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Behar: Special Children

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Unique Souls

With all the challenges that we face on a daily basis, one can’t help but wonder once in a while: “Is it worth it?” Are our commitments and obligations – and all the hard work we put into whatever activity we are invested in – worth all the effort?

Then there are magical moments that make it all clear. Moments of truth – that cut through the superficiality of things – and expose a real experience. How you can make a real difference in the world.

I had such a moment this past week. (In the work I do I have been blessed to have many such moments in my life; may you be blessed with them as well).

Following last week’s article Can We Change Our Personalities? I received many meaningful replies. One that stood out was a heart wrenching e-mail from a mother of a bi-polar child.

With her permission I include it below, followed by my reply (with additions). May you benefit from it as much as I did.

If you have any experiences or thoughts that you would like to share about the issue of “special children” or “special adults” (not handicapped or impaired, read on) – please send them to me. This issue is a critical one, and many people could use strong support. It’s very hard to describe the deep loneliness and isolation, not to mention the guilt and feelings of failure, which families experience when dealing with “special children.” We are here to help each other. Your words may therefore be of great benefit to others (your confidentiality is always guaranteed).

From: Judith Lederman

To: wisdomreb@meaningfullife.com

Sent: Friday, May 13, 2005 6:53 PM

Subject: Re: Can We Change Our Personalities? By Simon Jacobson

>>If, for example, someone is born with an angry gene, or acquired angry fits at young age – either due to overexposure to an angry parent, or to deeply embedded resentment built up over the years – can we actually expect that this person will cease reacting with bouts of fury? Or if another is stingy by nature (first or second nature) can she ever become generous?<< (quote from last week’s article, Can We Change Our Personalities?)

Dear Rabbi Jacobson,

I enjoy your emails but have a problem with this premise. My son was born with the angry gene. It’s called Bipolar Disorder–and it’s an illness that causes him to have rages. His diagnosis came at age 8 and his first suicide attempt was at age 5. My father-in-law had the gene as well–and was given away by his mother at age 3 to be raised by a Rav in Poland. She just couldn’t handle him. My husband has a touch of it too. And my family has been blown apart by the illness.

I see where you are going with the nature/nurture argument. But moods – especially the kind you are describing here – can be caused by brain chemicals. We know so little about how the brain functions – and why these chemicals are triggered either in excess or in inadequate doses – but we do know that frequently rages, moods, depression, are indeed “uncontrollable” (but medication and psychotherapy do help the person maintain control).

I know that the Torah commands us to change our moods at certain times of the year (and even gives us “tips” and guidelines to help us maintain moods — e.g., no music during sfira [the 49 day period of counting the Omer] or mourning periods or drinking Ad Lo Yodah [beyond comprehension] on Purim) but there ARE moods that need more than Torah guidelines, and B”H [thank G-d], He has opened our eyes to the miracle of brain chemistry and has given us insights and medications to help address mental illness.

Even a Divine Bipolar Personality may need a little help (beyond tfillah [prayer])…The premise that moods are completely controllable is one that can actually HURT the community at large and keep them from getting the support they need to deal with mental illness in their loved ones.

Judith Lederman – Author of The Ups & Downs of Raising a Bipolar Child: A Survival Guide for Parents (judysl@aol.com)

Good Shabbos!

————–

From: wisdomreb@meaningfullife.com

To: Judith Lederman

Sent: Tuesday, May 17, 2005 4:10 PM

Subject: Re: Can We Change Our Personalities? By Simon Jacobson

Dear Judith,

Thank you for your insightful e-mail. Your points are well taken and well stated.

On a personal note, my heart goes out to you and I am in awe of your strength to face your challenges with such dignity. I commend you for channeling your experiences into the book you authored that can and must be of great help to many others facing the challenge of a bi-polar child.

I agree with all you write and am glad that you qualified my comments. For the benefit of others, do we have your permission to post your thoughts (with or without your name as you see fit)?

I should have spelled it out, but my article was not addressing personality traits that are not in our control — like the color of our eyes, or chemical imbalances.

Obviously, each of us has inherent genes, traits or other forces that are beyond our control. Yet, the premise of my article is applicable to all people and all situations: If we are mere human mortals then fundamental change is as impossible as a tiger changing its stripes; however, being Divine entities allows us unscripted possibilities.

These possibilities include changing or transcending some of our “natural” and “inherent” faculties. But they also include the ability to create something new and unexpected, and actually “change” even areas that don’t seem possible to directly change at least in the technical sense.

Even a child or adult with bi-polar is a Divine being with unique strengths and challenges. We may never understand G-d’s mysterious ways, but we do know that this child is special and has an indispensable role to play in the Divine choreography. The child — and the surrounding adults — may not have control over his/her moods and ups and downs, but we do have control over our attitude how to react and treat the child. Too often adults, in their own discomfort, insecurity or ignorance, are embarrassed or judgmental of a special child and do mistakenly expect mood control, which hurts the child and the community (as you correctly state). Basically, many people project their own distortions on mentally (or otherwise) challenged children.

The Torah approach is that we always have control and choice to treat the child with the dignity s/he deserves and allow the child to shine with true Divine beauty. A child who is challenged in a particular area is blessed with other powerful strengths – strengths that were not given to those without these challenges. But we have to learn to look for and appreciate these strengths, and not impose our own views on what makes someone special.

And when we change our attitude and “think different,” we actually do change “natural” reality: We change our own personality — and even the child’s personality — for the better.

Wondrous things can be elicited from a child treated with true dignity. I just heard about a mother who ignored all the pessimistic advice from doctors and professionals, and engaged her autistic child with persistence, reaching and reaching and never giving up, even when she was mocked by all the so-called experts. Her child today, an adult, is still faced with unique challenges, but what she had done for him is considered miraculous in doctors’ eyes. Her sensitivity and love brought out dimensions in the child that no one thought possible.

The Talmud calls a blind person “sagi nohor,” [one who has] “abundant light” (sic)! Ostensibly this is out of respect and sensitivity: Instead of using a negative title (“blind”) that implies the inability to see any light, we say someone who has “abundant light.”

But isn’t this expression a bit insulting? It’s like calling a lame person a “sprinter.” Explain our mystical sages in Chassidic thought that “sagi nohor” is actually an accurate description of blindness. Proper eyesight is dependent on the correct balance of light and shade. Parts of the eye serve as a filter that allows in an image with just the right amount of light without blinding us. When too much light enters we are blinded. Blindness is therefore a form of “sagi nohor,” allowing too much light to enter the eye with no veils to shroud and shade the blinding light.

Taking this one step further: The blind have more power and light than the seeing-eyed. I have met quite a few “vision impaired” people who see more than most of us with open eyes.

I will never forget the moving words of the Rebbe almost thirty years ago when he spoke to a group of wounded Israeli war veterans, many of them sitting in wheelchairs. In sum he said that he objects to the term “disability.” “If a person has been deprived of a limb or a faculty, this itself indicates that G-d has given him special powers to overcome the limitations this entails, and to surpass the achievements of ordinary people.”

“You are not ‘disabled’ or ‘handicapped,’” the Rebbe told them that warm August Thursday in 1976, “but special and unique, as you possess potentials that the rest of us do not.”

“I therefore suggest,” he continued, adding with a smile – “of course it is none of my business, but Jews are famous for voicing opinions on matters that do not concern them – that you should no longer be called nechei Yisrael (‘the disabled of Israel,’ as designated by the IDF) but metzuyanei Yisrael (‘the special of Israel’).”

“Special children” is not just a euphemism. It expresses the true power of these children (or adults): They are not disabled people; they are special – blessed with extraordinary strengths that others simply do not have. We have the power to tap their enormous potential only when we begin to look at them and at life in general with “new” eyes. No informed by the trappings and myopia of human subjective experiences, mortal, static and dying, but by the perspective of the dynamic Divine, living, renewing and always blossoming.

So we always have a choice: Do we look at life only with our sensory tools or with deeper faculties. If we measure experience merely on a sensory level, then beauty, quality and other virtues are defined by the limits of human senses – beauty is only what looks, sounds, tastes, smells or feels beautiful. And what about all of the dimensions that can never be seen or heard, smelled, tasted or touched with our tangible faculties?

We therefore have another way of experiencing life: With Divine tools. Then we can see and hear fresh and new dimensions, undefined by conventional parameters.

Music, poetry, love –- and above all, the search for the Divine – are but a few of the transcendental experiences that express the infinite wellsprings of the spiritual.

I thank you again for sharing your moving words.

Blessings and best wishes,

Simon Jacobson

>>For the benefit of others, do we have your permission to post your comments (with or without your name as you see fit)?<<

—————-

Absolutely print my post and clarify that you meant to address personality traits. You may use my name…

You are right about his strengths. He is a brilliant poet. If you visit my website, you will see one of his poems (written at age 11). www.parentingbipolars.com

Thanks for your response.

Judy

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32 Responses to “Behar: Special Children”

  1. sheila
  2. Sheila Lewis

    My son at 27 has autism and challenging behaviors, and has lived in a group home and residential school since age 16. He has an astounding faith and loves all spiritual and Jewish rituals. My heart goes out to Judith because I understand how hard it is to go on faith alone. With my son, who has been hospitalized many times, and on many medications, holistic cures, etc., very few people quite get the toll it takes, and the ongoing heartbreak, that being said, we live our lives with intention and contemplation and our son has given us strength despite the hardships. I love him for who he is, and there is not a day that goes by when I dont wish he were easier and somehow could find his right place in the world. Thanks for sharing.

    May 13th, 2011 at 4:46 am

  3. Myriam S.

    “You are not ‘disabled’ or ‘handicapped,’” the Rebbe told them that warm August Thursday in 1976, “but special and unique, as you possess potentials that the rest of us do not.”

    “I therefore suggest,” he continued, adding with a smile – “of course it is none of my business, but Jews are famous for voicing opinions on matters that do not concern them – that you should no longer be called nechei Yisrael (‘the disabled of Israel,’ as designated by the IDF) but metzuyanei Yisrael (‘the special of Israel’).”

    So touched how youve illuminated the subject with these poignant and powerful words of the Rebbe. A true leader unites his people to create a woven tapestry- living, breathing and moving together as one organism.

    Each of us no better than the other. Our unique handicap allowing us the capacity for greater potential. Thank you for sharing this abundant light, offering a new dignity, respect and courage to face the beautiful and special people I encounter.

    May 13th, 2011 at 5:59 am

  4. Myriam S.

    “You are not ‘disabled’ or ‘handicapped,’” the Rebbe told them that warm August Thursday in 1976, “but special and unique, as you possess potentials that the rest of us do not.”

    “I therefore suggest,” he continued, adding with a smile – “of course it is none of my business, but Jews are famous for voicing opinions on matters that do not concern them – that you should no longer be called nechei Yisrael (‘the disabled of Israel,’ as designated by the IDF) but metzuyanei Yisrael (‘the special of Israel’).”

    Thank you for sharing this story. I am so touched how youve illuminated and enhanced the subject with these poignant and powerful words of the Rebbe. A true leader unites his people as one organism -living, breathing and moving together.

    That each of us is no better than the other and that our unique handicap allowing for a unique and even greater capacity, is clearly Divine. Thank you for sharing this abundant light, offering a new dignity, respect and courage to face the beautiful and special people I encounter every day. 

    May 13th, 2011 at 5:59 am

  5. Shoshana

    This topic is very dear to me both professionally and personally. As a child of a bipolar parent and only sibling who committed suicide after years of treatment and a successful life, I succumbed to bipolar issues and had to be treated for many years. I learned much about the strengths one can develop in the face of ones personal and family challenges. Thank G-d my family is a loving one and I was able to raise 6 relatively healthy children. However they are not without their own challenges. Self development and powerful spiritual mentoring and work, but in secular spiritual and Jewish venues have provided invaluable steps to healing and transformation. I am a true survivor , no meds for 33 years and an extraordinary life. My stories of transformation and success overcoming the deadly affects of bipolar disorders and becoming a therapist myself, are published now. For years I was in the closet. Now my stories can help others. One is published in a book called Living Life to Its Fullest by the American Occupational Therapy Association. There are many lights in the storm and achieving a healthy life is not easy , every day is wonderful work, but it can be done. I had wonderful mentors and guides along the way and an amazing family who supported my healing as well. You can email me directly if you would like some personal guidance. My email address is info@aotss.com. By the way I recently received the highest award anyone in my profession can obtain for contributions to my profession. Even a former bipolar patient, college drop out, single mother on welfare, mother of 6, wife of 30 years, and observant Jew can reach the top. It takes a lot of wonderful work and loving support, and mucho mucho willpower to survive rather then succumb. The fight to survive can become the existence that thrives.

    May 13th, 2011 at 6:44 am

  6. Richard

    I love reading your commentary. It helps clear my brain before Shabbat. Anyway, the world is extraordinarily complicate both physically and metaphysically. As you have stated, what helps it work is our senses and the way in which our brains limit and define what our senses perceive. The Torah gives us a structure that helps define our lives and provides a model for living it. The way in which we are socialized is a function of the society in which we are reared.This structure is a blessing but also has limitations.Stepping outside of the paradigm is what helps give us an opportunity to view things differently and in the case of special folks allows us to accommodate to a set of needs which doesnt necessarily fit the standard.Concerning special needs folks,and the rest of us as well, it is all about the way we react to situations that makes the difference.When we learn to take advantage of that behavioral pattern, it gives us the ability to make the kinds of choices that help direct us where we want to go.

    May 13th, 2011 at 6:44 am

  7. Robin Jeep

    Hello,

    Interesting posts, thank you. I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder (then called manic depression) in my early 20s. I was on lithium and several other prescription drugs for almost 30 years. I have been drug free for 10 years without any mood swings whatsoever. How did this recovery happen? 10 years ago I made a dramatic lifestyle change. I switched to a nutrient-dense diet and began applying Torah principles to my life. The transition has been challenging but the rewards far outway any challenges. I wrote a book about how to make such a transition which also includes my story (the Super Antioxidant Diet). I also credit Joel Fuhrman, MDs pivotal role in my success http://www.drfuhrman.com. Bruce Liptons book on the new science of epigenetics (The Biology of Belief) is quite eye-opening and helps one understand how thoughts control our chemistry.

    Robin Jeep

    May 13th, 2011 at 7:16 am

  8. Anne

    Rabbi Jacobson, I usually admire your thoughts and agree with them. They add to my life. Your comments, however, on this issue, that of special individuals who are supposedly endowed with special powers, simply seems off the mark. My brother, a promising brilliant young scholar, was struck by mental illness in the prime of his life and has been institutionalized for forty years. His life has been one of suffering in the particular torment of the mentally ill. I do believe he has powers – his intellectual abilities have not diminished at all – and he is locked inside his illness with what I believe are full faculties of perception and emotional response. It seems to me that to describe individuals like my brother as special is avoiding the issue of suffering via of the technique of romantic labeling. Over the last forty years my family has been ripped apart by this horrible uninvited guest to our table and mental illness remains the 500-pound gorilla in our room because of the opinions of others. It is all well and good to call the disabled and destroyed special but it begs the issue of relationships. Had my brother been deemed special by our community back then, our neighbors still would have crossed the street when they saw me coming. And they would have called the police whenever they saw him. Sorry, but your romantic explanation does nothing to ease the pain of the suffering brought on by illness. Shiduchim have been stopped because of special Downs Syndrome siblings. People want life to be perfect and risk-free. It is not. I would sooner emphasize the risk of being born human than the specialness of conventionally impaired individuals. Can you explain how being special to people who accept your definition does anything materially for those afflicted with loss of function – anything, that is, more than making those not so afflicted feel good about themselves?

    May 13th, 2011 at 7:39 am

  9. Anne

    Rabbi Jacobson, I usually admire your thoughts and agree with them. They add to my life. Your comments, however, on this issue, that of special individuals who are supposedly endowed with special powers, simply seems off the mark. My brother, a promising brilliant young scholar, was struck by mental illness in the prime of his life and has been institutionalized for forty years. His life has been one of suffering in the particular torment of the mentally ill. I do believe he has powers – his intellectual abilities have not diminished at all – and he is locked inside his illness with what I believe are full faculties of perception and emotional response. It seems to me that to describe individuals like my brother as special is avoiding the issue of suffering via of the technique of romantic labeling. Over the last forty years my family has been ripped apart by this horrible uninvited guest to our table and mental illness remains the 500-pound gorilla in our room because of the opinions of others. It is all well and good to call the disabled and destroyed special but it begs the issue of relationships. Had my brother been deemed special by our community back then, our neighbors still would have crossed the street when they saw me coming. And they would have called the police whenever they saw him. Sorry, but your romantic explanation does nothing to ease the pain of the suffering brought on by illness. Shiduchim have been stopped because of special Downs Syndrome siblings. People want life to be perfect and risk-free. It is not. I would sooner emphasize the risk of being born human than the specialness of conventionally impaired individuals. Can you explain how being special to people who accept your definition does anything materially for those afflicted with loss of function – anything, that is, more than making those not so afflicted feel good about themselves?

    May 13th, 2011 at 7:39 am

  10. Florence Reznik

    Dear Rabbi,
    First I would like to thank you for exploring this important issue. I myself am the mother of a special child that is now 18 years old. He has been diagnosed with high functioning autism, anxiety disorder and OCD. These diagnoses are really only lables used to describe his limited ability to relate appropriately with other people in a socially appropriate way. He has frequent bouts of saddness with crying jags where he expresses that he wishes he had never been born. He is so lonely that he often questions why Hashem even created him. We love our son and it kills me to hear him say these words. I try to point out to him his wonderful traits like his artistic qualities and musical talent, but it is the lonliness that is the enemy. These children are not able to control the thoughts that go through their minds all day everyday. Something that I try to remind myself of when I am at my limit is that no matter how bad it is for me, it is a million times worse for my child. That is because I can at times get away from it by going to work or other distractions whereas my son can never get away from his thoughts. They are always there with him. This has really helped me to be even more patient with him and to help him through the bad times. Of course, counseling and medication have also helped. As I read through your article, the thing that kept running through my mind was that -Well thats great that the sages say this or that nice thing about special people, but in reality, the Jewish community, especially frum community has done virtually nothing for these people. How easy it is to say nice words but they are essentially empty lies. We hide these people because we are afraid their sibbling wont get a good shidduk, the Jewish schools wont educate them because they dont have the facilities to help them. If G-d created everyone and doesnt make any mistakes, why are we treating these people like defects that need to be thrown in the garbage? Action speaks louder than words my friend! We are an observant family that gave up a secular life to embrace a Torah observant lifestyle. We are very involved in our community and struggle everyday not to have a bitter attitude. Please use your position to urge schools and shuls and communities to accept these special people and to help them feel a part of the Jewish community. To save a Jewish soul is equal to saving the whole nation. Only if they are not defective????? Take action. NOW IS THE TIME!

    May 13th, 2011 at 9:07 am

  11. Yisroel

    thank you for this article – it helped very much

    May 13th, 2011 at 9:51 am

  12. Dianne

    This article couldnt have come at a more appropriate time for me. My daughter is bipolar and this article has given me the avenue I needed to deal with it. I have been intensely seeking G_ds help in asking for His will in how to deal with this and you have provided the answer I have been looking for. It gave me the direction I needed to go. Thank you!
    I have been only turning to G_d for help in dealing with this as He always gives me the best advice in any circumstance. This article was His way of saying what to do next. It wasnt an idea I considered before but the article put the thought in my head. I have been asking G_d to let me know His will with how I should deal with this. Should I move on with my life and walk away from my daughter as she so vigorously demands of me or does He want me to keep chipping away at the 16 foot thick cement wall (thats what it feels like) to try to help my adult daughter and now my grandson. This article was His way of giving me the answer. I really do feel like I am fighting a spiritual war here of which I wont get into the details. Ive found a group meeting tomorrow and that will be the start of another avenue that will help me continue chipping away. Thank you! I so much appreciate what meaningfullife has done for me not just with this but the other articles that the Rabbi has sent.

    Dianne

    May 13th, 2011 at 11:21 am

  13. Changing Our Personality/Special Children

    As a special needs educator, of over thirty years, I must heartily commend Rabbi Jacobson, once again, on his divine attitude towards challenges.

    My business, working with children, is called, Recapturing the Sparks, one of the 72 Names of God.
    To me, it perfectly illustrates my job as an educator. It is up to me to retrieve those sparks from the minds of my special needs students. It is up to me to engage their passions in meaningful projects that turn them on, once again, to learning. Those sparks, as Simon Jacobson stated, are all there. It is up to the loving adults around these children to find, point out and celebrate the unique talents and strengths of each child.

    Not only is it the difference, with good teaching, between a C grade and an A grade, the mental health benefits are amazing. We are in the business of saving lives here. And the present school system, needs to change in order to better accommodate alternative learners. Just watch what happens when a student understands their individual learning style and can advocate for themselves!

    Bless you, Simon Jacobson, for your very important work which always leaves me humbled. You are an educator who is actually educated and self-actualized.

    Respectfully,

    Shulamit Rothenberg

    May 13th, 2011 at 12:54 pm

  14. SJ

    Super sensitive, brilliantly written.

    You are teaching people to develop the sensitivity needed to deal with all kinds of challenges.

    May 13th, 2011 at 1:12 pm

  15. I could not find the poem at that link

    May 13th, 2011 at 3:37 pm

  16. B.M.

    This is such divine providence. Just yesterday I (untactfully) told s/o that I just cant handle special needs people. My friend was speechless and disappointed… but this article really hit home. Thanks for the article and thank God for the timing.

    May 13th, 2011 at 4:05 pm

  17. Rabbi Yonah Bookstein

    Thank you for your dvar torah / op-ed today. The matter really hits home for us.
    I would also add, that the same principles apply to adults too. In my work in from Warsaw to Los Angeles, how many times have people told me negative things about others in the community, failing ever to consider the greatness those special people bring to the world in their own way? — Rabbi Yonah Bookstein

    May 13th, 2011 at 4:51 pm

  18. Kayo Kaneko

    Dear Rabbi Simon Jacobson,

    Thank you very much for shedding light on this issue of mental illness and self-refinement.

    I am Japanese living in Tokyo. I have schizophrenia and possibly bi-polar, too. I am recognized as mentally handicapped by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. I take 20 pills of medications a day. And I am a convert planning a Kosher conversion in Israel, too.

    Some people had given up on me, telling me it is impossible for me to convert in Kosher way in Israel. But Chabad Lubavitch treated me with true dignity.
    It all started 5 years ago, as I started going to Beis Chabad Japan for Shabbat. I used to go there by trains. Then changed to a bicycle, and finally I started going there on foot. My foundation of Judaism was formed by Beis Chabad Japan.

    5 years later, I am still in Tokyo, under social security program, and unemployed. But I am very optimistic. I can, and will have a job. I will save up enough money to go to Israel. I know I will finish my conversion in a Kosher way. I have no doubt. Why? Rabbi Dov Greenberg, the executive director of Chabad at Stanford University will say a person will pick up ideas and values from people around him or her. If parents believe a certain value, their children will pick it up. “Not much of the word, but what you believe in people pick up from you.” I watch, and go to Chabad classes almost everyday.

    As Rabbi Simon Jacobson suggests in his Omer Meditations, I am trying to break a bad habit, namely, “easy to get angry”. My father has a very furious mood swing. I do not know if my volatile personality is nature or nurture. But it does not make any difference to me. Chabad teaches again and again, what happened, what is happening and what will happen around you is all Divine Providence. Getting mad of the situation you are in is the same as idle worship. They lecture this all the time. So as I face difficult situations, I have started telling myself, Elokim – Nature (our ever daily life) is Havayah (Transcendent, Merciful G-d). All orchestrated, calculated by Havayah. I do not have to worry. I should not get upset.

    Rabbi Mendel Kaplan, the founder and spiritual leader of Chabad Flamingo in Ontario says,”inner transformation of nature to Dira BeTachtonim starts from within yourself, in your heart, in your mind, in your personality…Sefirat HaOmer is G-d’s investment of power in Jewish people – Power to reveal incredible potential and energy that HaShem encoded into Creation…We are empowered, we are capable. We can make difference. We must make difference…If HaShem gives you potential, you must. It is a Holy Mandate. It is a Sacred Mission. You may find darkness in you that need to be illuminated. If you wish to do so, you can do so. And you must do so.”

    You think with a chemical imbalance, no chance? I do not think so, at least in my case. Chabad approach is proven. I had a very negative attitude toward my parents. Every time, I talked with them, I was very irritated and got angry at them. The conversations sometimes ended up getting into fights. However, Chabad lectures to be respectful to one’s parents, again and again. Rabbi Manis Friedman, a co-founder of Beis Chana Institute of Jewish Studies in Minnesota, says you should not sit on your father’s chair. It was an unfamiliar custom to me. But I did it. I avoided sitting on my father’s chair. This one step forward lead to another act of respect to my parents, and another and yet another. Now I hardly feel any irritation at my parents.

    By the repetition of thoughts, speech, and deed to respect my parents, I was able to create a new chemical pathway between neurons in my brain. This is a fact.
    If it works with parents, then why not with other areas of relationships?

    I learned the Alter Rebbes Kavanah on Shema.
    Shema Israel – a Jew senses that
    Havayah Elokeinu – our strength and life is beyond nature(1), and
    Havayah Echad – Havayah is One

    To me, it is such a cruelty, if people say to me, “you have a chemical imbalance, so you do not have to work on transforming your nature into Dira BeTachtonim.”

    Finally, thank you, Rabbi Simon Jacobson for bringing up this difficult area of our lives for discussion. As I wrote this response to your article, my determination to overwrite my nature has become tougher.

    Sincerely,
    Kayo Kaneko

    (1)Havayah, G-d transcendent, above nature, is Elokeinu, “our G-d” – our strength and life

    May 14th, 2011 at 7:40 am

  19. janet muir

    is it possible for a conversation with someone concerning this topic? janet muir

    May 14th, 2011 at 10:59 am

  20. Conrad Adelman

    Hm, BHm, has blessed me with my soul mate in this life; a very talented musician who teaches children from age 5 (even four or younger do participate) to 18 years how to sing in chorus. Mildly autistic chidren who are members of large families have participated. In one case, a child who had been regularly evalutaed by an educational consultantant noted a marked improvement in the childs development. Upon investigation, the only major change had been the childs participation in chorus. Music is also a major factor in affecting mood, Rabbi Jacobson. Since then, there have been other children who have also benefited.
    Kol Tuv,
    Tzvi

    May 15th, 2011 at 5:17 pm

  21. chaya

    Although I try to see each human being as valuable, your words have made me want to try even harder.

    May 17th, 2011 at 7:39 am

  22. Harriet Cooke MD

    Having just attended a weekend workshop that addressed the problems of medications and the many alternatives for major mental illness, and having studied functional medicine, I applaud both Rabbi Jacobsons comments and the issues brought up by Judy, mother of the bipolar child. It all matters! In his book, The Ultramind Solution, Doctor Mark Hyman gave a wonderful overview of how to work with the biological issues comprehensively, and the profound impact that diet, food sensitivies, toxins, exercise, and inborn biochemical problems have on the functioning of the brain. I highly encourage this approach in conjuction with subtle energetic therapies which include the Prescriptions of Torah as well as homeopathy and Chinese medicine. When needed, pharmaceutical therapy is a blessing and necessary for many. Unfortunately it is used as a first line of therapy without looking into comprehensive underlying causes that we sometimes can discover, and which make a profound improvement for so many. May we all live to an age when all medicine is appreciated and available to all who need it in the right amount at the right time.

    May 18th, 2011 at 1:56 pm

  23. Many geniuses like Beethoven and Lincoln were bi-polar. Joseph Campbell even wrote in Myths to Live By most prophets would today be labeled schizophrenic. Often what we call crazy turns out later to be prophetic wisdom. Every one, and every thing, thought, and emotion, has a special energy field we can feel if we practice opening our cosnciousness with deep meditation…

    May 17th, 2012 at 5:30 pm

  24. June Fishman

    Dear Rabbi –

    I can relate to this article as I have a Masters Degree in Emotionally Handicapping Conditions, as well as having a license in New York, to teach children with these different conditions, known in New York, as Special Education. It is well known that children with special needs are the most physically and emotionally abused children there are. Many parents are ashamed of their children, feel that they have failed as parents, that their child is not perfect, etc. It is my hope and prayer that these parents and others will peel through the layers of the child, as we do with an onion and find the beauty and special gifts these children have. I am now retired, however after I retired and was still living in New York, I volunteered one day a week at a group home for adults with emotionally handicapping issues. Now I live in the south and have transferredmy volunteer work to animal rescue, taking in several pets with different handicapping conditions and I love them all. Their handicapping conditions make them even more special to me. I have taken in pets from puppy mills, animal shelters, and others who just showed up in my driveway one day. To me love is love, and now that I do not have the children I taught and loved, I have my furbabies, and two beautiful grand-daughters that I have been blessed with. Shalom, June

    May 17th, 2012 at 6:52 pm

  25. Anon

    I grew up with a mentall ill mother and alcoholic father. I had to parent myself and my four siblings. I married a man who is a better functioning clone of my mother and has an addictive personality. I have four adult children, one of whom is a high functioning autistic and another is bi polar. I have difficulties myself, such as being dyslexic.

    I am writing this public comment (though I dare not give my name) to say that we ALL can achieve a great deal. We ALL have abilities even if some parts of us arent functioning in the typical way. Seriously, we are ALL creations of Hashem and Hashem doesnt make junk. We just have to get ourselves to work well enough overall. And we CAN achieve that. I think it may well be true that a defecit is given to us with a corresponding talent, such as great perceptiveness in the autistic who have not been alienated from themselves by the rejection, judgment, harshness and lack of valuing of and belief in them by (blinkered) others.

    Acceptance, encouragement and assistance can be an enormous help. Parents can really help ALL their children to learn how to do well enough and to know they can.

    If you find yourself not being helped or being hindered by those around you as you try to live your life, which can include caring for others, perhaps especially your children, then you can encourage and assist yourself and ask Hashem to help you do this. You are never really alone. There is always hope. Hashem will give you strength. If you ensure your thoughts are balanced, centered and wise and stay calm & persistent whatever others do; and dont forget Hashem is ALWAYS here; it is truly amazing what can be achieved. I know from experience that this is true. All my children are alive and are functioning parts of society, for which I am truly grateful.

    May 17th, 2012 at 7:41 pm

  26. Schmuel Tate

    Rabbi Jacobson: In reading this Op-ed on special children, I have a story to relate that is the bane of my existence-
    I am a person who was born in 1955 as a natural left hander–my mother, with the best intentions to have her child be like 90% of the population, forcibly converted me to being a right hander while I was still in my infnacy–by slapping my left hand when i used it to start picking things up and forcing me to use my right hand–this has caused irreparable damage in the natural genetic growth of my brian, chemical imbalances have turned me into 1 of the most extremist people you will ever meet–flashes of absolute billiance coupled with the poorest decision making skills–i am a high school dropout who is highly intelligent, a former drug abuser, which was cured after i got out of jail in 1994 and my brother who is a Bala Tschuva, brought me into his Crown Heights neighborhood, where I studied at Hadar Hatorah, found my answers about that part of my life, had a dream about the Rebbe one night–woke up and have never thought about using drugs since–the irony in this situation is in 1958, my father, also a left handed person, lost his left arm in an industrial accident, that caused the divorce of my parents in 1965 so i we were the only family whose father had a hook for a hand and the 1st family in our Bronx neighborhood to go through divorce–so though you say people ar born with certain afflictions which are gifts to test our strength, what does a person in my case think or believe? I wasnt born with an affliction, there was no disease which i contracted in life–I was manipulated, granted with the best intentions, but still manuilpulated which has given me tests which I am unable to pass–this a been just a brief synopsis of my condition, but I would still be interested in your take on this situation–
    Shmuel

    May 17th, 2012 at 8:44 pm

  27. Sheila Lewis

    Dear Judith, readers, and esteemed Rabbi Jacobson,
    My heart goes out to parents who are dealing with the frustration and anguish you described. Our 28 yr journey with second son Zach-Jacob (ZJ) who has autism and been diagnosed with various mood and behavioral disorders, has been a challenge, but more than all the experts, medicines, and therapies, what has always kept me from succumbing to despair, or acceptance of others agendas, is to go back to spirit and deep contemplation: What is Z-J teaching me in this moment? What can we do now? We have discovered that very often his explosions come from not just poor neurologic impulses and brain chemistry, but the pain in his soul. What he has come to is to pray, talk to G-d, and meditate to feel more whole and comforted. We focus on these positives, as this is where he shines, and have been fortunate to run into human angels, including his brother and sister in law, and others who assist. Build your circle of soul support, not just experts.
    We have also developed calming techniques that are soothing to Z-J. He lives in a group home that is not ideal, but we constantly remind him about how his behaviors impact others, and dont win him friends or outcomes.
    It doesnt matter what the diagnosis is so much as what practical, in the moment techniques you can work with consistently to help your child.
    Also, parents must do their own inner work–guilt wont get you anywhere and is a soul-robber. How long can you grieve, or be mad at the world? Use these feelings as divine instruments to get on a course of powerful action to help your child. Uncover his or her gifts, as they are there crying out and perhaps hidden from view beneath the labels. The path is not easy, but tremendous opportunities for growth and support are available if you are open to them and let go of a bit of control.
    I felt compelled to respond, which I almost never do, because I have been there. I am happy to share or send some of these techniques if you email me.
    Sheila Lewis, author, Stress-proofing Your Child.

    May 18th, 2012 at 4:35 am

  28. jerry krasnow

    Mental illness affected our family. Physical tradgedies my relatives. It is true that some of these appear to be opportunities, but some are not. My cousin Mitchels motor brain was destroyed in a motor vehicle accident. How was his being trapped in a body for 27 years with no ability to move or communicate in any manner -other than pained moans, constitute a blessing from HaShem? Clearly, there is a realm where how we react, how we help make us better people. Is Mitchel like the poor beggar that we get Kavod because we fulfill the mitvah of giving to the poor. Is he to suffer just to benefit us?

    Imagine the corpses, starved by the Nazis in tortured shapes – that is how Mitchel became as he lived year after year.

    A little humility needs to be added, to those situations where no blessing is visible. Extreme Autism and other genetic disorders can go beyond the chance for redemption.

    Rabbi, you write for the realm of hope and opporutunities to become more. But there is a limit. And that is the realm where we can see not purpose, no Divine plan. Then we need to be silent.

    May 18th, 2012 at 8:26 am

  29. Steve Lazarus

    This is so pertinent to my life, especially now. My sister has a neurologic condiiton that occurred in the womb and we as family have done what we can to accommodate her needs. She has held a number of jobs over the years, none well-paid but all part of the day-to-day in our society. My mother, may she rest in peace, whom my sister lived with, has passed away and now I am attempting to make changes in a life that does not like change, and takes time to absorb change, among other things. I try, how I try to be patient and civil with my sister, but there are times when I blow up at her, or when she blows up at me. The arguments are usually of insignificant nature or they can be of a major topic. It is humbling, after the fact, to realize how shameful it feels to be in an argument with my sister over any matter, when I know, intellectually, how hard it is for her to process. So, this is timely, and timeless. Thank you Rabbi Jacobson.
    My very best,

    May 3rd, 2013 at 10:41 am

  30. Elayne Dener

    I didnt realize that people that are Bi-Polar can be prone to fits of rage. I dated a fellow who was prone to fits of rage. His mother was Bi-Polar and this fellow was also diagnosed with it, after we had parted ways. I should have figured it out, but until I read your comments I always blamed him for his temper when in fact, it was part of his malady.
    Thanks for the info.

    May 3rd, 2013 at 4:44 pm

  31. Rivka

    I would like to contact Sheila Lewis to ask more about the calming techniques for my 26 year old autistic son.I appreciated the article and all the comments.We all need to see the real person within; to see past the disability.Although sometimes the disability is in the beholder.

    May 5th, 2013 at 3:32 am

  32. Rivka kaplan

    I have a son who is special! He was born in1986 when the world was not handicapped friendly. I didnt let any of the negativity of the doctors, family members, or community stop me from bringing out the best in him. It was a very hard, and difficult journey that has never ended, as these children always remain children. However, having my son was the best event in my life! Not because he was naches for me, but because he brought out the best in me, I now have naches for me. There is not a doubt in my mind that had he not been born, G-d forbid (i can say that now) I would be an entirely different kind of person. We are all given these hidden blessings, we just need to put on the correct perception lenses to see the properly.
    Rivka

    May 6th, 2013 at 8:49 am

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