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A Teen with Asperger’s Tells Her Story to Her Peers

On the TV show Parenthood, teenager Max has Asperger’s Syndrome. While running for student body president, Max tells his classmates about his Asperger’s. The episode is riveting television, but not quite as poignant as when one of our Congregation Or Ami teens stepped up before her peers and shared her own Asperger’s story.

It all began when one of our teens and her mother watched the Parenthood episode. It inspired her to contact their rabbis to suggest that our teen tell her fellow teens about how her Asperger’s affects her. Since at Congregation Or Ami we start at “yes” – especially with regards to full accessibility for individuals and families with special needs – we moved quickly to scheduling a date for her presentation to her peers.

Our teen worked with her parents to compose a paragraph about her strengths and challenges she wanted to share with the group. To make it most comfortable for our teen, one of our rabbis was present to support her when she was speaking.

Jewish Teenager with Asperger’s Shares Her Story with Her Temple Peers

Our teen said:

I have Asperger’s Syndrome. It is a part of me. I might think differently than you do. My brain is kind of like a MAC and everyone else is PC. I just do things a little differently. My brain functions a different way than yours does. It’s not wrong or bad to have Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s just another way of thinking and being. 1 out of 88 people is on the autism spectrum. This is a recent number. Chances are you, or your mom, dad, sibling, grandparents, whichever, may know someone who works with, is friends with, or goes to school with someone on the autism spectrum. Scientists are still not sure what causes Asperger’s Syndrome. They have been working since the 1930’s to discover what it is and what causes it. 

There are people who have been suspected to have some form of autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. 

  • Temple Grandin is an American doctor of animal science.
  • Bill Gates is the creator of Microsoft and is one of the richest men in the world.
  • Albert Einstein was a German/American theoretical physicist.
  • Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States. 

My Strengths:

  • Artist
  • Ambitious
  • Honest
  • Loyal
  • Loves Animals, and
  • Loves Reading

My Struggles

  • I can take things out of context.
  • I may say things that might seem rude, but I don’t mean it.
  • It’s hard for me to make eye contact and make friends.
  • If it seems like I walk away sometimes, I just need a little break.

What can you do?

  • Understand that I struggle with social interaction and try to understand what I am going through.
  • Accept everyone as unique and valuable.
  • Talk to kids who seem shy. Include them.
  • Stand up for kids that are being bullied.
  • Don’t be reluctant to give friendship advice, but be kind about it.

Our teen answered some questions and the session continued with the scheduled session plan. But like the fictional Max from tv’s Parenthood, our real-life teen inspired her peers and taught us all about strength, grace and courage.

On Judaism and Accessibility

Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA has long been committed to accessibility for individuals with special needs and their families. We have a webpage emphasizing our accessibility to Jews with Disabilities. Our Brandon Kaplan Special Needs Fund helps us integrate people with special needs and their families into all aspects of our congregation. We are also the synagogue for Chaverim, a program of Jewish Family Service, for developmentally disabled adults, age 18 to 88. I blog regularly about the intersection of Judaism and Jews with Disabilities.

Our national Reform Jewish movement – especially the Union for Reform Judaism – has a long history of working for full inclusion and openness for people with disabilities and special needs.

URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, CA has a dedicated Nefesh team comprised of psychologists, therapists and social workers who are at camp all summer. The Nefesh team helps the counselors and roshim (unit heads) integrate and support all children with unique situations (including emotional, physical, psycho-social and other “special needs”). Read about Ethan’s experience at Camp Newman.

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