Posted by Michelle K. Wolf
Were all pre-modern humans brutish and nasty? Were the ill and disabled dispatched to their fate in the wilderness for the “greater good’? I shuddered when I first read that in ancient Sparta, the high priest inspected every newborn and if the child had a disability of any kind, the authorities killed the child immediately.
But the past isn’t completely dismal. A friend sent me a link to a fascinating recent story in the New York Times titled, “Ancient Bones That Tell the Story of Compassion” that discusses how archaeologists have found evidence in human bones that at least in some places in the world, people with life-long disabilities were taken care of by others.
In the area of present-day northern Vietnam, two archaeologists from the Australian National University in Canberra found one skeleton around 4,000 years old buried in a fetal position. All the other skeletons were found laid out straight. Upon further investigation, it became clear that this adult had been severely physically disabled for at least a decade.
“His fused vertebrae, weak bones and other evidence suggested that he lies in death as he did in life, bent and crippled by disease… he had little, if any, use of his arms and could not have fed himself or kept himself clean. But he lived another 10 years or so. ..They concluded that the people around him who had no metal and lived by fishing, hunting and raising barely domesticated pigs, took the time and care to tend to his every need. “
And this wasn’t the only isolated example. Other archaeologists have unearthed similar stories told by the bones left behind, such as boy from about 7,500 years ago, found in Florida, who had a severe congenital spinal malformation known as spina bifida, and lived to around age 15. (Spina Bifida is a neural tube defect in which the bones of the spine do not completely form, resulting in an incomplete spinal canal.)
I was deeply moved by reading this article and hope you will be too. With all the darkness and cruelty that we’ve been witnessing in this, our “modern” era, maybe we need to go back in time to find the communal kindness of humanity.
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December 16, 2012 | 1:14 am
Posted by Michelle K. Wolf
I first heard about the Connecticut school tragedy from the TV stations at the gym, and felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. I wanted to hear more about what had happened but couldn't stand to keep listening as the terrible details begin to emerge.
In my mind, I could easily picture the chaotic scene inside the elementary school, with screams over the public address system and teachers locking their doors, and telling their small charges to get into the closets for safety. I could imagine parents feeling the floor drop out under them when they learned that their first-grader had been killed. So utterly horrible and senseless.
I felt another pang of dispair when I read that the gunman, Adam Lanza, had been diagnosed with Asperger’s, sometimes characterized as a mild form of autism with a high degree of social awkwardness. I thought of all the many remarkable teens and young adults with the same diagnosis we have met along our journey with our teenage son who has developmental disabilities. So many of them are smart, caring people, who just want to be accepted as they are, quirks and all. Would they somehow be blamed for this atrocity? Would there be an immediate leap to brand all people with Asperger’s as prone to violence?
In a widely-circulated AP article, a Los Angeles expert quickly dispelled that notion.
"There really is no clear association between Asperger's and violent behavior," said psychologist Elizabeth Laugeson, an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.
But many people over at WrongPlanet.net, an online community and resource for Autism and Asperger’s, are very worried that with all the media focus and frenzy on Lanza’s diagnosis, it will paint a broad brush of blame for all teens and adults with those developmental disabilities.
One individual with Asperger’s said he is “really worried about the hate now” and another wrote about that he’s been bullied and beat up for most of his life, and fears it will only be harder for him in the future.
A posting from Autism Rights Watch lays out the issue very well:
“The search for answers should not be a search for a scapegoat. Autism is no excuse or explanation to evil. Being “autistic”, “odd”, “awkward”, “camera shy”, a “nerd” and “uncomfortable with others” does not cause a person to become a mass murderer. Autistic persons are more likely to be victims, rather than perpetrators of violence. “
Please, let's all work together to prevent another victim of this terrible tragedy.
December 6, 2012 | 10:43 pm
Posted by Michelle K. Wolf
As we get ready to celebrate another 8-day marathon of carbs, candles and explaining to our non-Jewish colleagues why we aren’t taking off time from work, it’s hard not to compare this year’s Hanukkah with those of the past.
To paraphrase from a major Jewish holiday, Why is this Hanukkah different from every other Hanukkah? For parents of children and young adults with special needs, I feel that we have moved the communal discussion from a marginal issue in the Jewish community to a much more mainstream concern. The passionate flame that so many parents and families have kept alive for years is growing bigger all the time. The recent two-day national conference after the Jewish Federation’s General Assembly on “Opening Abraham’s Tent” is one shining example of this.
Another sign of this shift in collective consciousness was that the JTA (the Jewish global “wire service “) today included a special Hanukkah feature on “8 tips for an accessible Chanukah” from Gateways Access to Jewish Education, a Boston-based agency for Jewish special education. The tips are creative, inexpensive and easy for every family/Jewish organization to incorporate into their celebrations and parties.
Here in Los Angeles, many of us were thrilled when The Shalom Institute/Camp JCA Shalom chose to award Elaine Hall with the “Vision Award” at last week’s gala, under the evening’s overarching theme of “Celebrating a place where everyone belongs”.
Elaine Hall is the mother of Neal, a Camp JCA Shalom camper who has non-verbal autism and communicates mostly by typing on his Ipad. Elaine is also the founder of The Miracle Project, a non-profit that uses drama as a social/recreational modality to reach children and teens with special needs, along with their typical peers. Neal is now working at the camp once a week, helping to harvest fruits and vegetables from their organic farm.
Neal, now 18 years old, attended JCA Shalom camp for the first time many years ago with our son Danny, and another two boys with developmental disabilities. We had turned to Bill Kaplan, the Executive Director of Shalom Institute and Joel Charnick, Camp Director, to test out a new model of sending kids with more severe disabilities to camp with their own aides, paid for by the family or by a state-funded Regional Center.
Although they hadn’t developed the infrastructure for such a program, Bill and Joel said yes to our request, and together created a warm and supportive camp environment. Since then, the Tikvah program at Camp Ramah in Ojai has welcomed campers such as Danny who require an aide, and even added a family camp called “Ohr Lanu” for the parents, siblings and children who have special needs.
As the teens of today grow into adulthood, there is still much to be done to create the needed residential, employment and social programs under Jewish auspices but it does feel good to see the lights of inclusion glowing brighter all the time.