Yedei Chesed

We’re excited to launch this series of columns and articles, where we’ll talk about our experiences in raising a child with special needs and we’ll explore other issues and stories around the theme of inclusion.

These issues are particularly relevant to our community, where it’s so easy to draw ever-narrowing boxes that exclude others based on how they dress, where they go to school, where they daven, and so on. Our purpose here is to open those boxes a little and show other special-needs parents that they’re not alone while educating ‘mainstream’ families and expanding their perspectives.

To do that, we’ll start with some introductions.

Michelle and Yaakov Steinhart (that’s us!) moved to the Monsey area in 1999. Yaakov had lived in the Monsey area since the mid-80s, and Michelle hailed from the Midwest. Michelle works in special education with a focus on community inclusion; Yaakov is an editor who works in Manhattan. It’s a little strange to write about ourselves in the third person, so we’ll use ‘we’ whenever possible.

Our oldest son, Avi, was born in 2000. Soon after his arrival, Michelle (whose background is in Special Education) felt that there was something not quite ‘normal’ about him. He didn’t cry as much as other children. He was content to sit by himself and not engage much with the world around him. He began receiving services from Early Intervention when he was 8 months old. The diagnosis of autism came just before he turned 3.

Today, in 2017, autism is pretty much a household word. Studies have put the prevalence of autism at one in every 68 children. Back in the early 2000s, however, it was still somewhat foreign, and all manner of controversies swirled around the diagnosis and treatment of this strange condition.

In the intervening years, we went through a series of roller coaster rides, and each one could be the subject of a future column. We feel as though it’s worth touching on some of these at a very high level here, and then we’ll dive deeper based on chronological order, topic, or correlation with current events.

We also want to hear from you, dear readers. In today’s digital world, it’s more common to read stories online than in print – unless you’re Shomer Shabbos. So if you’re reading this online, feel free to drop us a comment or note. If you’re reading this on Shabbos and you want to chime in, share your perspective, ask a question, or make a suggestion, please wait till after Havdala and then send an email to Steinhart5000@gmail.com.

Without further ado, here’s a by-no-means complete list of topics we want to explore here with you:

  • Finding out your child isn’t ‘normal:’ Coming to terms with a diagnosis
  • Sharing the diagnosis with family and friends: How to be a supportive ally
  • Navigating the school district and Jewish educational options for special-needs children
  • Reaching out to agencies, community groups, and parent networks to learn about social services
  • Helping shuls and yeshivos become more inclusive of individuals with special needs
  • What it’s like to be the sibling of a child with special needs

As we said, this is only a partial list. And we hope that you will give us feedback – and share your own stories – so the column isn’t just about us. Granted, we have enough material to fill at least a few books, but it’s better to create a space where many voices are heard than to just carry on a one-way conversation.

So, please do email us or drop a comment below, and we look forward to sharing our experiences and learning more about yours. Together, we can

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