I’m basing this post on Elder Kopischke’s talk “Addressing Mental Health“. While he discusses what we as parents can do to help our family members with special needs, I am going to focus on how Ward members can help those in their stewardship.
If you’ve been to Gracefull Parenting, you know that we have three children with special needs. All our children are now teenagers or older and I’m going to share my observations of them growing up and what we’ve experienced. In relating this, I’m going to make suggestions and not judgments. These are things I wish would have happened and pray will happen in the future.
First, as parents, we did our best to help the teachers, leaders, and advisors of our children to understand each one’s special needs. We explained what each child experienced and ways we found to work with each child. We also made sure to pray for those teachers, leaders, and advisors to have understanding hearts and inspiration to work with our children.
Elder Kopischke explained “[E]ducating ourselves about mental illness prepares us to help ourselves and others who might be struggling. Having an open and honest discussion with one another will help this important topic to receive the attention it deserves. After all, information precedes inspiration and revelation.“
Based on our experiences, here is a list of recommendations for teachers, leaders, and advisors to help those with special needs regardless of age.
- Understand the person’s special needs. Take the time to understand what the person is experiencing to have a better understanding of the person during interactions.
- Listen to family members of the individual about the person. Find out what the person is like. What things do they respond well to? What things do they shy away from? What will make them feel included?
- Pray to have an open heart and to develop a love for the person. The one person who completely understands the individual with special needs is Heavenly Father. Pray to have understanding and love.
- Follow the counsel of Elder Kopischke “I invite you to study the topic of mental health in the Life Help section of the Gospel Library app. Learning will lead to more understanding, more acceptance, more compassion, more love.”
- Ensure everyone in the class, quorum, and/or organization are treated the same when together. Singling out individuals, especially those with special needs, leads to a feeling of being different and separate.
- Develop a relationship with the person who has special needs. Take the time to get to know the person. Find out what they like and don’t like. Treat them like everyone else.
- Organize appropriate activities that will allow the person with special needs to fully participate.
- When activities are planned that would exclude the person with special needs due to certain requirements, avoid the temptation to not invite the person. Instead, invite all and work with the person that has special needs to see how they can participate.
- If the person becomes less active, reach out personally. Parents are trying their best, but sometimes they need help. Sometimes someone outside the family has a greater influence as a second or third witness of what is taught in the home.
- Encourage classmates and quorum members to befriend the individual. Being included in “non-organized” activities helps the individual to feel a sense of belonging outside of the normal church activities.
In our experience, we have seen the positive effect of teachers, leaders, and advisors understanding and working with our special needs children. We have also seen a falling away when a child doesn’t feel like they belong. I firmly believe that if we take the time to understand those with special needs and work to lift them as members of our classes, quorums, and organizations, we can help them stay on the covenant path.
What suggestions would you add to the list above? Have you found ways to help those with special needs? Comment below, I would love to hear your thoughts.