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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 recently had such a moment. (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 the 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

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

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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Helen Dudden

I use a Power Wheelchair, and I know how disability can viewed as negative. I found the article sensitive and compassionate.
I also feel, disability should be embraced as a normal to those who are disabled.
Large print is not difficult to produce, there are ways around places of worship that are not accessible. Hearing loops for the deaf, Braille the list goes on.
My dream for the future, is to treated as a human being, a human being that needs support when asked for. To be included into society just as someone who can walk without a Power Wheelchair.

D.P.

Thank you. Id like to share another perspective. What if I am the one with the mood disorder? For years I bought into the science principles that my brain chemistry was off. New science seems to be leaning in another direction. Yes theres genetic factors but they can be triggered or not and there is incredibly hard work that can be done to overcome this. Work in diet and inner work. . Believe me Id love a magic pill. Ive tried it for over a decade. But that comes with a powerless and defective belief about myself. The newer science… Read more »

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… Read more »

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.

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.

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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…

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… Read more »

chaya

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

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… Read more »

janet muir

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

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… Read more »

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

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.

I could not find the poem at that link

CT

Super sensitive, brilliantly written.

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

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

Yisroel

thank you for this article – it helped very much

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

sheila

good

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