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March 15, 1991 - Image 156

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-03-15

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Special Children, Special Parents, Special Programs


Once, a friend asked me a
question which I know has crossed
the minds of others. "Why do you
teach those kids? Can they really
learn anything, anyway?"
A few weeks later I had an
answer. I visited one of my new
students in her public school class.
Knowing the child's limitations, I
was certain that she would be
oblivious to my presence. As I
entered the room however,
she immediately rushed over to me,
hugged me, and sang "Torah,
Torah, Torah tzivah lanu Moshe."
Moved to tears, I had one answer to
my friend's questions.
Years ago, I taught a student
with reading, fine motor and
language difficulties. I shudder to
think what some would have
assumed his learning capabilities to
be. But, by the time he reached his
teens, he was active in Jewish
youth groups and encouraging
friends to do the same. He
continued to study Judaism and
attended synagogue regularly. He
assisted communal leaders and
worked successfully with special
needs children. Another response to
my friend's query . . . and there are
many, many, many more.
Long before the enactment of
legislation which guarantees equal
rights to handicapped children, our
Torah taught us. "Veshinantam
Livanecha, and you should teach
them (the words of the Torah) to
your children." This parental
obligation is not relegated to bright,
academically-oriented children. It is
the birthright of every Jewish child.
Each child's potential must be
realized. Having a handicap does
not diminish the status of a human
being in the Torah view.
In special education
classrooms, we use basic
techniques which are easily applied
to both the regular classroom as
well as to children at home. These
include: creating a supportive
environment, organization, providing
clear and consistent expectations,
and task analysis. It is impossible to
maintain a perfect score in all of
these areas, all of the time.
Providing a supportive
environment where the child can
feel his self worth is our first and
foremost goal. We reward with
enthusiasm and with praise that
compliments specific behaviors. And
we do it frequently. It may be
difficult to praise a child who sets
the table with each place setting
looking different. But encouraging
the child with, "Hey, thanks for
saving me the job; I appreciate your
setting the table," will encourage

L 4


FRIDAY, MARCH 15, 1991

the child to act positively, on his
own initiative, in the future, as well.
Where possible, provide
opportunities for social experiences.
Friendship is basic to human
development. It is not a luxury; it is
a necessity. Some children need to
model and practice interactions with
friends. Groups which focus on
activities in which the child shows
capability will foster self esteem.
Avoid the 3 C's: criticism,

"Each child's potential
must be realized. Having
a handicap does not
diminish the status of a
human being in the
Torah view."

comparison, and competition and
always emphasize the positive.
Children with special needs,
need to be taught to organize their
environment. They are innately less
organized. Their space as well as
their time needs structure so that
they can feel in control of
themselves and in touch with the
world around them.
Establish routines and
organization in time, as well. To
certain children, deviations in
routine can be very upsetting. Even
a birthday party or a trip to the zoo
can leave a child angry and
confused if it interfered with daily
rituals. So please, let's not blame
our children or ourselves for

outbursts after special activities. If
you feel your child can handle the
stimulation of the activity and the
change it will cause in routine, walk
your child through the steps of the
event beforehand.
Our third technique is providing
clarity and consistency in rules and
expectations. A child must know
which behaviors will bring praise
and which will not. These must
remain consistent for a child to have
a sense of control over himself.
Our final technique is task
analysis. We break a task involving
more than one step into separate
components. If I think my child is
ready to learn to keep his or her
room neat, I will say, "Pick up your
clothes and put them in the
hamper." After he or she has done
this successfully numerous times, I
will say "Put your clothes in the
hamper and put your toys in your
toy box." After each component is
mastered I will add a new one. I will
also be sure to use directions which
are specific and concise. I know I
will not be satisfied with the results
if I merely say, "Clean up your
room." The directions are too vague.
Early identification of
developmental delays is crucial.
Even though it is difficult to face
these problems we must seek
professional help as soon as we
suspect a difficulty. First, some
serious problems can be averted or
corrected if identified early enough.
In other cases, we can begin to
make use of services and therapies

which, the earlier started, the more
benefit they will have. A third reason
is the emotional outcomes which
result from an unidentified problem.
A child can be developmentally
unable to reach goals set by
parents and teachers. By the time
the child is identified he or she will
feel angry at being mistreated and
Once parents become truly
knowledgeable about their child's
condition and needs, parents, too,
become professionals and experts.
Proceed then to seek out all of the
best services, schools, and
therapies from which the child will
Joining a support group of
other families with special needs
children can be most helpful to
parents as well as siblings. Take full
advantage of all respite, and in-
home help from any source.
Finally, endorse yourself
constantly. Realize how great your
accomplishments are each day.
Take the time to reflect on your
heroic efforts and your courage.
Just as you create a positive
environment for your children,
create the same supportive inner
environment for yourself. You are
entitled to great respect and
admiration for the loving kindness
and bravery with which you meet
the challenges of each new day.

Bayla Landsman is Special
Education Coordinator at Agency for
Jewish Education.

New Group Offers Empathy, Support

If I could offer one word of
advice to parents whose children
have disabilities, it would be this:
support. There's nothing else like
it. No matter how many
sympathetic friends and family
members you have, there is no
substitute for the understanding
nod or empathetic smile of
someone who has been where
you are.
I have always been a great
believer in support groups. At
various times during my life, I
have belonged to support groups
for losing weight, surviving a
divorce, forming a stepfamily, and
becoming a new mother after the
age of 35. In these groups I have
found comfort, companionship and
practical advice to help me
through many difficult and
unfamiliar situations.
This is the purpose of Keshet,
an organizaton for Jewish parents
of children with disabilities.
Keshet, the Hebrew word for

"rainbow," is based on the belief
that every Jewish child should be
able to participate as fully as
possible in the mainstream of
Jewish life.
Keshet is open to Jewish
families of all denominations,
whose children have any type of
handicap; including learning
disabilities, physical handicaps,
mental illness and developmental
Keshet has existed in the
Chicago area since 1983, when it
was founded by a small group of
concerned parents.
Now, this organization has
come to the Detroit area. The
Detroit Keshet Chapter held its
opening meeting early this month.
The Detroit Chapter will begin
with such activities as parent
support groups, an outreach and
referral network, a speaker's
bureau, a newsletter, and other
programs designed to meet the
needs of this special community.

Several months ago, a Jewish
Welfare Federation-sponsored Task
Force on Disabilities completed its
three-year study. Dozens of
interviews with parents of children
with handicaps revealed the same
sad findings: a sense of isolation
among the Jewish community that
made a difficult situation even
more unbearable.
It is undeniably painful to
have a child with a disability. It's
the kind of pain that ebbs and
flows, but never really goes away.
Keshet offers parents an
opportunity to convert that pain
into positive energy, the kind of
energy that spreads hope and
comfort to families where those
assets are in short supply.
Keshet, true to its name, can
help bring the rainbow of promise
to those who need it most.
For more information on
Keshet, contact Ronelle Grier,
—Ronelle Grier

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