The New Normal

Everyone is welcome in The New Normal, a Jewish blog about disability. We're a source of information, inspiration and a challenge to received wisdom.

Registering Our Son To Vote: Disability, Standing Up And Election 2016

This has been a grueling political season, full of rancor and too much ugliness to catalogue.  Some days, I just want to hide under the covers and pretend it’s all a bad dream. But then I think about my children. 

Having children is, at least for me, the ultimate act of cockeyed optimism. There are so many reasons to be fearful of bringing children into the world, of exposing them to the awfulness to which human beings can lower themselves. But then of course there is the profound, unparalleled opportunity to try to shape another human being by the values and beliefs you hold dear, and that is in many ways irresistible. Not to mention sometimes just flat out joyous fun.

The author's family. Courtesy of Nina Mogilnik

I Do Not Grieve For My Son's Disability

Editor's Note: This blog originally appeared on newsworks.

It's been over a decade since my son George, 13, was diagnosed with autism, which means that it's been that long that I've been a member of a certain tribe: that of special needs parents.

Through the ups and downs of the challenges that my husband and I have faced coming to understand how best to meet our son's needs, I've met, shared with, laughed and cried with so many resilient, insightful, spiritual, funny parents who are doing what I'm doing—extreme parenting with no road map, taking life not one day, but one hour and sometimes one minute at a time.

Despite the intensity of the experience, many, though certainly not all, of us live with a sense of purpose and even a sense of peace.

The author with her son, George. Courtesy of Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer

The Massacre Of People With Disability: What Parents Can Do

Until yesterday, I only felt sadness and despair about about the massacre of people with disability in Japan on July 26th. Then I realized there was something I could do. You, too. Actually, you're likely already doing it.

The attacker stabbed 19 people to death as they slept at the Tsuki Yamayuri-en facility in Japan and wounded 26 others. The suspect, a 26-year-old former staffer, had planned the killings, Reuters noted. In fact, he'd stated that he was going to do the deed in two letters given to the speaker of the lower house of parliament in February.

Memorial for victims in Japan. Getty images

DNC Spotlight On Disability Issues: Clinton Recognizes The Largest Minority In US

When Hillary Clinton took to the stage the final night of the Democratic National Convention, several disability activists had one question for the candidate. Will she include people with disabilities in a meaningful way in her speech?

The convention already had touched on disability issues—from Anastasia Somoza, a young woman with cerebral palsy delivering a speech Monday, and Sen. Tom Harkin highlighting the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on Tuesday, to discussions on mental illness and drug addiction, as well as speakers such as Rep. Gabby Giffords and Rep. Tammy Duckworth addressing the convention.

Anastasia Somoza at the DNC. Courtesy of RespectAbilityUSA

B’Yadenu: It's In Our Hands To Create Inclusive Day Schools

Children are served best in classrooms and other learning enviornments that consistently take into account their specific learning needs. The support children receive is most effective when it is offered throughout the entire day of learning—by all educators—as opposed to only specific periods of the day.

With this premise, in November 2011, the Jim Joseph Foundation awarded a grant to Boston-based Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) (in partnership with Gateways: Access to Jewish Education and Yeshiva University School Partnership) for the development and implementation of the B’Yadenu model in five Boston-area Jewish day schools: Gann Academy, Jewish Community Day School, Maimonides School, Solomon Schechter Day School and Striar Hebrew Academy of Sharon.

John D'Auria leads a professional development session for B'Yadenu teachers. Courtesy of B'Yadenu

Gov. Malloy Opens DNC By Owning His Own Disabilities

Editor's Note: Thanks to RespectAbilityUSA for sharing this blog that originally appears on their web site.

“I am here today to tell you a story of hope,” Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, before speaking about his life and experiences as a person with multiple disabilities.

“It’s a story of a young boy with physical and severe learning disabilities,” Malloy said.

He related his early experiences and how “reading and writing were almost impossible” for him.

“A child thought to be, as the term was used in the early 1960s, ‘mentally retarded’ as late as the fourth grade. A boy who could not tie a shoe or button his shirt until the fifth grade. Someone who knew the harsh words of bullies on the playground and discrimination in the classroom.”

Gov. Dannel Malloy. Courtesy of RespectAbility

Hands Up, Don't Shoot

Editor's Note: If you are following the disturbing story of the shooting of an unarmed therapist trying to help his autistic client by a Miami police officer, there has been an update over the weekend in which the officer has confessed that the bullet was actually intended for the man with autism sitting in the road with his toy truck.

I woke up one recent July morning, and I wept. As per my usual habit, I checked the news shortly after getting up. The first story I landed on was about a Miami police officer shooting the caretaker of a young autistic man who had wandered away from his center, and whom the caretaker had gone after to bring back. There’s no mystery here about the circumstances of the shooting, no reason to parse the police version of the story vs. the victim’s story. There’s just this:  a black man lying on his back, his empty hands up behind his head, and his autistic charge sitting nearby, playing with his toy truck. If you don’t believe me, here it is: 

I was completely rattled by this story.

Therapist Charles Kinsey was shot by a North Miami police officer. Courtesy of NBC

Teens With And Without Disabilities Solving Real-World Problems

These days, many high schools require teens to earn community service/volunteer hours to graduate. That’s easier said than done by any teen, and even more difficult for teens that aren’t neuro-typical. Parents of teens with disabilities have enough responsibilities without having to worry about how they will help their teen get volunteer hours.

Enter the Edlavitch DCJCC’s Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service’s Summer of Service Camp. With close to 30 years of experience putting together volunteer projects to help the DC community give back, and the expertise of amazing special education teachers, Summer of Service is a place where teens of all abilities can come together to strengthen the community and change lives. This unique program was co-founded by RespectAbilityUSA, with seed money from the Mizrahi Family Charitable Fund.

A Summer of Service participant. Courtesy of Erica Steen

Israel Gives Back: Supporting Teens That Need Extra Support

What is it about Israel that draws so much attention and interest? In this case, it's the positive attention and focus that is in the spotlight. Since the early nineteen hundreds (and possibly millennia earlier), Israel attracted Jewish youth looking for adventures and an opportunity to prove that they are better than what their previous circumstances set them up to be.

A participant in Free Spirit Israel. Courtesy of Tamir Rotman

Review: 'The A Word' Is An Authentic Window Into Autism

It was Benjamin’s fifth birthday party. We had dozens of friends and family coming to our home to celebrate with him. The details of the party had been planned for weeks, and Benjamin had been looking forward to the day. Everything was going according to plan. Until it wasn’t. A relative had walked into the party and approached Benjamin for a hug. He recoiled from her touch and, screaming, ran to seek solace in his bedroom. Where he remained for the remainder of his party.  

The premiere episode of "The A Word," a British import on the Sundance Channel — and based on an Israeli drama — opens with the birthday party of five-year-old Joe. And like my son, Joe’s party is interrupted by behaviors that appear to be caused by the overstimulation that often occurs for those on the autism spectrum.

'The A Word' takes an unwavering look into the world of a family grappling  autism. Courtesy of Sundance TV
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