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March 12, 2009 - Image 44

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2009-03-12

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Health & Fitness


Learning Life

WSU study shows special needs kids learn best in a Lifetown-like setting.

Francine Wunder
Special to the Jewish News


study recently completed by Dr.
Shlomo Sawilowsky, a Wayne
State University statistician
and assistant dean of the College of
Education, provides the first scientific
evidence that Lifetown,
a program of the
Friendship Circle in
West Bloomfield, is cur-
rently the most effective
mechanism available
for providing life skills
to children with special
Dr. Sawilowsky needs.
"Lifetown is the
opposite of the one-size-fits-all inclu-
sion model, which is generally accepted
by the academic community as the pre-

vailing wisdom for how best to educate
children with special needs:' Sawilowsky
said. "This study directly challenges that
widely held belief."
Lifetown, the brainchild of Rabbi and
Mrs. Levi Shemtov of the Lubavitch
Foundation of Michigan, helps special
needs children learn academic and social
skills to function in the real world. The
"town" is a near-perfect simulation of
a traditional community environment,
complete with a hair salon, bank, drug-
store, movie theater and more. It allows
a child to experiment with realistic situ-
ations where social risks are mitigated
and controlled.
Researchers observed actual behaviors
and monitored if students from ran-
domly selected schools were able to rep-
licate previously taught skills. Research
showed virtually no recidivism and, in

some cases, a doubling and quadrupling
of skill repetition from one Lifetown visit
to the next.
According to Sawilowsky, traditional
schools typically rely on community-
based interventions or field trips to teach
social interaction in different settings.
Although those interventions can be
effective, the researchers found that the
innovative Lifetown environment pro-
vided increased learning outcomes and
the ability of children to retain the skills
they had learned.
Sawilowsky recounted the story of an
autistic child who became hysterical at
a local movie theater. Given the social
unacceptability of this behavior, his par-
ents were determined not to repeat the
experience. Through Lifetown, however,
the child became acclimated to the the-
ater, and movies became one of his favor-

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March 12 • 2009


ite social activities.
"Lifetown gives special needs children
the ability to express their identity and
make choices:' Sawilowsky said. "It is the
gift of self-determination for children
who can aspire to a higher quality of life."
According to Sawilowsky, this research
provides support for replicating Lifetown
facilities in other locations throughout
the world, such as the facility in Ohio
currently under construction.
"There is not a commercial pilot out
there who did not learn by simulating
what it is like to fly:' he said.
"Lifetown gives children a chance to
feel what it's like to soa
Cr ) in much the
same way."

Francine Wunder is director of corporate/

public affairs at Wayne State University,

Jews And Organic Farming
The free program "Supporting
Local Organic Farming: It's A Jewish
Environmental Issue" will be held at 2 p.m.
Sunday, March 22, at Congregation Beth
The event is co-sponsored by Beth
Ahm's Tikkun Olam Social Action
Committee and the Michigan Coalition for
the Environment and Jewish Life.
Guest speaker Michelle Lutz of Maple
Creek Farm of Yale, Mich., will offer exper-
tise on organic growing, the health and
welfare of organically grown food and
how people dan participate in purchasing
organically grown fruits and vegetables
directly from the farmer.
Lutz is a certified organic farmer in St.
Clair County.
Beth Ahm is located at 5075 W. Maple
Road in West Bloomfield. For information
on this event, call the synagogue office at
(248) 851-6880.

OU Passover Guide
New York — The annual Orthodox Union
Guide to Passover has information about
the latest Passover products and Jewish
law guidelines.
The guide can be accessed on the OU
Web site, www.oupassover.org. To order
individual copies for $3 each, contact
Roberta Levine at roberta@ou.org or
(212) 613-8125.

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