Last week the New York Times ran an article about a very special group at Congregation Rodeph Sholom, a temple on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. One of their congregants, Nancy Crown, had tried several years before to find a job for her daughter, Sadie, who has autism. When she approached the staff at the temple she was told there was no summer job for Sadie. This left a bad impression, that there wasn’t room for Sadie with her special challenges.
Now fast forward to Hanukkah 2010. Rabbi Levine and his wife set out to include special needs kids, even ones who had severe disabilities, like Sadie. They did their research and learned from a program called Music for Autism, which held concerts for kids affected by autism. According to the article, “Its founder, Robert Accordino, told them of the importance of preparing autistic participants for an unfamiliar event with an illustrated manual known as a “social story.”
As Rosh Hashanah approached this year, Ms. Crown and the others turned the holiday worship service into a social story. It had photographs and simple captions like “Rabbi Ben will lead the service, and Louie will play his guitar.” And: “We will sing a special prayer called the ‘Shema.’ Some people close their eyes for this prayer.”
They publisized the service, not knowing if anyone would show up–they had 90 people come to the service in their social hall! Sadie was near the front and was free to ask the rabbi a question about the best kind of instrument for announcing the new year, right in the middle of the service.
Kudos to these people who did the research, learned about social stories and invited special guest to celebrate at their temple.