Parenting An Invisible Child

By: Steve and Vicky Krauss
Jewish Children's Adoption Network
Denver, Colorado

People with disabilities often deal with being either stared at or ignored. Sometimes it feels that our kids with Down syndrome literally can become invisible! One of our local Jewish day schools was one of our heroes only last year because it was willing to include kids with special needs in its programs. One of those kids was our son Rafi, who has Down syndrome. Rafi has been making lots of progress, learning his letters and numbers, learning to add, as well as making friends. Recently, however, some people involved with the school seem to have decided that kids with special needs are too expensive (even though the parents were willing to make a commitment to raise the necessary funds!) and/or they somehow create an image the school is uncomfortable with. They are discontinuing the "program". They won't even look at our Gavriella who is functioning at grade level, because she has a "label". A second day school in town, as a matter of written policy, won't accept students who are more than 6 months below grade level!! And so, the kids with special needs are going to have to move to the third day school, which was initially reluctant to have these children, but at least agrees that they deserve to have a Jewish education in a Jewish environment!

We are somewhat frustrated and confused. We thought that the Jewish concept was that all people are created in G-d's image, and that the role of a school was to educate all children. We cannot understand a school that segregates or refuses to accept children who need some extra assistance to succeed!

Recently, our Rafi was supposes to receive his siddur (prayerbook) along with the rest of first grade at an assembly. We went all excited to the event, only to have our expectations dashed! While all the other kids had long parts in Hebrew and English, sang, danced, pretended to be butterflies, held up signs with Hebrew letters, lit pretend Shabbat candles, he was on stage - sitting in a chair, not moving, just sitting; and we waited. We figured that the teacher surely planned some little thing for him to do - hold up a sign, say some work like "Shalom" or say a 'bracha' (a blessing - he can do that!), or take some other kid's hand and step forward, or something, anything! Were we expecting him to recite the Declaration of Independence? Of course not! We know Rafi can't do what "typical" kids can do academically or verbally. We did not expect that after teaching Rafi for two years in a row, his teacher/s would be so unaware as to not imagine how it feels to simply sit for 30 minutes with no part - the only kid with no part - as if he didn't really exist. He must have become invisible to some people.

So, we hoped we could remind his teachers and his school that Rafi is also created in G-d's image - 'betzelem elokim'. That seeing Rafi is to see that part of the image of G-d that is kind, loving, endlessly forgiving, enthusiastic, and is happy to see you whether you walk or are in a wheelchair, knows you are a person even if you have Alzheimer's, and is happy to talk to you, doesn't care what race or age you are, and he likes you and includes you in his world. What a lesson in Judaism to learn, and what a missed learning opportunity that night was! The other kids did a yeoman's job memorizing lines in English and Hebrew and performing. Too bad the moral and ethical lessons about kindness to people with challenges and difficulties were missed.

It is so sad to think that a disability renders a child invisible to some people. We hope such things don't happen in your community!

One thing we at the JCAN have certainly noticed over the past eleven years: in communities where children with disabilities are included in the Jewish schools, far fewer children with disabilities are placed for adoption than in those communities where there is stigma attached to these children and they are not included in the Jewish schools!

Adapted with Permission from the JCAN newsletter.