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Jewish Journal

Summertime Family Playdates with HaMercaz

Sarah Blitzstein, MA, MSW, Director, HaMercaz

August 24, 2011 | 9:59 pm

There’s something amazing about summertime. Spontaneous trips with the family to the beach, the children’s museum, the amusement park. There’s no homework, schedules are loose and everyone is more laid back. You pile into the car, pack leftovers into Tupperware and head off into the hot summer sun. At the end of the day, everyone enjoys an ice-cream and the kids fall asleep on the way home.

Sounds like the perfect summer day, but for many families raising children with special needs,. ‘spontaneity’ and ‘loose schedules’ are more curse than blessing. Kids with special needs often love routine and schedule and spontaneous trips aren’t on their schedule. Trips to the park are difficult because your son with autism wants go up and down the slide for hours, which is hard when other children are waiting in line. A child with sensory issues may hate the feeling of sand on his body. And you may have other children as well—siblings who want to (and can) run around the playground, wait their turns, climb the jungle gym unaided.  Other moms and dads seem to be socializing with one another.  But you can’t because you need to watch your child’s every move.  And sometimes that includes apologizing for your child’s behavior, knowing they are thinking ‘why doesn’t she discipline him?’ or ‘what kind of a dad hovers that way??’

Are you looking for a different experience?  One where you might say, ‘This is a place where my children can feel safe—and I can relax with other moms’?  Where you might say, ‘This is the only place where I don’t feel my child is weird—he’s just one of the group’?  Where another parent might say to you, ‘Don’t worry, this is a place where you never have to feel embarrassed’?  This is what families who attend HaMercaz playdays tell us…over and over and over.  HaMercaz is the one-stop resource for families with children with special needs,  a program of the Jewish Federation and Jewish Family Service and eight other Jewish agencies. Our multigenerational family events are held 5-7 times a year.  And the events are for the whole family—you and all your children, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. Anyone you want to bring.  Each family event is held in a setting reserved especially for HaMercaz families—the Zimmer Museum, the Noah’s Ark Exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center, parks, equestrian centers.  These family events are wonderful ways for families with children with a variety of special needs to meet, play and get to know each other.  As one of our moms told us, ‘I get to play, too—with other moms!’

On September 15 HaMercaz is hosting a family play date at Noah’s Ark at the Skirball Cultural Center (visit www.Hamercaz.org for more information). If you live in Los Angeles and have a child or grandchild with special needs, you’re invited to join us. We’d love to have you join us; at the end of the day, everyone leaves with a goody bag and a smile on their face.  It may not be ice cream, but it’s just as sweet.

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