Posted April 19, 2019 in Articles
As families prepare for the Passover seder, it can be difficult for those without special needs to take the time to consider how to make the seder more inclusive for those who have them.
Ilana Hoffer Skoff, executive director of Milestones Autism Resources in Warrensville Heights; Dassi Shtern, director of SEGULA in Cleveland Heights; and Amy Pincus, Kulanu principal and family support specialist at Friendship Circle of Cleveland in Pepper Pike, said one thing a family that is hosting a seder should do when inviting a family that has a member who has special needs or has different needs is to have a conversation with the other family about what to expect during the seder.
“If you are hosting the seder, share with the family what generally happens during the seder,” Skoff said. “Explain the timing of when dinner will be served, what the menu will be and how long you expect the seder. Consider having a quiet space in the house for the person with special needs to take a break from the table if they are feeling overwhelmed."
“Ask what foods and drinks the person prefers. If you are willing, invite the person with special needs and their parent or caregiver over to your home so they can see where they will be going. Letting them walk in and see where dinner will take place and where a quiet space has been designated may help to alleviate potential anxiety the person with special needs may have.”
Shtern agreed and said asking the family that will be visiting what they and their family members are comfortable with is a good start. She said even a small gesture such as having a spare room available for a family member to duck into when they’re overwhelmed can go a long way.
“Another thing too is making (the seder) as interactive as possible,” she said. “(Family members with special needs) want to be actively engaged like everyone else. It might mean having a Haggadah with good visuals in it, so they can look at the pictures ... I don’t think there’s a ‘wrong way’ (to host a Passover seder), I think the more you can engage them, the better and I think sometimes that takes thinking outside of the box. Yes, Pesach and seder is all about tradition and hugely important, but ultimately, it’s all about telling a story.”
Pincus said it was important not to generalize people who are different, her preferred term for those with special needs, because like everyone else, each person is different and asking them what would make them most comfortable during the seder would be best.
“I would encourage people who are having someone at the seder with differences ... to really be open and talk with the parents and ask the parents, ‘What can we do to make the seder experience most comfortable for your child and for you?’” Pincus said.
“And being very, very open and not making any assumptions. Because a lot of times what people do is we make assumptions about what people might need or might want and that can end up flipping on its tail because we may end up making accommodations that are not the right ones and though the intention is only good, it can end up really offending. So the best thing to do is to communicate, to be open and to say, ‘We want this experience to be welcoming and we want it to be enjoyable for you. Let us know what we can do to make that happen.’ The seder experience is really something that every Jewish person is commanded to do. It’s something we should all do, all Jews, regardless of anything. It’s a communal experience and so no one should ever be left out, especially when we’re talking about a seder, because that’s exactly what the greatest lesson of Pesach is.”