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Tzvi Schectman
BY Tzvi Schectman

High Holiday Services for children with special needs: 8 tips to make it work

Ellen Seidman wrote on her blog, Love That Max about the difficulty in bringing her child with special needs to High Holiday Services at her synagogue.  The post brought a lot of conversation about how places of worship should be more accommodating to individuals with special needs and what synagogues should or should not do.

While it is important that every place of worship include children with special needs and their families we also came up with 8 ways you can make it easier on your child with special needs to attend services.

1. Ask For Help

Peers make the best models. Enlist the help of another family that has a child similar in age to your child. Explain your concerns about attending services and a little bit about your child.  Be sure the family is fully on board, tell the family that you would like their child to be your child’s friend as well as a peer model so that your child will have someone to emulate. Make sure you sit together with your child so you can intervene when necessary.

2. Make A Visual Schedule

Provide your child and the peer with a visual schedule of the service.  This will give your child an understanding of what to expect and when.

3. Meet with the Rabbi

Meet with the Rabbi prior to the time your child will be attending services. Have him put a message in the newsletter or bulletin explaining autism, and the importance of including all in religious services.

4. Participation Levels

Think about your goals for your child’s level of participation. Keep it realistic; don’t expect him or her to participate the whole time. Over time slowly increase your child’s participation level.

5. Take Breaks

If you know your child will only be able to sit for 20-30 minutes at a time make sure to take a break. Take him/her outside for a breath of fresh air. Continue the process 30 minutes on 10 minutes off until the services is complete.

6. Social Stories

Write a social story for your child about what to expect during services. Read the social story several times a day for several days prior to actually attending services.

7. Reinforcement

Build in a re-enforcer to your social stories and visual schedule.  Let your child know that if they follow the schedule they will be rewarded with something they like.

8. Practice

Take your child to the Synagogue and practice a little bit so your child will know what to expect.  If possible include the peer (from tip #1) in your practices sessions. The more practice the better.

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Tzvi Schectman

Written on September 27, 2011 by:

Tzvi Schectman is the Family Coordinator for the Friendship Circle of Michigan and the Editor of the the Friendship Circle Blog. You can connect with Tzvi on LinkedIn and Google+
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