanding and love to all around them. As it says in the scriptures, “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 18:10).

Sister Linda S. Reeves, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, said in the General Relief Society Meeting in 2012, “Our Savior has taken upon Himself not only all our sins, but also our pains and our suffering and afflictions so that He can know what we feel and how to comfort us.”

Just as the Savior reaches out to help others, so can Relief Society sisters around the globe. Whether it is in their own family, in their wards or in their neighborhoods, all can participate by helping those around them through offering service, hope and understanding.

Debbie Dakin, a Relief Society sister in the Allen Texas Stake, wanted to involve her children in simple acts of service for the Poulton family in their stake.

John and Ally Poulton’s 5-year-old son, Will, has special needs. When Will was born, he appeared normal, but as he got older, his parents noticed that typical development was not occurring. After months of tests and minor surgeries, Will was diagnosed with a genetic abnormality that left him intellectually disabled. As of his fifth birthday, he could speak only a few words; his physical and mental development is slow, and his long-term prognosis is unknown. He is a special-needs child who will probably never be able to care for himself.

Observing that simple activities bring joy to Will, Sister Dakin and her family invited the Poulton family to go on a bike ride together. When Sister Poulton and her children arrived, they were surprised with a balloon for everyone’s bike and a special bicycle seat that allowed Will to participate. He loved it!

On another occasion, Will and his family were invited to the Dakin family’s backyard to play. Siblings Ben and Evelyn Dakin decorated the swing set and made cupcakes. They had blown up balloons to throw over the banister on the stairs inside the house, while Sister Dakin played the piano so the children could dance. Music and swinging on the swing set are two of Will’s favorite things. Many smiles and much laughter have resulted from these and other simple, thoughtful activities.

Sister Dakin, like many other women, is a covenant-keeping daughter of God who is teaching her children to serve and accept not only children like them, but those who might be different. Will’s mother is grateful for the unselfish service of others that help to ease the day-to-day struggles that are common with a disabled child.

Parents of special needs children face many challenges and go through a process of unfulfilled expectations, accepting that the accomplishments of their children will be different, and holding on to hope they can receive through the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. But their daily lives can be very challenging.

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, disciples of Christ value all life and recognize those who have disabilities are precious souls. Often, it is difficult to know how to support and minister to those families who care for disabled family members. In the Poulton’s ward, there are many who have learned how to reach out in appropriate ways to Will and his family.

When Will had his very first seizure, ward members stepped in with meals and emotional support. Often, friends and neighbors watch the other Poulton children so that Brother and Sister Poulton can take Will to his many doctor appointments or just have a night out together. These experiences have enabled individuals and families from the Poultons’ ward and stake to find joy in serving Will and his family and to better understand the Plan of Salvation.

During the October 2013 general conference, Brother and Sister Poulton listened to the words of apostles and prophets in their home. They were especially touched and embraced each other in tears as they heard Elder Jeffery R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles testify: “I bear witness of that day when loved ones who we knew to have disabilities in mortality will stand before us glorified and grand, breathtakingly perfect in body and mind. What a thrilling moment that will be!” (“Like a Broken Vessel,” Ensign, November 2013).

The Dakin family and the Allen Texas Stake members have learned more fully what it means to be covenant-keepers as they love and serve Will and his family and all of Heavenly Father’s children.

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