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 concept of inclusion seems important to most people. On a gut level, most people would agree strongly that “it’s the right thing to do.” With that said, are we ready to change our behavior to ensure inclusion can be a reality?
My son, a high functioning child with autism, did not speak until he was four and is only now, in 7th grade, learning to read independently. Yet he chanted from the Torah, recited the Sh’ma, helped lead the service, and delivered a D’var Torah that was unique in several important ways. He was thrilled, and so were we.
How can you make your child’s celebration equally memorable?
1). Know your child and make accommodations accordingly. Do not hesitate to ask your rabbi to work with you on this. If your child is outgoing as our son is, and can handle a lot of guests, fine. If she is fearful of crowds or has performance anxiety, keep it intimate.
The Shireinu program was started in June 2008 when Dr. Nancy Crown mentioned to Rabbi Levine’s wife that she felt her daughter with special needs did not fit in at Rodeph Sholom and therefore could only attend services on the high holidays.
As part of Jewish Disability Awareness Month 2012, my daughter Shaina, now 11, addressed a group of third through sixth graders at Temple Israel Center in White Plains. This is what she said:
“Hi, my name is Shaina and I am 8 years old. I have a brother and his name is Avi. He is 11 years old. Avi loves to play like all other kids but he plays in a different way. He loves the things that other kids love, like music, videos, games and other things. But Avi behaves differently and learns differently because he has autism. This means that his brain works differently and it is hard for him to make friends and understand like other kids his age.
Editor's Note: This blog originally appeared on www.jkidphilly.org
Most stories about inclusion in the Jewish community don’t involve singing in a Baptist church, but this one does.
For the last 25 years, members from my Conservative shul Beth Am Israel have come together annually with our local counterparts from a Reform temple and a predominantly African American Baptist church to sing in fellowship as the Unity Choir. We honor the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy together for the holiday weekend, but our collaborative partnership endures throughout the year.
The events of my son’s Bar Mitzvah day don't begin to tell the story of how Max arrived at this moment. Nor do they tell the story of the special connection that he, and we, have developed with the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue congregation, and the gratitude we feel toward this place.
Same as many young adult Jews, I hadn't felt the urgency to choose a synagogue until we knew that we were going to be parents. But once we did know, I diligently did the full tour of upper Manhattan's Reform synagogues and settled on Stephen Wise.
Max was born on Erev Rosh Hashanah. Having arrived over five weeks premature, Max spent the first nine days of his life down at Roosevelt Hospital before we could bring him home.
Last week's announcement by Jerry Seinfeld that he is "probably on the autism spectrum" has been met with mixed emotions by those of us who are connected to the autism community. There are those who applaud Seinfeld for being open about his struggles with social engagement and those who fear that his announcement will somehow diminish the struggles of those on the spectrum. Both sides are excoriating one another in the blogosphere, highlighting the division between the parents of low-functioning kids and the parents of the high-functioning ones.
A couple of weeks ago, my family and I spent five amazing days at Tikvah Family Camp at Ramah in the Poconos, connecting with other families who have children with a range of special needs and enjoying camp life. During the mornings, children are paired with “Chavereem” who lead them in sports, art, swimming and other activities while parents get time to themselves. One of my highlights from this year’s camp was when I met up with my 11-year-old son, George, who has autism, and his lovely Chavera Davida at lunch. “George LOVED cooking!” Davida exclaimed. “He was so focused and into it. He did a great job.”
I smiled. George and I have been cooking together since he was four, when a cognitive-behavioral therapist recommended cooking as a way for us to engage in back and forth sharing and connecting. I thought she was crazy; at that time, George’s behavior was so hyper that he might only focus on a preferred activity for a minute at a time.