“She asked me to get involved,” says Dr. Weinstein.
“That seemingly simple request put my entire existence on a different track. In order to be of any real help I felt I needed to learn more about autism. I read for hours, poring over books and medical reports exploring and researching whatever was available on the subject.”
Six months after this initial “getting acquainted” with autism, he picked up the gauntlet and opened the first Jewish school for autistic children in New York, a private school called Shema Kolainu.
“This was not a logical decision – I felt a magnetic pull. G-d was pulling the strings and I was going along with what He was sending my way. I left everything and started ‘life’ again totally focused on this new undertaking – children with autism and their families.”
“In 2001 I saw a building that was ideal for the school,” he told me overwhelmed by the obvious Yad Hashem he has seen through the years.
“I needed 60,000 dollars up front, and I didn’t have the money. I postponed meeting the seller at the lawyer’s office a number of times, until I knew I was running out of time and delaying tactics weren’t going to work. When does a Jew in trouble do? He prays – I sat down and prayed.
“As I was praying the phone rang, and the unknown caller said she heard we were buying a building and wanted to donate her ma’aser money. She was sending $20,000!
“Although this was an obvious miracle, I was still short of $40,000.
“Clutching straws, I contacted a charity fund that had pledged $20,000 and told them our predicament. They got back to me a short while later and after filling out a few forms they upped the donation to $50,000…”
He bought the building.
One of the most influential figures in his career has been Dr. Douglas Greer. Dr. Greer promotes a teaching system called ABA (applied behavior analysis). This program is an intensive form of learning that is continually monitored so that even the smallest breakthrough can bring about major advancement. The system and its success rate speak for itself.
Teachers identify gaps in a child’s development, create conditions under which the child has an incentive to learn and then rewards him for his learning behavior. He is well known as an expert educator and Dr. Weinstein has had constant contact with him throughout the years, often asking him to recommend staff members from among his students.
“Recruiting outstanding professional staff is one of our key aims. Our school is not a babysitting service. It is a place to teach the children and help them realize potential usually buried under layers and layers of behavioral issues.
“It is the Chazon Ish’s personal respect for autistic children and their parents – realizing that they are special that is my guiding light,” says Dr. Weinstein.
The school is now filled to capacity.
Not content to rest, Dr. Weinstein branched out to the larger New York community, sending teachers into student’s homes to learn with them on a one-to-one level. There are now about 1,000 children enrolled in the program.
In his opinion, the sooner you start working with these children, the higher the success rate. If you know that a child has a problem, then start young, even at 3 months.
“You have to start with the most basic problems, such as creating eye contact and developing other social skills.
“The child has to be clear about what is expected of him. For example, if you do a puzzle together and the child throws the pieces around in frustration, you never show signs of anger, but ask him to pick them up. If he does not obey, you take his hand in your own and help him pick them up. You do this until you’re sure the child understands what is expected of him.
“Although there are different degrees of autism, one of the most common characteristics is a square thought process.
“Once a high functioning student of four, who had already learnt to read, deliberately released the fire alarm, setting off panic and bringing the fire trucks.
About the Author: Sarah Pachter lives in Israel and writes for a number of publications. She is the author of the book "Supermom? (Who? Me?)"
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