ASD in Hebrew School and Israel
Throughout high school, I was involved with my synagogue’s Hebrew school as a third-grade teacher. I taught a class of both neurotypical and neurodiverse children and worked hard to make class a supportive and comfortable environment for all. Class typically consisted of reading a few children’s stories, discussing important events, and practicing prayers. I created engaging lesson plans filled with active learning, lead small-group Hebrew reading sessions, and expanded students’ knowledge of Jewish culture through projects that involved all the children. I specifically focused on encouraging children with ASD to be active participants in class. My priority was to teach the other children what having ASD means and making sure these children were a key part of group lessons. These moments were critical for my interest in ASD and other social differences.
At the beginning of each year with a new cohort, my students with ASD struggled to both communicate with me and their peers during class discussions and small-group sessions. The new environment of the classroom was likely a little intimidating for these students, especially since many children with ASD struggle with adapting to new schedules. Although I strived to include the whole class in activities and conversations, other students were not so quick to do the same. Some would unintentionally exclude the neurodiverse children from games. My main goal was to motivate students with ASD to feel welcome and confident in class. Through intimate conversations about biblical stories, I was able to spark curiosity in all my students. It was incredibly rewarding to see how inquisitive and accepting all my third graders became. By the end of each year, I could see how much confidence the students with ASD had gained.
While these students were beginning to understand what they were capable of, they also had the opportunity to explore their Jewish identities. In Israel, ASD has been a recent topic of focus for the nation’s leading researchers. Developed in 2015, Israel’s National Autism Research Center seeks to promote improved diagnosis and treatment of autism in Israel. The Center is currently working on a national database project that will serve researchers in numerous disciplines. Scientists at universities and medical centers will soon have access to standardized data including video recordings, behavioral analyses, medical records, and genetic evaluations. The database has information from over 1,000 children, and researchers hope to grow that number in order to expand research on ASD.
Researchers are utilizing a variety of programs to gather important metrics for the database. The Center’s unique motion tracking software is valuable in assessing the severity of a child's social and motor differences. A system of Kinetic cameras track a child’s movements throughout a 45 minute period. These movements are then quantified by distance and can be used to monitor a child’s progress in therapy over time. Data collection methods such as Electroencephalography (EEG), whole genome sequencing, and voice analysis are also proving to be beneficial in the diagnosis and treatment of ASD. As technology improves, research in ASD will only get better, and institutions similar to Israel’s National Autism Research Center will continue to lead the pack in promoting autism awareness.
Autismisrael.org. 2020. [online] Available at: <https://www.autismisrael.org/> [Accessed 18 November 2020].
NoCamels Team, 2020. National Autism Research Center Of Israel Launches National Database. [online] Nocamels.com. Available at: <https://nocamels.com/2020/08/national-autism-research-center-israel-launches-national-database/> [Accessed 18 November 2020].