Joanne Farr and Sally Hanna: Parenting and understanding children with special needs

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Two experienced LDS sisters spoke on raising and understanding children with special needs at the Women’s Conference at BYU this past weekend.

Joanne Farr has three sons. The oldest, Peyton, suffers from Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS), a rare genetic disorder. After several years and numerous behavioral problems, Farr and her husband finally convinced their pediatrician to look further into diagnosing their son with the disease. Joanne was devastated when the doctor confirmed the diagnosis.

“I was not OK with it,” she said. “I was sad. I was angry (with) what it was doing to his body and to our family.”

Raising a child with a disability caused Farr much heartache and depression. She related the story of her breaking point when dealing with the problem alone. One day while Peyton was on a field trip, his teacher called and said they would call the police if Farr didn’t come pick him up immediately. Frantic and crying, she rushed over. The police were already there. She saw her son, sitting alone, totally dejected. He had bruises up and down his arms from his teachers. At this point, she realized she and her husband could not handle Peyton alone anymore.

After talking to their bishop, the Farrs finally agreed to allow the Young Men and Young Women programs to assist them. Different people would take care of Peyton for a few hours a month. Farr saw the love the ward members had for her son and she realized that the Lord never intended for her to suffer alone.

Farr quoted President Eyring from the September 2012 General Relief Society Meeting to further explain her belief in working together.

“The Lord’s plan for serving others in need provides teams,” she said.

From her experience with raising a son with special needs, Farr learned that the Lord wanted her to let others help her family and that this unity can strengthen all the relationships involved.

The second speaker, Sally Hanna, is a church seminary and institute instructor who works with special needs children. She discussed several principles of friendship, emphasizing the importance of treating everyone, no matter their physical or mental condition, with the same love and respect.

Hanna told of the experience she had while serving as a seminary teacher. As part of a goal to help the special needs children learn to read and appreciate the scriptures, the students were given iPads for easier reading. Hanna stated four things that can help everyone, including special needs children, be nurtured the word of God: accessing the scriptures, using helpful technology, choosing obedience to bring blessings and using knowledge to bring power.

Both of the speakers at this session of the conference stressed the importance of showing children with special needs love and faith like the Lord does.

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