It isn’t easy to be a parent. It’s challenging to be a parent to a special needs child.
It’s difficult enough to be a parent during the COVID-19 pandemic, with illness and lockdowns disrupting our routines and taking away the support systems we’ve come to lean on while we raise and educate our children. It is beyond difficult to be a parent to a special needs child under those same circumstances.
Take all the challenges parents have, and multiply them exponentially. Then, you will only be able to scratch the surface of how tough things are for them right now. While all children thrive on routine and stability, these children – and their parents – need it to survive. And right now, there is neither.
For nearly two decades, Agudath Israel of America’s Project LEARN has been at the forefront of countless efforts to help these children and their parents, whether from lobbying and advocating for legislative changes to assisting individual parents with their needs.
“Naturally, we saw this challenge as something different than we have ever dealt before, but one we are perfectly positioned to help with,” said Mrs. Leah Steinberg, director of Project LEARN. “We know exactly what these parents are going through and how dependent the kids are on the professional help they usually get. The first step, of course, is helping the parents know how to deal with the immediate challenges, creating a framework that feels safe for their child, and learning the tools which would help them further.”
Last week, Project LEARN held a Zoom webinar aimed at achieving just that. The first in a series of webinars explicitly aimed at filling this critical gap, the program, moderated by Mr. Ami Bazov, coordinator of education affairs for the Agudah, featured Dr. David Pelcovitz, who, as Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America said in introducing him, “is one of the great heroes of our time” in the field of child psychology. Dr. Pelcovitz has been at the forefront of advising parents for decades, and his expertise in this area and many years of dedicated leadership made him the perfect person for the job.
Dr. Pelcovitz focused a return to the basics, and on laying a healthy foundation children can rely on in these turbulent times. Seemingly little things like consistent bedtime, adequate sleep, and a dedicated workstation, he told parents, can do wonders in making these children feel a measure of stability in their lives.
There is also a strong need for the parents to focus on their own emotional stability – even from a health point of view – to help bring, as he said, “order to the chaos.”
“Just sit down with a piece of paper,” Dr. Pelcovitz advised the parents, “and ask yourself in the midst of chaos, how do I answer the three questions Yaakov Avinu told his children to be prepared to answer at the final confrontation with Eisav: Who am I? Where am I going? What am I going to do with what I have? Just by writing it out, it puts our values front and center, and the research shows it can bring us to a greater sense of control.”
Dr. Pelcovitz took questions from parents, covering topics such as how to deal with the possibility that the special summer camps might be closed, how to manage with the loss of privacy when special services need to take place in the home, and how the child’s behavior impacts the other children – and what to expect to remain from that going forward.
As over 200 parents from all over the world tuned into the webinar, the silver lining to this online event was that we were able to reach parents throughout the world and plan to do this on a regular basis. We will be surveying interested parties, starting with those which were on Thursday’s webinar, on which issues need addressing. Stay tuned.