One of my favorite quotations out there, which has greatly influenced the way I approach just about every aspect of my life, comes from the author Junot Diaz, who said once about his writing:
“You guys know about vampires, right? … You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, “Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist? And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.”
This week's Torah portion, Shoftim, contains the prohibition "Do not erect or yourselves a sacred pillar (or monument,) which the Lord your God detests (Deuteronomy 16: 22). Sacred pillars were part of the idol worship practiced by nations with whom the Israelites came into contact.
Like at any other camp, the typical children at Camp JCC make friends and then go home and ask for playdates. But here, they never mention that their new friend uses a wheelchair or may not speak. Just last week, two nine-year-old girls played Barbies, danced to Justin Beiber and ate pizza together on a playdate they requested after meeting each other at camp. One uses a wheelchair. Our campers teach their parents about tolerance, respect and dignity.
Recent posts on the New Normal about Jewish Day Schools and students with disabilities here and here are part of an important dialogue.
They ask the question “What is the purpose of an education and a school?” And the question must be asked, regardless of the nature of the school. Schools are not just places where the parents are “the customer;” nor are the students, or the donors.
I am a home interventionist who works with children on the spectrum, and in July I was scheduled to visit Elliot, whom I’ve worked with for the past couple of years. It was sticky hot, but I decided to brave the heat and ride my bike, because in my work I try to follow the motto of Dr. Stanley Greenspan, the pioneering psychiatrist who said we must “follow the child’s lead.” Elliot is a teenager who has an affinity for things that spin: fans, wheels, carousels. In our sessions, he takes the lead, and we explore the spinning whirlwind that is New York City.