Tag: aspergers

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.

My Hero: A Heartwarming Aspergers Tale

I have a new hero. Someone who I look up to, venerate, and applaud. Someone who inspired and inspires me. I met this hero in New Orleans, while away at a CCAR rabbinical convention.

Sitting in a club listening to some great jazz, I heard my hero’s story. There were tears while it was told. My heart both sanked and soared while I listened. I vowed to always remember the story and shine light on the heroicism.

It’s a story about Aspergers, a condition on the autism scale, which – among other things – leaves those with it, without the crucial ability to read social cues. Unable to tell if you are bored, irritated, or busy, the person with Aspergers just drones on, seemingly acts out, or worse. He sometimes say things that are out of context, not funny, or are offensive. It’s hard for her to maintain friendships because people just don’t get her or can’t handle the challenge.

Worse yet, like a person in early stages of Alzheimer’s or Huntington’s Disease, many people with Aspergers know they are different. They know their life will never be normal. In my hero’s life, the dream was to have one day (just one day!) to be normal, without the Aspergers. A far cry from the new car, new jewelry or an iPad 2 that most of us covet.

It wasn’t working for both mom and dad to work. Aspergers Boy (call him “Abbie”) was not thriving; friendships were not abiding. Mom and Dad were dividing, a load of pressures and responsibilities that threatened to bring them all down. ‘Twas difficult to focus other siblings when Abbie needed such help, guidance and advocacy. Everyone suffered.

Oh, did I mention that mom was a highly successful professional, targeted by many to become the next CEO in her company, while Dad was a well paid craftsman, sought after for the quality of his work. They happily lived near family, surrounded by dear friends.

But life was getting oppressive. They couldn’t keep going. No one was thriving. Something had to change.

So they took a radical step. They searched the country – yes, all over America – for a town that provided real resources for children with Aspergers, in an organic way. They found a place where Abbie could thrive, where mom and dad’s stress would subside, where the needs of the other kids would not collide with the sacred responsibility of raising an Aspergers Boy.

So dad transferred to a new job a half a country away. They bought a house out there. They registered the kids in new schools.

Abbie won’t quite get his wish to be without Aspergers for a day, but he is going to a community where being an Aspergers boy might just be … normal.

Who is my hero, you wonder? Why it’s mom!

Mom is giving up her high profile, highly successful job and career, moving away from her family, leaving her friends, and plopping herself down in the middle of nowhere (well, relatively nowhere) because the family realized that Abbie and family needed full-time attention and guidance.

What’s a hero? Someone who, without thinking about her own needs, acts in a way to nobly put the wellbeing of others first. Think MLKing’s march through Selma. Think rescue workers in the remaining World Trade Center tower on 9/11.

And think of Abbie’s mom, who selflessly is giving it all up for Abbie, for her family and for the sacred gift of nurturing a child with Aspergers.

Abbie’s mom goes nameless, unless she wants to out herself in cyberspace. May she, and the others who have made similar choices, know that they inspire so many of us to strive to be heroes too.