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Feb 20 2014

Hebrew School Inclusion for Children with Special Needs Is Possible, Here’s How

By at 10:16 am

aleph

As part of our month-long series dedicated to Jewish Disability Awareness Month, Lisa Friedman, a Jewish Special educator and advocate for inclusion,  shares her guiding principals for creating a learning environment that is accessible to all students.

In my role as an Education Director of a synagogue’s Hebrew school, I have the good fortune to be able to use my skills to develop programs that enable students of all abilities to learn and thrive in a religious school setting. As an advocate of inclusion, I help guide my community to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities to participate and find meaning through all aspects of synagogue life. Yet, not all synagogues have a Jewish Special Educator. Not all synagogues have a professional who advocates for inclusion. What can parents of children with disabilities do to ensure that their children are fully included in Hebrew school?

First and foremost, open and supportive communication is essential for a successful Jewish Hebrew school experience for any child, but especially those with special learning needs. Be forthcoming about your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Do not assume that the school will turn you away or will not be able to accommodate your child’s needs. Share your child’s IEP, successful strategies from home and other information that will make it easier for your child to be successful. I am not suggesting that this is a magic bullet. There may be bumps and disappointments along the way. But without the willingness to have the conversations, you will never know what is possible. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 13 2014

Jewish Day Camp was No Problem for My Daughter with Special Needs

By at 3:52 pm

How My Daughter with Special Needs fits in at Summer Camp

As part of our month-long series dedicated to Jewish Disability Awareness Month, Sally shares how a Jewish Day Camp diligently worked to make sure her daughter with special needs could attend and thrive.

“Ah-lay-ah-chickee-changa.” This cheer, from Ramah Day Camp in Nyack, New York, is heard often in our home, taught to us by Adi, our 7-year-old daughter.

Adi, who has sufficient speech and language delays and sensory issues to warrant attending a special education school, attended Camp Ramah last summer and experienced one of the highlights of her life so far. Her experience at Camp Ramah, with typical children in a typical edah (unit), was also a highlight for us because her joy was infectious. She was receiving the Jewish education we desire for her–skills, knowledge, and a sense of belonging in a community where Judaism in integral, joyful, and awe-inspiring.

This experience is not one we take for granted. Adi is a wonderful, happy, and inquisitive child who, quite honestly, couldn’t be successful in any existing dual-language Jewish day school, so we never really considered this option. However, we want her to be a knowledgeable Jew who knows that her participation in the Jewish community matters. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 6 2014

My Child With Autism is Going to Jewish Day School (And It’s Working!)

By at 2:11 pm

classroom

As part of our month-long series dedicated to Jewish Disability Awareness Month, Benay shares her success at mainstreaming her son on the autism spectrum into a Jewish day school classroom.

Our son got his first siddur (prayer book) last week, and it was–in a word–amazing. A year ago, I never would have predicted he would be up on that stage. In fact, I was convinced of just the opposite–that my son would not be attending Jewish day school at all, let alone participating in the first grade siddur ceremony. I was so convinced, I blogged about how unlikely it would be for he and our new local community Jewish day school to be a match.

I’ve never been so happy to say I was wrong.

Our son was diagnosed as being on the Autistic spectrum when he was 2 years old. Thanks to an incredible team of therapists providing, among other things, speech and occupational therapy, he made amazing gains. But still, when it came time for kindergarten, he still lacked age-appropriate social and play skills, he avoided trying new things, and he struggled to appropriately express and temper his emotions. So no one said we should consider Jewish day school. Nor did anyone recommend we consider a mainstream classroom. Instead, we enrolled him in a public school program where he received intensive speech and occupational therapy in a self-contained classroom, while spending increasing periods of time in a mainstream classroom. It was a wonderful program, and three-quarters of the way through the year, he was socializing with his peers, not tantruming, and as a result, spending nearly all day in the mainstream classroom. Read the rest of this entry →

Jewish Disability Awareness Month: Let’s Talk About Special Needs Education

By at 11:22 am

jdam copy

February is officially Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM), and we’re happy to partner again with Matan to run a special series on Kveller to highlight the challenges, successes, and everything in between that comes with raising a child with special needs.

Through advocacy, education, and training opportunities, Matan empowers the Jewish community to include children with special needs.

Finding a school that is a good match for a child with special needs can be a monumental task, so this year, we’ll devote this series to all things education. Let’s talk Hebrew school, day school, early childhood programs, inclusion programs, mainstreaming, and special education. Every Thursday in February, we’ll feature a different voice from the special needs community, so be sure to check back in each week.

matan logo

We’ll kick things off later today with an account by Benay Josselson, who–despite earlier predictions–successfully mainstreamed her son into a Jewish day school environment, so keep your eyes peeled and stick with us all month.

Jan 28 2014

What Happens When My Child with Autism Becomes an Adult with Autism?

By at 2:50 pm

uncertainty ahead sign

My daughter is a 10-year-old living with autism. As I watch both her body and her mind grow, I am hit in many different times and many different ways that my daughter is not a little kid anymore.

Gone is the unsteady toddler on wobbly legs and the silky hair that could be washed with a washcloth. Gone is the little one who at the end of the day would cry a sea of warm tears because she was so tired, but who couldn’t relax enough to fall asleep without my hand stroking her back. Gone is the little child’s whose differences often hid behind chubby cheeks, dimpled elbows, and the world of being a small child.

My daughter is growing very quickly. She’s hit puberty early and even though her capability and maturity levels are consistent with a 7-year-old child, I am having a hard time escaping one simple fact: It won’t be long until my child with autism will soon be an adult with autism. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 21 2014

A Second Chance at Jewish Preschool for My Son with Special Needs

By at 10:01 am

preshool

I had always envisioned my children growing up feeling the sense of “Jewishness” that was so special to me in my own childhood, so we started our son at a Jewish preschool at the age of 2.

But it quickly became clear that he simply couldn’t function in a classroom and was getting nothing out of school. Our journey, which eventually led to an autism spectrum diagnosis, brought with it a roller coaster of emotions and never-ending to-do lists, and dealing with all of that required me to push aside my disappointment about giving up his Jewish preschool. It had become obvious that we had to send him to a special education program to provide the hours of intensive therapy he needed. So without so much as a glance back we forged ahead on this path, and amazingly after two years he had progressed so far that he was almost unrecognizable from the 2-year-old he was before it all started.

We found ourselves at the beginning of this current school year, his last year of preschool, with some decisions to make. The special education preschool program in our new school district, as remarkable as it is, did not provide enough hours of school for him with only four short afternoons a week. We knew we should consider a mainstream preschool as a supplement to his special needs program. He would benefit socially from being around “typical” peers, but we couldn’t help but wonder if he was really ready for it. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 3 2013

Interview with Interesting Jews: Ido Kedar, 17-Year-Old Author of “Ido in Autismland”

By at 12:09 pm

ido and tracy keder

My 17-year-old son, Ido, is on a mission to change the world for people with severe autism. He is a tireless advocate, blogger, frequent presenter at universities and autism conferences, and the author of a book about autism which has even been assigned in graduate level university classes.

As Ido writes in the introduction to his blog, “I am an autistic guy with a message. I spent the first half of my life completely trapped in silence. The second, on becoming a free soul. I had to fight to get an education. Now I am a regular education student. I communicate by typing on an iPad or a letter board. My book, Ido in Autismland: Climbing Out of Autism’s Silent Prison, is an autism diary, telling the story of my symptoms, education, and journey into communication. I hope to help other autistic people find a way out of their silence too.”

Ido seeks to educate the professionals in the autism field to understand severe, nonverbal autism better and to provide children with a richer, more appropriate education and a true means to communication. He has become a source of hope for parents of children with autism and for people with autism as well. As a family, it has been a remarkable journey of triumph over challenges, even as Ido works daily to face new goals and struggles.

Kveller asked that I interview Ido about his life living with autism. His answers were all typed letter by letter on a keyboard. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 8 2013

Friday Night: What Does “I Want Shabbat” Mean in Autism Speak?

By at 11:47 am

cut slices of challah

“I want Shabbat,” my son Benjamin proclaimed on a recent Saturday afternoon as the guests we’d invited over for lunch milled about the house. I looked up from the salad I was throwing together, certain I’d misunderstood him. Shabbat is something we do every week in our house, yet something Benjamin, now 10 years old, had never once acknowledged. But then he said it again.

Benjamin has autism, and with his variation of the disorder comes serious language impairments that make it insanely difficult for him to do something that most of us take for granted; to identify the thoughts he wants to express, find the corresponding words, and then actually put those words out into the world. Communicating is an Everest-scaling level challenge for him, and because of that, Benjamin has become quite adept at paring it down to the basics.

And we, in turn, have become quite adept at interpreting the collection of compact lines he has curated over the years in order to get his needs met. More difficult is decoding the subtext, although we have become increasingly skilled at that part, too. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 31 2013

Parenthood Recap: The Beginning of the End for Julia & Joel

By at 12:04 pm
Erika Christensen and Sam Jaeger, who play Julia and Joel.

Erika Christensen and Sam Jaeger, who play Julia and Joel.

 

To my twelve readers:

Here’s the short of it: the last two episodes of Parenthood bored me a little (though I am still 100% a supporter of this show). So in this recap, I’m going to ignore the filler (Crosby and Adam signing some ridiculous band to their new label, Adam seeking out a big campaign donation for Kristina from a fake rapper named Mistah R.A.Y, etc etc) and focus on the storylines I found interesting/believable. (The interesting/believable criteria gives me license to ignore the Amber-getting-married-to-clearly-not-a-good-choice-Ryan. I will also willfully ignore the Grandpa Zeek-working-on-his-car-with-grandson-Victor-while-also-simultaneously-teaching-him-to-read storyline, because while I love Coach as much as the next gal, I think this material was worth one scene, tops, and not a lot of space in this blog post.

If you were watching closely, you know there were really just one or two incredible scenes in the last two episodes that felt true to life (at least life as a partnered-up parent), and truth is what I’m always hunting when I watch this show. (That, and an excuse to cry.) So here goes: Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 15 2013

I Missed the Autism Early Intervention Boat & That Might Have Been a Good Thing

By at 4:01 pm

autism definition in dictionary

It’s been nearly six years since my daughter was diagnosed with autism. Like many other parents who hear their children have life-long challenges ahead of them, my husband and I went through the seven stages of grief, but I also Googled. Furiously.

While I found no shortage of information, what I found by and large more than anything was that “early intervention” was key to improving the symptoms of autism (personally, I hate calling them behaviors because that makes it sound like it is something which can be controlled). Most websites I consulted say a version of the same thing:

“Early intervention is your child’s best hope for the future.” Getting critical therapy before the ages of 4 or 5 was key to helping them improve the core behavioral symptoms of autism (there’s that word again). I signed up for loads of parental forums on the topic and heard the word I most wanted to hear: cure. Early intervention, many parents said, could cure my daughter of autism.

My daughter had just turned 5 when she was diagnosed, so not only was she on the autism spectrum, but we had missed the cutoff age for her best hope for the future.

We were screwed. Read the rest of this entry →

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