Rabbi Allison Peiser

Temple Emanu-El gathers to help parents cope with developmental challenges

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Temple Emanu-El gathers to help parents cope with developmental challenges

Rabbi Allison Peiser

Offering a resource for families of youth with developmental disabilities, Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead held a Neuro-Diverse Support Forum on Feb. 4.

“We felt that a support group could be extremely valuable to create a sense of community at the temple for all people to come share their stories,” said facilitator Lin Lempert of Swampscott, a retired inclusion specialist.

Lempert cited further benefits she envisioned for the forum, including to “have somebody listen” and “people sharing advice from their own situations.”

Rabbi Allison Peiser, the temple educator, oversaw the event with Lempert.

“The diagnostic process takes a lot of time and effort,” Peiser said. “Parents need support and know-how in navigating that process. There was an incentive to offer something after conversations with parents about what they needed.”

The National Institutes of Health define neurodiversity as describing “the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many ways, with no one ‘right’ way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not deficits.”

The concept has been credited to Judy Singer, an Australian sociologist whose Jewish mother survived the Holocaust and subsequently displayed neurodivergent behavior. According to the NIH, neurodiversity can cover a range of conditions from the autism spectrum disorder to dyslexia to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“It’s a popular term used to describe differences,” Peiser said. “There’s no common way for the brain to work. There’s a range. Differences should be embraced and encouraged.”

The forum took place during Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month, although it was not planned with that in mind.

“It’s important for the Jewish community to acknowledge neurodiversity,” Peiser said.

Asked about the degree of inclusion for neurodiverse kids within congregations, the rabbi replied, “I think it depends on the community, how they frame services, and kids being in the space in general.” She added, “Our congregation does have family shared services with more opportunities for kids to be their full self.”

The idea for the forum arose last May from conversations between the rabbi and parents of a neurodiverse child at the temple religious school. They, like other families, were going through the complexities of the diagnostic process.

“I was hoping to connect families at different stages of the journey,” Peiser said.

Yet she needed someone to lead the group. At a temple sisterhood supper event, she serendipitously sat next to Lempert. When the rabbi explained the project, she was working on, Lempert expressed enthusiasm over joining – but as an attendee.

“After many, many emails and a few phone calls, we decided to lead the group together,” Lempert said. “She hoped I would take on the facilitator piece.”

“It was an evolving process,” Peiser said.

The forum was publicized through flyers given to students at the religious school, as well as by email and on social media. Peiser also mentioned it to several other people in one-on-one conversations.

Although attendance at the hourlong Sunday morning forum was lower than anticipated, both facilitators spoke positively about the event.

“There’s so much to think about,” Lempert said. “The forum, in a way, can be very powerful. It’s what Rabbi Allison and I were hoping to achieve.”

“I do think a lot of people expressed interest and excitement,” Peiser said. “We’re hoping to offer it again in the future.” Θ

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