Posted by Michelle K. Wolf
Among the serious and shallow issues popping up in social media this past week was a story that you may have missed. A Canadian family in Ontario, with a 13-year-old son, Max, who has autism, received a horrible hateful anonymous letter from a neighbor who wrote, among other cruel things, “Do the right thing and move or euthanize him!!
The anonymous author of the letter (who signed herself, “one pissed off Mom") complained about the loud noises that Max makes when he is playing outside, and that her "normal" kids are upset at hearing Max. She then goes on to say, “You had a retarded kid, deal with it properly!!!! What right do you have to do this to hard working people!!!!!!!”
To her credit the mom, Karla Begley, has responded with a public stand against intolerance and hate. She said in an interview with blogger Ellen Seidman,
“I will not stoop to an insulting level. What I have to say is about tolerance, acceptance and respect for kids with special needs…. If Max's sounds bother someone, I'd hope that person would let us know in a respectful way. Give us a chance to handle it instead of being cowardly about it. I'd rather people bring things out in the open.”
Maybe if this pissy Mom took her kids over to Max’s house once in a while and had actually gotten to know Max, their whole family would have been more tolerant and understanding of his loud noises.
In fact, a new study in the UK released today showed that children who are exposed to people with disabilities — either directly or indirectly — have more positive attitudes about those with special needs.
In a survey of 1,520 kids ages 7 to 16, researchers found that increased familiarity with those who have disabilities led to more positive feelings. Even having a close friend or family member who had friendships or acquaintances with someone with a disability helped to lessen the negativity and fear.
“We have known for some time that integrating children with disabilities into the regular classroom can improve attitudes. What we have established here is just how much of a difference a greater presence in day-to-day life makes,” said Megan MacMillan of the University of Exeter Medical School in England who presented the findings Thursday at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference.
As we enter this period of personal introspection during the High Holidays, let’s add to our communal to-do list the need to create more opportunities for our typical kids and their families to talk, play and hangout with families who have kids with disabilities.
Inclusion is good for the kids with disabilities but it’s even better for the typical kids.
12.20.13 at 6:17 pm | The 20th anniversary gala of ETTA/ OHEL for. . .
12.5.13 at 8:56 pm | The first national Leadership Institute on. . .
12.3.13 at 7:51 am |
11.22.13 at 6:05 pm | When all four Jewish movements come together to. . .
11.15.13 at 12:00 am | Self-Advocates and Family Members are furious by. . .
11.3.13 at 10:36 pm | Teachers-in-training want to include more. . .
12.5.13 at 8:56 pm | The first national Leadership Institute on. . . (14)
4.21.11 at 11:23 pm | In the search for a "home" for our young adults. . . (12)
12.20.13 at 6:17 pm | The 20th anniversary gala of ETTA/ OHEL for. . . (9)
August 23, 2013 | 6:01 pm
Posted by Michelle K. Wolf
My motivations for attending LimmudLA last week were far from spiritual—I didn’t feel like cooking on my birthday weekend, and looked forward to being away at camp, far from a long to-do list of personal and professional tasks.
So, away we went to the Brandeis-Bardin Campus, not really sure how it would work bringing along our teenage son Danny who has significant developmental disabilities. If the sessions weren’t a good fit for Danny, and if the onsite childcare didn’t work out, we would simply just take turns going to the many options available – text study of many types, history, art, Krav Maga (Israeli self-defense), Jewish story telling and much more. See the full Jewish Journal article on LimmudLA Fest here.
With help from Akiko Yonekawa, a Limmud LA Fest Co-Chair and who works at the camp, we had a comfortable, disabled-access cabin, with a walk-in shower and grab bars in the bathroom, plus we were located close enough to most of the action for Danny to use his walker. There were ramps to get up and down the hilly area, although it was a workout to push a wheelchair up to the top.
As it turned out, the biggest limitation to my participation was a nasty headache/sore throat that forced me to rest instead of attending as many sessions as I wanted to. Danny loved the joyful, eclectic outdoor Kabbalat Shabbat service with talented singer/songwriter Noami Less, and felt at home at the traditional egalitarian minyan held both Friday night and Saturday morning.
The childcare staff from Habonim Dror Camp Gilboa were fine with us dropping off Danny for a few hours here and there, giving us time to take a walk around and visit the horses (one of them gobbled up my spare banana in a single gulp) or attend a more abstract, intellectual session that would be lost on Danny.
I led a session on “Special Needs and the Jewish Tradition” attended by a small but highly engaged group of attendees, including a middle-aged woman who is hearing-impaired and also having physical challenges. She shared with the group that when a Rabbi once said “deaf and dumb” she was furious, since the two attributes aren’t automatically linked together.
LimmudLA is part of global movement of thousands of Jews in more than 60 locations worldwide who facilitate, participate in, and are passionate about Jewish learning in all of its forms, and is all about diversity, community and volunteerism.
I was so glad to find that Limmud LA lived up to those ideals and created an inclusive, welcoming environment that can serve as a model for the whole Jewish community year-round.
August 11, 2013 | 1:07 am
Posted by Michelle K. Wolf
Although the fifth and final season of the TV show 'Breaking Bad' starts Sunday night, I only started watching previous episodes recently. I had heard many years ago about this AMC series, but had little interest in following the story of a chemistry teacher diagnosed with lung cancer who turns to cooking meth to make a bundle of cash to leave behind for his family. Free time is a precious commodity and I sure didn’t want to waste it on watching a show with which I couldn’t connect in any way.
But after a colleague at work mentioned that the main character, Walter White, has a teenage son with mild cerebral palsy (CP), I had to pull myself away from my Mad Men addiction (love to cheer on Peggy Olson) and watch the show.
The son, played by actor Roy Frank “RJ” Mitte III, actually has CP, although milder than his character, Walter White, Jr. who is shown walking with arm braces and has significantly slurred speech. Shortly after Walter White first “breaks bad” in Season 1, there is a scene in a clothing store in which some kids from Walter White, Jr’s school are making fun of his disability, and his mom walks over, ready to give them a good verbal lashing. But out of nowhere darts his Dad, Walter White, who proceeds to beat the hell out of the young rude jerk, including stomping on his calf and saying to the effect, “having some trouble walking now, huh?” My inner pissed off parent cheered.
After Season 1, the show takes on a much darker descent into violence and greed and Walter White turns into a total absentee father for his own son (so much so that Dad misses his son’s 16th birthday party), but there’s a very small part of me that does connect with this nasty son-of-a-bitch as parent of a teen with CP. Walter White loves his son unconditionally, disability and all, and will fight to his last breath to protect his son (and young daughter) in his own sick, twisted way.
No matter how the show ends (and you know at least a few people are going down), I want thank the show’s Executive Producer, Vince Gilligan, for creating a show with a main character who has a disability, and then for getting it right by casting a talented young man who actually has that disability to play him.
And I’ve been inspired. Next time someone parks in a disabled parking spot without a placard I may just say in my best bad-ass imitation, “Stay out of my territory".
August 3, 2013 | 11:08 pm
Posted by Michelle K. Wolf
"I spent the majority of my life hiding the fact that I am a sib."-- Ellie, from the Bay Area, student at Brandeis University, older sister with Austism Spectrum Disorder and other conditions
"Being the “normal” child comes with an invisible and pervasive weight that many fail to recognize." -Claire from Houston TX, student at Princeton, older brother with Asperger’s Syndrome
"Through the two of them, I discovered a whole new perspective of disability."--Renee, from Houston, TX, student at The University of Texas at Austin
Summer is the certainly the best time of year for a road trip, but for these three young women, who recently completed a seven-week 10,000 mile cross-country driving trip while interviewing 75 siblings of individuals with dfferent types of developmental disabilities along the way, the journey was about much more than the destination.The three "SibsJourney" students met while they were participating in a BBYO/Brandeis high school community-service oriented summer camp in 2011.
Starting in Texas, the trio drove the "sibmobile" in a gignatic loop of America, first heading east, then north, and then west. Along the way, they tweeted and blogged, racking up 12,452 hits.I have been following along their odyssey much of the way, connected to Claire, through a friend of my daughter from their Israel gap-year together.
They video-taped interviews with a diverse group of siblings in terms of age, diagnosis of the sibling, and how having a sibling with a disability has impacted his or her life. Overall, they found that many of the siblings they interviewed had mixed feelings about their brother or sister with a developmental disability.
As Renee posted on June 19, " Many people have had a very positive relationship with their sibling. It is important to recognize that although someone may have a positive relationship with their sibling, it does not mean that every memory is a positive one."
I've pasted in a sampling of two of their posts from their journey, and I encourage you to take the time to read all of the posts and watch the video segments on their website:
"The morning we left Atlanta, we got to speak with a young woman who is currently doing Autism research with Emory University. In addition to having an academic interest in Autism, she has a younger sister who is on the spectrum. She was sweet, intelligent, and compassionate and her story provided us with some new perspectives.
I’ve noticed that so many sibs are more compassionate and understanding than the average individual. Their siblings have taught them to appreciate every person’s abilities. Many sibs have also told us they’ve been called “old souls” in the past and often feel more mature than others their age."
And after an interview with a 18-year-old sibling in New Jersey:
"Natalie has a brother with autism. She has definitely struggled to come to terms with her family dynamic, often preferring to be out of the house except for “showering and sleep, that’s it”. She told us how despite her physical distance from her brother, he was constantly on her mind as she struggled with feelings of guilt about the opportunities and experiences that she was getting to have that would likely never be a reality for her brother."
These three remarkable young woman have together created a richly-textured peek into the the minds of siblings with special needs across the United States, and their project will continue to inform and educate long after their summer tans have faded.