Lesson 5: Teaching Those with Disabilities

"Lesson 5: Teaching Those with Disabilities," Part B: Basic Principles of Gospel Teaching—Love Those You Teach, ()


Elder Boyd K. Packer shared the following experience from his first year as a seminary teacher:

“In my class was a teenage girl who disturbed me a great deal by a seemingly insolent attitude. She wouldn’t participate and she disturbed the class continually. On one occasion I asked her to respond in class with something that took no previous preparation. She said, with some impudence, ‘I won’t.’

“With some pressing I insisted, but with increased impudence she refused. I said something very foolish to the effect that ‘students who are not willing to respond are not to be given grades or credit.’ And under my breath I said, ‘We’ll see. You’ll either conform or else.’

“A few weeks later in a parent-teacher visiting session her mother described her as being shy and retiring and hesitant to participate. Shy and retiring conduct would not have disturbed me; it was the impudence and insolence that had concerned me.

“Fortunately, before I could describe her impudence to her mother, her mother added, ‘That’s because of her speech impediment.’

“In surprise I asked what that was. The mother said, ‘Oh, haven’t you noticed?’ I hadn’t noticed! ‘She will do almost anything to keep from participating in groups,’ her mother informed me. ‘Her speech impediment is such an embarrassment to her.’

“After the conference with her mother I felt about two inches tall! I should have sensed that there was some reason for her to react the way she had. I spent that year making my repentance complete. I counseled with the girl and drew her out. ‘We will work together on this,’ I told her.

“Before the end of the year she was responding in class and participating often, with the help and cooperation of the other students” (Teach Ye Diligently, rev. ed. [1991], 92–93).

During His mortal ministry, the Savior showed great compassion to people who had imperfections of body and mind. He offered them hope, understanding, and love. As you teach such people, you should follow His example. Try not to feel uncomfortable about their disabilities. Recognize that all people are different in one way or another.

With love and sensitivity, you can help class members with disabilities participate in lessons. You may need to work with others you teach to help them understand and accept those with disabilities.

Below are descriptions of different kinds of disabilities and ways you might help class members who have these disabilities.

Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can vary in degree from slight loss to complete deafness. Some people hear well enough to understand the spoken word with hearing aids, while others must use sign language or lip reading to understand.

When you discover that a class member has a hearing problem, be especially attentive and sensitive to him or her. As needed, meet with the individual to determine the best place for him or her to sit in class in order to follow discussions and activities. It may be important for the person to sit where he or she can easily see you as you speak. He or she may prefer sitting on one side of the room rather than the other. Explore these options in a spirit of helpfulness and friendship and in a way that shows your desire for the person to participate in class.

Language and Speech Disorders

Language and speech disorders affect a person’s ability to interact and communicate with others. The disorders may be mild or severe, and they may be present at any age. Individuals with language disorders may not understand spoken and written words well. They may have difficulty forming words and sentences to express ideas. Some people with language disorders try to hide them, while others, particularly children, are unaware of them.

If you believe that a class member might have such a disorder, be careful about inviting that person to participate in front of the class. Show the person extra attention, and learn more about his or her learning capacity. You might prepare learning activities that will help the person contribute without embarrassment, such as discussion groups in which he or she works with class members who are particularly kind and patient. As you become better acquainted with the person and as his or her confidence grows, look for additional opportunities for the person to contribute in class. Help the person identify the steps he or she is willing to take to feel better about participating.

Mental Disabilities

A person with a mental disability may have a slower rate of development in the ability to communicate, interact, study, work, or establish independence. Some individuals who are mentally disabled require support in most aspects of life, while others need help in only a few specific areas.

Be sensitive and friendly to a class member who is mentally disabled. Talk to him or her in a normal way about normal things. Invite the person to participate in class in ways that will be comfortable for him or her. You may want to help the person prepare in advance. Occasionally, you might also divide the class into small groups or pairs in which the person can associate with patient and helpful class members.

Difficulties with Reading

Some individuals have difficulty reading. They may have dyslexia or another reading disorder. They may be struggling to read in a language that is not native to them. They may have poor eyesight for reading. Or they may simply lack experience with reading.

When you discover that a class member has difficulty reading, be particularly careful about how you ask him or her to participate in a lesson. Do not cause embarrassment by asking the person to read aloud if he or she has not volunteered. Seek to become better acquainted with the person. Learn more about his or her ability and willingness to read. If a person is willing to read but needs time to prepare, you can help him or her prepare to read certain passages in upcoming lessons. In other cases, you may need to look for ways to include the person without asking him or her to read. Discuss these possibilities with the person. Work together to find the best way for him or her to participate in class.

Visual Impairment

Visual impairment can vary from slight loss of sight to complete blindness. Some visually impaired individuals can see well enough if they sit close to the front of the class or if they wear glasses. Others rely on hearing and braille for their learning. Help those with visual impairments sit where they can learn most effectively and participate in class. In a spirit of friendship, speak with them about their needs and what you can do to help.

Additional Information

The preceding information is a brief summary only. If you become aware that a class member has a disability, counsel with the person and his or her family members and friends about how you can help. Befriend the class member. You may also want to counsel with leaders. Seek the Spirit’s guidance to help you know how to help the person succeed and find joy in your class.

For further information about ministering to members who have disabilities, see pages 310–14 in the “Gospel Teaching and Leadership” section of the Church Handbook of Instructions.

Resources for Members Who Have Disabilities

Materials for members who have disabilities are listed in the annual Church Materials Catalog.

Questions about materials for members who have disabilities may be addressed to:

Members with Disabilities

Floor 24

50 East North Temple Street

Salt Lake City, UT 84150-3200

Telephone: 1-801-240-2477