While serving children with disabilities can be challenging, many Church leaders and teachers are experiencing the rewards of love and understanding as they work together to weave these children into regular programs of the Church.

"We try to include the young women with disabilities in regular classes so they feel a part of the group and so young women in the class learn to respect, value and appreciate those who have special needs," said Ardeth G. Kapp, Young Women General President."Sometimes some of the most important lessons that are learned come by reaching out in feelings of love and concern and learning to accept rather than reject," she added.

Ruth B. Wright, second counselor in the Primary General Presidency, remarked, "It can work so well to include them in the regular programs and it helps the ward have a feeling of love and understanding."

But when it is not possible to teach those with disabilities in a regular Primary or Young Men or Young Women class, parents and Church leaders do have some options.

A teacher or specialist can be called to work with a disabled person or a group of two or three, or a special class on Sunday can be organized for eight or more children with disabilities.

Another option is to organize a Sunday or weekday Primary, Young Women and Young Men program in a stake or region for children who regularly attend a special school or who live where there are a large number of children with disabilities.

"In some cases these children also need to feel they have opportunities to meet and participate with other people who have disabilities," said Janet D. Gough, Young Women general board member and Young Women representative on the Committee for Members with Disabilities. "In that case, the option is available for wards or stakes or regions to organize special programs.

"But we never want to take away from the ward. The ideal situation is to have as many opportunities and allow those with disabilities to contribute in a regular ward, but where it is needed we have special programs as well."

Those children who attend weekday programs should also attend regular Sunday meetings in their own wards, said Betty Jo N. Jepsen, first counselor in the Primary General Presidency.

"Sometimes a weekday Primary can give children additional gospel experience," Sister Wright added. "But it is very important to integrate children with special needs in their home ward's Sunday program."

Many times children with disabilities remain in Primary instead of advancing into the other programs. However, children should advance at age 12 (Primary Handbook, p. 7), Sister Jepsen explained.

Ward leaders should meet with the parents of children with disabilities and decide what is best for the child, she said. With the options available, it may be possible to advance the youth with their age group and continue to teach them from the younger age group manuals.

Church leaders are aware of about 25 Primaries organized for children with special needs in such places as Utah, Arizona, Idaho, and California.

"Often people are not aware that such Primaries even exist in their stakes or regions unless they have a child who attends," Sister Wright said.

There are about 15 Young Women and Young Men programs for youth with disabilities, the majority found in Utah.

Anyone interested in these programs can contact the auxiliary or priesthood departments. Help is also available for those interested in organizing a Primary, Young Men and Young Women program for youth with disabilities. Group organization must be handled through the proper priesthood channels.

In a typical ward, approximately 50 members have disabilities, Sister Gough said. Noticeable disabilities get attention, but many are not noticeable and some are not even diagnosed.

In an average ward there are 10 people with learning disabilities, four with hearing impairments, two with visual impairments, six with communication disorders, eight with intellectual impairments, two with motor and orthopedic impairments, two with chronic health impairments and one with multiple disabilities, she said.

"Many leaders may not be aware of the special needs out there," Sister Gough added. "One of our goals is to help increase the awareness of leaders in a ward or stake so they will start looking to see where the needs are. When that happens, then we will be able to meet the needs of these people with disabilities."

Joy Larsen, president of the Multi-Regional Handicapped Primary in Kearns, said the special needs Primary - which takes in the west side of the Salt Lake Valley - has been functioning about 20 years.

There are still, however, many people who don't realize such a program is available for their children, she said.

"Our goal is to acquaint the children with the Savior," Sister Larsen said. "The main thing we want to accomplish is to let them know that the Savior is there when the rest of the world lets them down so they have someone to turn to.

"We also have a lot of activities to expose them to everything other children are exposed to," she added.

The special Primary has such activities as crafts, a Christmas program, puppet shows, and other holiday activities.

About 23 children attend the Primary in Kearns and six teachers and helpers have been called to work in the program.

"This is the most joyous thing that has ever happened to me," Sister Larsen said about her calling. "We see kids doing things they couldn't do the week before. Some accomplishments are so small, but so exciting and so rewarding."

Sister Larsen became involved with the special Primary about 11 years ago. Her 19-year-old son, Lynn, attended the program during his youth. He was disabled at birth from brain damage.

"He's taking seminary now. He is really a spiritual young man. Primary was a place where he fit in with others like him. His self-image improved. There everyone shines. They are all in the same boat. You can't believe how caring and compassionate they are with each other.

"I wish every new parent who has a handicapped child could know the joy and the blessings they bring. Everyone in our family realizes that this is the biggest blessing we have ever had."