Autism

My Son Had a Rosh Hashanah Meltdown but That’s Not What I Remember

The High Holy Days are difficult for everyone. The services are long. The liturgy relies heavily on theological notions that are often in conflict with our modern day beliefs. There is a lot of Hebrew. Unfamiliar melodies. For most of us, however, we are able to overcome our discomfort and even, for some of us, use it at a spiritual tool.

For kids like my son Ben, who is on the autism spectrum, these are just a few of the obstacles. Bright lights. Loud sound system. Uncomfortable seats. And throngs of people. These can make an already overwhelming experience seem just unbearable. And then we come to the clothes. It is expected that we dress appropriately for shul. Ben, who has some sensory sensitivities, comes unglued when forced to wear anything that “hurts.”

While it was the act of getting dressed that triggered Ben’s first meltdown, we knew that it was fueled by the anxiety of all of the above.

While it was the attempt of figuring out how to maneuver (e.g. sitting, standing, walking) in his itchy, wool tallit that triggered Ben’s second meltdown, we knew that it too was fueled by the anxiety of all of the above.

But that’s not what I remember about that day.

Walking up the aisle, prior to the start of services on Rosh Hashanah morning, is my son, resplendent in his new
tallit
 and looking like any other freshly-minted Bar Mitzvah.

My heart buckled under the weight of pride. Ben is the fourth generation to wear a tallit gadol–a HUGE prayer shawl. His was woven by our family’s weaver in Jerusalem and adorned with needlework by my mother. When my parents presented it to him this past April, in a private ceremony, he took his place in the line of tradition. Both a communal one and a familial one.

Captured in that one moment, Ben did not appear any different from the other emerging adults. Nothing about him bespoke the internal turmoil caused by an event like the High Holy Days. No indication of the earlier meltdown. Nor of the one yet to come. It was a moment of perfection. A moment providing me with a glimpse of Ben at his fullest potential.

Which is what these days of awe are meant to be. A reminder that when we push aside the anxieties, frustrations, meltdowns, and fears, all that is left is our fullest potential. Just as Ben works with his behavioral therapist to find strategies that will uncover his potential, we use these days to reflect on the past year and strategize for the upcoming one. Then, and only then, can our best selves emerge.


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Rebecca Einstein Schorr

Ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr is a CLAL Rabbis Without Borders Fellow, a contributing author of The New Normal: Blogging Disability, and the editor of the newsletter of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Her writing appears regularly on various sites and she is a frequent guest on Huffington Post Live. Rebecca is a contributor toThe Sacred Encounter: Jewish Perspectives on Sexuality (CCAR Press, April 2014), and is the co-editor of a forthcoming title on the impact of forty years of women in the rabbinate. Writing at her blog, This Messy Life (www.rebeccaeinsteinschorr.com), Rebecca finds meaning in the sacred and not-yet-sacred intersections of daily life. Engage with her on Twitter @rebeccaschorr.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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