When I came downstairs yesterday, the dry erase board on the refrigerator had been changed to read, “50 Days Til Julian’s Bar Mitzvah.” He saw me looking at it and chimed in, with a twinkle in his eye, “Guess what…tomorrow starts the Counting of the Omer!”

It has been almost a decade since Julian received a diagnosis of PDD-NOS (or as I jokingly called it, ‘PDD-We Don’t Know’), somewhere along or near or possibly on the autism spectrum.  We were told that our adorable toddler, who loved numbers with fierce intensity and hated uncertainty with every fiber of his being, required a minimum of 20 hours a week of intensive interventions.

How would we help him make his way in a dynamic and confusing world? How would this change how we interact with him, as parents? How would this change my work as a pediatric occupational therapist, in this exact same field?

And another nagging question, that would pop up in the years immediately following:  How would we help him value being Jewish? And find a Jewish environment that values him in return?

I never anticipated that Julian and I would both become more strongly connected to the Jewish world because of his being on the autism spectrum.

Julian’s appreciation for Judaism is linked with his natural affinity for mathematics and music theory, his gravitation towards routine and patterns.  In my search for ways to support his Jewish learning, I quickly discovered how many individuals with disabilities of all ages weren’t able to fully access Jewish schools, camps and synagogues. I connected with a burgeoning community of advocates working on Jewish disability awareness and inclusion on a national and local level. The Whole Community Inclusion initiative at Jewish Learning Venture, where I serve as a consultant, was born out of this shared dream, and I am thrilled to be able to utilize my skills as an occupational therapist in ways I never expected.

This Thanksgiving, as we approach our Bar Mitzvah day,  I am so thankful for …

-The incredible preschool special educator, Barbara Greenberg, z”l, and the Sinai program at Adath Jeshurun.  Barbara taught Julian “Bim Bom” and taught us how to utilize his many strengths.

-Friendship Circle, an organization that serves a crucial role for so many children and teens.

Tikvah Family Camp at Ramah Poconos, the place Julian wants to be, that is a second Jewish home.

-Jewish Learning Venture and the Whole Community Inclusion initiative- specifically Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer, who is both the brains and the heart of this incredible program.

-Rabbi Michelle Greenfield, Julian’s tutor, who is truly a gift to parents looking for a tutor who truly ‘gets it’.

And last but certainly not least…

-Our synagogue community, and the clergy and educators who will be with us on that special day in 50 days (or is it 49?) to celebrate our son.

Jaime Bassman, MS, OTR/L is a pediatric occupational therapist with over a decade of experience in early intervention, preschool and school-based settings including autistic support and emotional support programs. She is able to provide modifications and strategies that support attention span, behavior and sensory processing as well as reading and writing in Hebrew. On-site individual or generalized consultation sessions are available to improve outcomes for students with special needs at synagogues throughout the Delaware Valley.