“Ministering to Those with Disabilities,” Liahona, April 2021
Ministering to friends and neighbors who have disabilities can be daunting. Although we want to reach out in a Christlike way, sometimes we simply aren’t sure how.
While living in New Canaan, Connecticut, USA, the Thompsons were blessed with twin girls. When the girls were born prematurely and with Down syndrome, their ward came to the rescue, supporting them during the twins’ open-heart surgeries and months of hospital stays. Some of those early needs were easy to see. Members organized meals, childcare, house cleaning, help with Christmas, and more.
But the loving help didn’t stop as the children grew and the needs became less apparent. Loving friends, leaders, and ministering brothers and sisters made the effort to counsel with the Thompsons about how they could help.
“A friend asked me what was hard,” Sister Thompson said. “I mentioned that Sundays were difficult because my husband and I were often busy in our callings and had to leave our oldest daughter in charge alone. My friend immediately offered to take the twins for a few hours each Sunday. She did so for many months.”
When the twins reached their teens, leaders regularly sat down with the parents to plan activities that were inclusive and fun for the twins as well as for the rest of the young women. Another friend invited the girls to her house so that the Thompsons could participate in choir practice.
After the Thompsons moved to Utah, a couple was assigned to minister to their family. “They always asked before visiting what our needs were and what kind of message would best suit our family,” Sister Thompson said. “They took time to know every member of the family, which is important because the siblings of those with special needs often get overlooked.” The couple often invited the twins out for special activities, giving the family a break.
Sister Thompson would advise ministering brothers and sisters not to be afraid to ask the parents what is hard for them and how to help. “Just reach out. The more you get to know someone, the more you will understand how to best minister to them.”
Get to know the individual as a person, separate from their disability. Ask them what they would like you to know about them. What are their interests?
Speak to them in a way you would speak to others their age. Be sure to show respect through your tone of voice and actions. Be sure to speak to them directly.
Don’t ignore someone with a disability. Acknowledge and include them. Counsel with the member and their family about how they might like to contribute and serve.
For younger individuals with disabilities, saying things like “Tell me more about David” allows the family to share what they are comfortable with.
Offering to spend time with disabled children can give parents a break to focus on other children or take care of other needs. It also builds understanding of the load that caregivers shoulder.
Help can be given even when you can’t be there in person. Notes of encouragement or a friendly voice can mean a lot. You could even shop online for birthdays or for other needs.