Primary: 'Every child is precious'
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Every child is precious and every child is capable of feeling the Spirit. It is as Joseph Smith said, "All the minds and spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible of enlargement" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 354).
Primary leaders are learning to make accommodations and adaptations for children with disabilities in their wards and branches, creating a welcoming atmosphere that allows these unique children to be included in classes, sharing time and activities where they can grow in the gospel along with their peers. Not only are children with disabilities blessed by these efforts, but also families are strengthened and additional blessings are realized by the children, teachers and leaders who love and serve with these children.
Following are a few things to remember when making accommodations and adaptations in Primary for children with disabilities.
Prayerfully seek out members with disabilities. Consider their needs and the needs of their family members.
Keelie Lund, a little girl with autism, walked the halls with her mother during Primary time. Keelie's parents were apprehensive to bring her in to Primary, concerned about her tendency to impulsively strike out at other children. Brooke Wilkins, a Primary president in the Farmington Utah West Stake, encouraged Keelie's mother to come and train the presidency and teachers in how to best support her daughter. On Keelie's first day in Primary, her mother was nervous, but with the teachers' and leaders' help and the children's naturally warm acceptance, it proved to be a comfortable experience for everyone. Now, in her CTR 6 class, there are always two teachers in the classroom, one to teach and the other to help Keelie integrate successfully with her peers. For their part, teachers Leslie Hunter and Angie Austin feel privileged to work with this diminutive daughter of God. Despite her difficulty in communicating, Keelie loves music time and Sister Wilkins reports that "Keelie is often the best behaved child in sharing time!"
Allow ward members with disabilities to be as independent as possible.
Trent Jones is in the same Primary and is also on the autism spectrum. His Valiant 9 teacher, Carly Young, has learned to recognize signs of possible distress. When Trent shows these signs, Sister Young will provide him with quiet attention, extra direction or opportunities to perform a simple act of service. Trent is always the first to volunteer to help clean up when Primary is over. Trent's contributions in his class and sharing time are meaningful and substantial.
Help ward members understand the individuals' disabilities and their needs.
Lauren Summers, another member of this ward Primary before she moved with her family to Tennessee in January, was born with spina bifida and has been in a wheelchair for most of her life. Despite her physical challenges, Lauren participates fully in Primary. After an initial consultation with her parents, Primary leaders now ensure that Lauren's teachers are "fully trained" at the beginning of each year. Her Valiant 8 teacher, Hayley Willoughby, has learned to allow Lauren to go at her own pace when necessary. Lauren's bright eyes and expressive hands raised in answer to a question demonstrate her eagerness to learn and live the gospel, just like the rest of her Primary classmates.
Seek ways to help individuals with disabilities feel loved, accepted and included.
Jacob Harvey is an 8 year old with a wonderful smile who also spends much of his time in a wheelchair. Even though his leukodystrophy makes it impossible for him to walk and talk, he began attending nursery in the Farmington Utah Oakridge Stake. The nursery co-leaders, two priesthood brethren, provided the every-week consistency Jacob needed as well as the flexibility to adapt as his situation changed. Last year, one of his Primary co-teachers was a nurse; this year, Chrissy Avery and Jacob's mother, Lesli, are team teachers in his all-boy Valiant 8 class. Their awareness of his medical situation gives Jacob a secure and peaceful feeling. The boys in Jacob's class accept him as a natural member of their group and like to sit together in sharing time. Jacob feels included and loved in Primary.
As Primary leaders identify and meet the needs of children with disabilities, they are saying to them — and to all children, "Take my hand. Hold on tight. We will stay on the path together back to our Heavenly Father" (Rosemary M. Wixom, "Stay on the Path," October 2010 general conference).