Posted April 06, 2017 in Articles
Author: Becky Raspe
Traditionally, Passover Seders are long, solemn and feature many steps. Following these steps is routine, and typically, pose no problem for a family to follow. But for family members with special needs, Passover can be a confusing and stressful time.
Families with loved ones who have special needs can do their part to make their Seder all-inclusive and anxiety free by just being a little more diligent during the planning process.
Ilana Hoffer Skoff and Mia Buchwald Gelles, co-founders of Milestones Autism Resources in Beachwood, said it’s important to prepare and involve those special needs loved ones in that preparation.
“Depending on experiences, (special needs participants) could have different reactions to Seder events,” Skoff said. “One tip is that as early as you can, start playing the Seder music. Starting to hear those songs will breed familiarity.”
Skoff said it’s important to go into the “whys” of the Seder. Parents and families should talk to their special needs loved ones about why they are doing certain things differently at a Seder. Explaining beforehand the importance of Seder events can help familiarize them with the situation.
Gelles said Seders are typically structured, so teaching special needs participants the order of the events can help reduce anxiety because they know what is going to happen.
“By letting them follow along with a checklist, they can check off activities as they complete them with a sticker,” Gelles said. “If you’re the person in change of the Seder, just think of ways you can enlist them to help with the program.”
According to Skoff, many different dinner table stimuli can trigger special needs individual, including how many people will be there, who they are going to see and even the food.
“(Seder hosts) should be very mindful of what that individual can handle, especially in regards to breaks and eating snacks,” she said. “Is it OK for them to bring a snack? The food is different and their favorites are probably missing from the table.”
Gelles and Skoff said because everything is different during Passover, all of those changes, for certain special needs cases, could trigger anxieties. It’s important to establish how different it’s going to be, they said.
“Especially, if they are in a familiar home, let them know what locations they are allowed in,” Skoff said. “If they are used to going to the basement or their friends’ rooms to play, let them know it’s a different situation.”
Rena Wertheim, program administrator at Friendship Circle of Cleveland in Pepper Pike, said the more involved special needs attendees can be, the more enjoyable the experience will be for them.
“Activities like chopping apples, nuts or any involvement in the kitchen can help with familiarizing them with the foods they will be eating,” Wertheim said. “Any opportunity to have them see and experience new things prior to the Seder is helpful.”
Wertheim said even recordings of previous Seders and translations of what will be said in Hebrew to English could help prepare special needs individuals.
“At the Seder itself, having transliterated Hebrew and visual Haggadot can benefit the child with a disability so that they can follow along with ease,” Wertheim said.
“Also letting them know who the guests are and that the Seder will take a certain amount of time is important.”
Wertheim said for some children, noise could be very distracting to them. What we think is a typical noise level could be a very jarring experience for them.
“For some children, playing the music ahead of time can help for a child who is sensory sensitive too,” she said. “Letting them know that it will be a louder experience helps. Simply, parents should anticipate and know their child’s needs. By making it a family environment, you’re making them feel included.”
The Friendship Circle has programs to help participants prepare for Passover by sharing stories and making crafts. Its Sunday Circle program is creating crafts for Passover.