Primary: Meeting the Needs of Handicapped Children
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“Primary: Meeting the Needs of Handicapped Children,” Ensign, June 1975, 65

Primary: Meeting the Needs of Handicapped Children

“The Primary Association is concerned with giving help and gospel training to handicapped boys and girls of the Church through the Primary program that has been adapted to their needs.” (Primaries for Handicapped Children, revised 1974, p. 1.)

He takes a late lunch once a week so he can teach Primary—not a regular primary, but one for mentally retarded children.

The Bountiful (Utah) Center Primary for the Handicapped draws from several stakes, and when the teacher moved away over a year ago, the presidency looked for a special person to take over half a dozen eight-year-old boys. They were delighted with Dr. Lawrence Gibb’s offer to teach. A pediatrician, he had heard their chorus sing at a missionary farewell in his ward and had offered his services. Through this experience, Dr. Gibb has found a new dimension in teaching, and the boys love him.

At a mother-son dinner party in the Oquirrh (Utah) Region Primary for the Handicapped, a teenage boy who is very quiet and almost nonverbal at school delighted his mother when he said, “Dance, Mama.” They had practiced the Virginia Reel for several weeks, and he “danced” beautifully. This party was preceded by an equally successful father-daughter party. The young people, delighted to attend their own social function in the early evening, had found a place where they “belonged.”

“There is heartbreak in not belonging,” says Sister Naomi W. Shumway, general president of the Primary. “Children sense when they do not fit into a group, and a Primary for handicapped children (or a special class in a regular Primary) is the answer to a child’s forlorn lament, ‘I wish I could go to Primary.’”

In the western United States there are 27 Primaries for handicapped children, and they give special children an opportunity to receive spiritual instruction, to learn to work with others, and to find companionship and new vistas of hope in an atmosphere void of ridicule.

A Primary for handicapped children must be initiated by a stake, region, or mission, but there are no ward, stake, or district boundary limitations in setting up this organization. The Primary president or presidents should contact the Primary priesthood advisers, and together they should determine the type of organization needed. A special class in a regular Primary can handle one to four children; where there are more, a special Primary may serve better. The children should be grouped as nearly as possible according to mental age levels, and, in addition to a teacher, it is helpful to have an assistant or aide. Officers and teachers may be called from any of the stakes or districts.

A Primary for handicapped children is adapted to meet their special needs. Extra time should be allowed for singing in opening exercises, because the children love music and respond well to rhythm and song. Classes should be short and should include a variety of activities. These children enjoy moving and doing, dramatizing, helping, and sharing. They love simple, uncluttered pictures and stories. Often those enrolled are much older than 12 years of age, and though the material is geared to their ability to comprehend, it must also be material that a teenager would discuss. Retarded children should not be treated forever as children, the Primary stresses. They do have potential.

Parents of the children are also benefited as they associate with other parents who have similar problems. They, too, need help and understanding. Nonmembers are welcome to affiliate.

“When the Savior said, ‘Feed my lambs,’ he meant all of his lambs,” Sister Shumway believes. “The Primary Association has a great challenge to seek out and teach all children, including those that have physical and mental handicaps.”