Posted: Tue, 05/27/2014 - 06:32 | The New Normal

Editor's Note: In response to last week's tragic shooting and a recent article linking autism and violence, Aaron Feinstein shares a conversation about empathy that he shared with young people who have autism following the Sandy Hook shootings last year. 

There is a myth that autism is defined by a lack of empathy, but this is not the autism I know. People with autism are some of the most empathetic people that I have ever met.

Autistic people and their families are once again being asked to make sense of the terribly tragic shooting at Isla Vista in Santa Barbara with the rest of the country. The difference in the autism community is that our grieving is in the shadow of a recent Washington Post article linking mass shootings to autism. Although the article is based on poor anecdotal evidence and should easily be dismissed, it still further stigmatizes people with autism as somehow having an inherent connection to these horrific mass shootings.

Because of the shooting, and that article, I felt compelled to share a discussion I facilitated with a group of teenagers on the autism spectrum that emerged after the Sandy Hook massacre in one of our Miracle Project classes in Brooklyn. 

Posted: Wed, 05/21/2014 - 07:06 | The New Normal

Editor's Note: In 2001, IDF Lt. Col. Ariel Almog was driving in his car near Sde Trumot junction in the Jordan Valley. Ahead of him was a bus, stopping to take on passengers. He averted a catastrophe, at great risk to himself, and during his convalescence he encountered many people with disabilities. The result is a groundbreaking IDF inclusion program.

Posted: Wed, 05/14/2014 - 15:56 | The New Normal

At times, the world of typical families can feel like a country club that doesn’t allow families like mine, which includes a child with special needs, to enter. And unlike Groucho Marx, who once famously said, “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member,” I desperately want my family to be accepted. Unfortunately, there is no button on the Little League website, or parks and recreation swim class sign-up, or after school club enrollment page that says, “Click here if your child has special needs.” The message I repeatedly get is, “Of course your child has a right to play baseball, take swim classes, pursue a hobby. Just not here.”

That’s a bitter pill for any parent to swallow.

Posted: Wed, 05/14/2014 - 07:00 | The New Normal

Editor's Note: Jonah Selber's experience is an inspiring story -- he has received the vocational and housing support that he needed to succeed. This feature is the start of a monthly series in which "The New Normal" will share about a person living successfully in a different kind of housing model for people with disabilities.

Jonah Selber, who was born with a developmental disability, is a longtime, successful employee of Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals in Philadelphia where he serves as an office assistant in the Information Systems Department. He loves his job and never takes it for granted. Unlike 70 percent of working age Americans with disabilities who are out of the workforce, Jonah has been working for 17 years delivering important business documents and greeting customers in the Information Systems service center at one of the nation’s top hospitals.

Posted: Thu, 05/08/2014 - 07:44 | The New Normal

Editor's Note: In honor of Yom Ha'atzmaut, which fell last week, we are sharing this blog about LOTEM, an innovative program in Israel that organizes outings for people with special needs on nature reserves through the country.

If I had any doubt about the importance of my work as a soldier guide with LOTEM- Making Nature Accessible, yesterday it totally vanished.

It all began when I got on the bus as I do every day when I am guiding, though what awaited me was a surprise. When my face was revealed to the students they began to call out, "You were with us last year," and "I know you" and "Do you remember that we were in the Judean Desert?" The students indeed were not mistaken! One year ago I guided the same group from Shafririm A. School for teenagers with intellectual challenges in the Judean Desert on a two-day hike.

Posted: Tue, 05/06/2014 - 07:57 | The New Normal

On Sunday May 4 and Monday May 5, over 120 Jewish educators in day and supplementary schools came together with special educators and professionals working in inclusion issues in Newtown, MA for Hebrew College’s sixth annual GISHA conference. (Gisha means "good ideas" in Hebrew.)