Though it might not be the parenting experience you expected, having a child with special needs opens up all kinds of potentially wonderful experiences, Dr. Alfredo Lowe told his audience at the JCC of Central New Jersey on Jan. 24.
Comparing that shift in expectations to a tourist who finds him or herself in Holland, say, instead of Italy, he said, “You’re just in a different place, and the loss of the dream never goes away,” but if you don’t accept where you are and adapt, you could miss out on all that the unexpected experience has to offer.
Lowe, a clinical psychologist with a practice in Livingston, was speaking on managing disruptive behavior of children with attention disorders or autism-spectrum issues. His was one of the five topics offered in each of two seminar sessions at the JCC’s three-hour event, “The First Annual JCC Special Needs Symposium: A Day of Learning and Connecting.”
The other speakers dealt with the processes and laws involved in working with a child study team, social skills for children with autism, sensory integration dysfunction, biomedical treatments, speech and language intervention; and naturopathic ways of dealing with attention and behavioral problems.
Mike Goldstein, the JCC’s program director, said about 140 people participated — most of them parents of special-needs children, but also about a dozen teachers and other professionals in the field. The center hosts a monthly meeting of a support group for such parents, but the symposium was its first venture of this kind. “We modeled it on the Leil Iyun,” Goldstein said, referring to the popular Night of Jewish Learning hosted each year by the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey.
Questioning the presenters, the participants mentioned children of all ages — from toddlers to teenagers. It was clear that — though at different points on the learning curve — they were all intent on discovering whatever coping techniques and resources they can. As one mother said, “The beauty of an event like this is that you can hear all kinds of different advice, and pick and choose what seems most applicable to your own situation.”
Among the participants were Susan Ibarra and Jules Shapiro, respectively the president and executive director of the Scotch Plains-Fanwood chapter of the C.H.I.L.D. Organization, a lay-led group that provides learning and networking opportunities for parents of special-needs children and professionals. “This was really interesting,” Ibarra said. “We talked with Mike Goldstein, and we’re hoping to do some events together in the future.”
Collaboration and mutual support were evident throughout. It came through too in the video that concluded the three-hour event: Saying YES, a record of one family’s successful bid to have their son with cerebral palsy attend their NJ temple’s preschool.
In the film, little Max’s beaming smile might have been evidence enough, but his mother and the teachers at Congregation Neve Shalom in Metuchen all say their team effort to accommodate him was totally worthwhile — not just for Max, but for the children in class with him.
His mother, Sheri-Rose Rubin, who presented the film at symposium, said Max is now a first-grader, mainstreamed at a public school, doing fine academically, and learning to deal with his physical challenges. She mentioned too that last summer he had a great time at the JCC’s Camp Yachad, with the support offered by its Shadow program.
“We know that he will face new challenges at each stage,” she said. “It’s not easy, but if he can keep up that spirit you see in the video, he’ll be fine.”