I am a 16-year-old with Asperger Syndrome (AS), a complex of autistic spectrum disorders living in Chevy Chase, Maryland in the United States. The most rewarding aspect of having AS is the strong sense of morality and honesty that is part of the deal, so to speak. However, on the negative side, the most frustrating aspect is the sense of social isolation that comes along with it. The community has supported me a great deal. However, there is a lot more that must and can be done.
For instance, the community should overall be more trusting of those with disabilities. For instance, it is wrong to assume that someone on the autism spectrum (or with any disability) cannot do anything simply because of the way God made them. Delving a bit more “beneath the iceberg” it is wrong to let buried prejudices and biases lead you to the conclusion that a Special Needs individual is incapable simply because he\she has Special Needs. In other words, the concept of b’tzelem elokhim (“All people are created in the image of God”), which is central to Jewish thought, is a vital outlet for Special Needs individuals.
This is the biggest mistake people have made in treating me and many others like me. Everyone can improve on this point: parents, teachers, even other kids.
On the positive side, however, many different people have made me feel trusted. For instance, my parents permit me to take long-distance train and bus trips alone to visit family. At my shul I have been permitted me to teach classes; give Divrei Torah etc.
Finally, three changes within the community I would like to see include:
1. Making a greater effort to include kids\ teens with Special Needs whenever possible.
2. Never assume that kids\teens can’t participate in a certain activity simply because they have Special Needs. If you are truly concerned about their ability to handle a certain situation, talk to them privately so as not to embarrass them.
3. Lastly and most importantly -- take kids\teens with AS and other Special Needs seriously. Listen to them. This will go a long way towards improving things for everyone!
Of course, it is not really so simple that these changes alone will improve everything for Special Needs individuals. But this is an extraordinary start! We must take these and similar approaches in improving life for Special Needs individuals and in our long-term struggle for B’tzelem Elokhim and Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World).