Jewish Journal


March 9, 2000

Sound Advice

Two seminars disseminate science and advice


Two recent conferences held in the Jewish community -- one on autism, the other on a wide scope of disabilities -- demonstrated the difficulties of reconciling research and reality when it comes to helping individuals with special needs.

The University of Judaism (UJ) held its second annual symposium on autism March 2. About 150 people, from both inside and outside of the UJ, attended the conference which emphasized using behavior modification as the most effective response to autism.

Keynote speaker Gina Green, Ph.D., president of the Association for Behavior Analysis, devoted much of her speech to dismissing other popular and controversial treatments, including facilitated communication, where severely autistic individuals are helped to communicate via typing on a computer, and dietary interventions such as gluten-free and milk-free diets, as bunk.

Taking a different tack, the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) sought to address the challenge of educating parents as well as teachers with the Special Needs Information 2000 held Feb. 6 at Stephen S. Wise Temple. More than 400 people, mostly parents, attended seminars on such subjects as evaluating a school for the child with special needs, getting the most out of state-funded service centers, and how to include the developmentally disabled in a yeshiva setting.

The all-day seminars attracted popular local speakers like Dr. Susan Schmidt-Lackner, medical director for the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute's early childhood partial hospitalization program, who spoke on new trends in medicine for treating people with autism. Like Green at the UJ symposium, Schmidt-Lackner advised her audience to be cautious about falling under the spell of untested or unreliable treatments.

"You have to be very careful because there is going to be a 'cure du jour' out every week. We do not want our children to become guinea pigs," she said.

In another session, representatives from the Westside Regional Center outlined the services available for parents and how to develop a good relationship with a child's caseworker.

"What is so overwhelming for parents is that it feels so difficult to get the services you need," said Soryl Markowitz, a WRC quality assurance specialist. "But the more knowledgeable you become, the more you will be able to access those services."

Dina Kaplan, an attorney whose six-year-old son has multiple disabilities, agreed that knowledge is power when it comes to helping children with special needs. Kaplan is executive director of the K.E.N. Project, a parent training and advocacy organization.

"I tell parents all of the time it is very important to educate yourself regarding your child's rights, the services they are entitled to and how to get them," she said.

The Information also featured booths hosted by special needs schools, support groups and other resources including the Julia Ann Singer Center, Vista Del Mar, the Autism Society of Los Angeles, the UCLA Family Support Community Program, Etta Israel and the Chai Lifeline for children with catastrophic illnesses.

"There is a great need for ongoing seminars of this sort," said Kenneth Schaefler, Ph.D., director of the BJE's Department of Special Education and Psychological Services. Schaefler is looking for "angels" to help fund seminar speakers and pay for substitutes so schools do not have to close for their teachers to attend special needs in-services.

The BJE, a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, has a special education department that holds ongoing forums for parents and educators. For more information call (323) 761-8629. Those interested in joining the field of special education graduate programs are urged to call (310) 476-9777.

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