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.

The Broken Sidewalk: A Mother's Day Tribute

Even when I was only 5, my mother, Etta Levy, encouraged me, her blind son, to explore the area near our house.  She didn’t allow me to cross the street, but there was still plenty to discover.

The tree roots, searching for water underground, had cracked the sidewalk in many places.  The slight downward slope followed by the large upward bump informed me that I was in front of our basement window.  At the eastern edge of the property, I felt the pavement change to a different texture of concrete.  Farther along, the recently repaved sidewalk by Anthony’s house was miraculously smooth. 

Etta Levy, z''l. Courtesy of Michael Levy

A Mother's Day Tribute For Grandmothers: 6 Tips To Help Raise Grandchildren Who Have Autism

As Mother’s Day approaches, I begin to think about my two beloved grandmothers who played a huge role in my life. They helped shaped me in so many different ways and I cherish each and every memory of our time together. For grandmothers who have grandchildren diagnosed with autism, understanding the role they can play in their grandchild's life is not always clear. But their are many ways that with supports and education, those grandmothers can still make a wonderful impact in their grandchildren's lives. Here are some tips towards making that happen.

Ultra-Orthodox Mayor Cancels Bar/Bat Mitzvah For Disabled Children

Editor's Note: We were shocked and saddened to read this news story from Israel and wanted to share it with "New Normal" readers.

The ultra-Orthodox mayor of Rehovot has cancelled a special bar- and bat-mitzvah ceremony for children with disabilities that was scheduled to take place on Thursday at the Israeli city's Conservative synagogue.

Learning To Advocate For Myself

My dad homeschooled me from the sixth grade until I got my GED in 2000. The reason was because he did not want me to be bullied by the other students. Homeschooling helped me learn how to work extremely hard. I studied hard for exams, wrote papers, and completed extra credit assignments. But I sometimes wished that I could have spoken up more about wanting to be around others who were similar to me. While I was not as comfortable advocating for myself when I was younger, many of my experiences since then have taught me how to be better at speaking up about the accommodations I need.

Emanuel Frowner

Autism Acceptance Is More Than Awareness

April is Autism Awareness Month.

It's not only about making people aware that autism exists. One in 68 individuals in the United States have autism. Most people know someone or know of someone that's affected by it.

It's not about just wearing blue for a day or making your kids wear blue to show support, although I do appreciate that and hope that there was a teachable moment in there somewhere!

From The Roots We Build

Editor's Note: As we think about Earth Day this week, we are happy to share this blog from a young woman interning in Israel's LOTEM program that supports bringing nature to people of all abilities.

Last February, I visited three of the ninety nature clubs that LOTEM runs around Israel. LOTEM's mission statement came to life as I watched Noa, a nature club guide, run her activity and lesson for adults with severe disabilities. Nature was brought to life in front of them and I was able to see the direct impact that it had on them, whether it was a large smile or scream of joy!

Participants at Elwyn. Courtesy of LOTEM

Sam Gelfand: Speaking Out On Asperger Syndrome, Bullying and Jewish Community

Editor's Note: I was delighted to be an audience member last spring when Sam Gelfand, a teenager from Florida, presented to a group of Jewish educators at Boston's Hebrew College about his experiences living with Asperger Syndrome. In the last few years, Sam has spoken to schools, synagogues, camps and other Jewish organizations, sharing his first-hand experiences of living with Asperger Syndrome. Sam is an incredibly engaging speaker and would love to share his powerful message with your community.

NN: Sam, since you were 12 years old, you have been speaking to communities about what it's like to live with Aspergers. Were you initially afraid to speak in front of audiences? What got you through it?

SG: Believe it or not, I have never gotten stage fright. If anything, I feel that the pressure of speaking in front of a live audience actually forces me to do better.

Autism, Aggression And ECT: A Mother's Story Of Hope

This month, many inspiring stories will be featured in the media in celebration of Autism Awareness month, such as one I just read about a young autistic basketball player who recently sank his thousandth half-court shot, or another about the teen who performed a duet with Weird Al Yancovic at the recent Comedy Central benefit. While these victories should unquestionably be celebrated by everyone touched by autism, it’s important to realize they don’t reflect reality for a significant chunk of the community.

The author and her son Jonah. Courtesy of Amy Lutz

The Freedom Of Nature: Making Hiking Accessible To All Students

This past winter, LOTEM - Making Nature Accessible organized a hike for both Plagim School's Keren Or (Ray of Light) special needs class and fifth grade regular education class. Two students, one with special needs (Rom) and one from the regular education class (Gal), shared their experiences in a conversation with LOTEM on what going out to nature means to them.

Participants on a hike in Israel. Courtesy of Lotem
Syndicate content