Exclusive: A Mother of a Special-Needs-Boy Talks about the Lack of Male Volunteers
By Yehudit Garmaise
While all children require special activities, connections with friends, and special treats to stay happy and occupied over Shabbos and Yom Tov, children with special needs are especially in need of extra planning, attention, love, and energy.
Yaakov Yosef, a Boro Park 12-year-old with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), can get engrossed with music and with his iPad during the week, however, on Shabbos and Yom Tov, such children and their families can feel as if they are “climbing the walls,” explained Chaya, Yaakov Yosef’s mother.
Long spring and summer afternoons for such children can feel maddening, boring, and lonely.
“Yaakov Yosef can’t play with board games, with his neighbors, with boys his own age, nor with his siblings [who are all younger girls],” Chaya said. “He doesn’t want to.
“We are talking about hours of doing absolutely nothing. We feel like we are going ballistic, and he goes ballistic.”
Outside on the streets of Boro Park, most children are not sure how to engage with and include other kids with special needs.
“We have to better educate the children of our community on how to be accepting, on how to include them in outdoor games,” said Chaya.
In addition to encouraging children to embrace kids with special needs in their informal games, Chaya said that until her son was 10-years-old, many girls’ programs, such as B’nos and from Yaldeinu School, sent over volunteers to play with her son on Shabbos and Yom Tov afternoons.
Other organizations provided overnights and chol hamoed trips, but for reasons of sensitivity and tznius, when boys turn 10, they age out of these programs, and nothing has replaced them for the many Boro Park families in need of some extra help.
“Very few options exist for men-only staffed programs for teenage boys with special needs,” said Chaya.
While many boys like to visit sick children through Chai Lifeline, Mekimi, and Tantzers, Chaya pointed out that most teenage boys with other types of special needs “fall through the cracks in Boro Park.”
“We would so appreciate it if some of the local organizations could help us to find teenage boys who could come and take our sons out: play games with them, sing with them, have a kumsitz with them, take them out to parks, take them for walks, and play ball.”
Another fun idea Chaya has for a regular, weekly group activity for special needs boys on Shabbos afternoons is a Chevras Tehillim, similar to what most shuls offer, with prizes, treats, and stories.
“I know there are boys who would love to do something for other children,” said Chaya, who pointed out that teenage boys often have free time, not just on Shabbos and Yom Tov, but during bein hazmanim and chol hamoed, when mothers in the community could use extra help. “Everyone not only benefits, become more mature, and responsible from giving to others in need, but the boys would have a good time doing it.
“You just have to know how to communicate with them and get along with them.”
Anyone who is interested in volunteering to spend time with boys with special needs on Shabbos and Yom Tov afternoons or organizing a chesed program of volunteers, can call Chaya at (718) 686-1256.
Photo Credit: Camp Hasc