Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter, Passover, homeschool, autism

By Lisa Jo Rudy - Autism & Parenting Examiner

This year, our son Tom decided we should celebrate Passover.

Between my husband and I, we grew up Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Unitarian, agnostic and atheist. This time of year, traditionally, we celebrate just about everything - the Spring Equinox, the Passover Seder, Easter... we eat Kosher one day, and bake a ham the next.

Sometimes, that's just great. Othertimes, not so much - especially as we're attempting to provide our kids with some understanding of faiths and traditions, and help them to feel like they're a part of something bigger than ourselves.

Having a child with autism makes this even tougher. Since we're not part of a religious community, the idea of asking a well-meaning Unitarian volunteer Sunday School teacher to engage my child - knowing full well that it will be a challenge - seems rather unfair (not to mention a lot of hard work).

Yet Tom has always really enjoyed any kind of religious tradition. He's the kid who loves stained glass, organs, and candles... gladly sits quietly through church services.... and when he was in a Jewish preschool, actually enjoyed wearing a yamulka (skull cap) and saying a Hebrew prayer over snack. He memorized the Passover prayers, and has always gotten a real pleasure out of having Passover at our friends' home.

When Tom decided he wanted to celebrate Passover, I figured it was a good thing. And being the one who comes from at least a partly Jewish heritage, I decided it was up to me to figure out how to incorporate the experience into homeschool.

I found directions for making a clay seder plate, and we made it together (Tom painted it). We borrowed a book about Passover and he read it with his Dad during the school day. I found an online children's haggadah, and printed it. We made a list of all the things we needed for the ceremony, went to the store and bought them together. Tom put everything on the seder plate - the egg, the bone, the greens, the bitter herbs, the shredded apples with honey - and when I thought we were all ready, it was Tom who remembered we needed salt water to represent the tears of the Israelite slaves.

Then, we sat down to dinner. But somehow, after al that preparation, no one was all that excited about actually going through the process of the ceremony. Tom, who'd remembered the salt water and the bitter herbs, couldn't remember Moses' name. Sara, who really doesn't care for ceremonies at all, asked for the peanut butter as I was reading about the parting of the Red Sea.

Finally, in frustration, I threw down the book and told everyone to just eat dinner. I was surprised at how upset they became. I had wanted to pick up on what Tom seemed to be asking for - a special traditional event - and perhaps shouldn't have been surprised when what he really wanted was just the trappings, not the experience itself.

Some people feel that kids with autism have a special connection to all things spiritual. And perhaps, given his love of the traditions, sights, smells and sounds of religious experiences, Tom really does. But I'm not quite sure how to capture that - or how to go beyond just the sensory to something a little deeper.


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