Relief Society General Board: Serving Children with Disabilities
Contributed By the Relief Society general board
“Just as the Savior reaches out to help others, so can Relief Society sisters around the globe. Whether it is in their own families, in their wards, or in their neighborhoods, all can participate by helping those around them through offering service, hope, and understanding.” —Relief Society general board
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” (D&C 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” (“The Lord Has Not Forgotten You,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 120).
Just as the Savior reaches out to help others, so can Relief Society sisters around the globe. Whether it is in their own families, 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 five-year-old son, Will, has special needs. When Will was born he appeared healthy, 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 has special needs and 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 inflated balloons to throw over the banister on the stairs inside the house while Sister Dakin played the piano so the children could dance. These activities involved two of Will's favorite things: music and swinging on the swing set. He and the other children, as well as the adults, enjoyed the fun and laughter they experienced in 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 also those who might be different. Will’s mother is grateful for the unselfish service of others that helps to ease the day-to-day struggles that are common with a child who has disabilities.
Parents of children with special needs face many challenges, one of which is the process of coming to accept that the accomplishments of their children will be different from those of other children. These parents hold on to the hope they receive through the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, though their daily lives can still be very challenging.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 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 Poultons' 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. Friends and neighbors often 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 Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles testify: “I bear witness of that day when loved ones whom 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 or Liahona, Nov. 2013, 42).
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.