The New York Times (December 4, 2007) wrote eloquently about the challenges and successes of Asperger’s Syndrome (Asperger’s Syndrome Gets a Very Public Face). It warmed my heart as a relative and as a rabbi.
I care deeply about someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, a relative of autism, characterized by unusual social interaction and communication skills and by an inability to read social cues. Years before this syndrome was diagnosed, we shared frustration with many interactions.
Today, we recognize Asperger’s Syndrome for what it is, a mental health issue, a personal challenge. I am pleased to have read about the poignant experience of Heather Kuzmich, who as a contestant on “America’s Next Top Model,” simultaneously served as a model for others with Asperger’s syndrome. She didn’t win (I wouldn’t really know since I don’t watch the show), but she did win the hearts of hundreds of thousands of viewers, not to mention scores of people with Asperger’s and their family members who were cheering her on.
As a rabbi, I retain fond memories about officiating at the B’nai Mitzvah ceremonies of so many children with with autism, Asperger’s and other special needs. Each was meaningful and heartwarming. Each was both special and exceedingly normal.
Perhaps that is the larger lesson that Heather Kuzmich’s experience teaches. Though facing challenges which are sometimes overwhelming, our special needs children and adults, relatives and friends deserve all the opportunities that we give to others. With patience and some assistance, they too can serve as top models for themselves and others.