Educational and social services abound in the Jewish community of the Five Towns, but there is a “glaring piece that’s missing,” according to the father of a high functioning special needs young adult.
The missing piece, explained Rabbi Herbert Horowitz, is a structured social setting for long Friday nights in winter and long Shabbat afternoons in summer, where special needs adults could interact, make friends and socialize.
“I don’t believe there is anything out there,” he said, “I would definitely jump on it. As far as I know, there is nothing being done for Shabbos or Yom Tov. This piece is missing for frum, shomer Shabbos; if they are home they have little to do. There is no social outlet for 20- to 30-year-old, high functioning people with varying disabilities.”
After Horowitz’s son, who has Asperger’s — a form of autism — completed ninth grade in a small Brooklyn yeshiva, Rabbi Horowitz spent a year researching schools in his home borough, but he was unable to find a yeshiva that served his son’s needs and moved to the Five Towns.
The boy entered Hewlett High School and graduated after five years. He and another student were the first Asperger’s students to graduate from Hewlett and were acknowledged by the principal for persevering and finishing high school.
Horowitz noted that the “special needs coordinator at the high school is excellent and went out of the way to help him. The last two years were preparation for entering the work world.”
Explaining that each child with Asperger’s is different, Horowitz noted that his son is of “average intelligence but has an excellent concrete memory.”
The last six months in high school, he did clerical work in the courts in Mineola and worked in the office of Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg with the assistance of a personal coach who went with him to help him learn travel and work skills.
“He received a citation at the end of the semester,” his father said proudly. “It was a building block that prepared him for the work world.”
“Parents have to be extremely proactive,” stressed Horowitz. “If you sit back and wait for them to give them programs it’s ‘fafallen,’ it’s not going to happen.”