When my son George—who just turned 16—was diagnosed with autism at age 3, being part of Jewish community helped me through the initial shock, confusion and fear that comes to most parents when they receive any kind of diagnosis for their child. We were able to find a therapeutic preschool for George—first through Bright Horizons, which still operates at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El and then through the Sinai class at AJ. George received a wonderful preschool education and my family and I met other parents—many of whom we’re still very close to—who provide the support and understanding that comes from a shared experience.

In my larger community of family and friends, people weren’t always sure what to say or how to react to my son’s diagnosis—and to the reality that life for my family– with our busy schedule of therapy appointments for George and the emotional stress that comes with uncertainty about a child’s future–was now different from their life.

I understand. Two years ago, I had the opportunity to share an ELI Talk and I focused my message on what it was like to go from being a person, like many of us, who has discomfort around disability to becoming a mom of a child with a disability. In the last six years that I’ve been directing Jewish Learning Venture’s Whole Community Inclusion initiative, it’s been incredibly healing for me to share trainings about disability inclusion across the Jewish community—for educators, clergy, lay leaders, teenagers in our Reta Emerson fellowship and synagogue professionals. I want to help people get through their discomfort and fears, to reach a place of love and understanding.

This year during February, which is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance & Inclusion Month, I am really excited about a wonderful new opportunity: we are sharing programs about understanding and respecting differences designed for young children through our jkidphilly programs all month long. Through story times with our fabulous parent ambassadors and a very special music program with singer-songwriter Joanie Calem, families can participate in fun, interactive programs about appreciating, understanding and respecting what makes each of us a unique human being.

I’ve learned that my son George’s autism diagnosis is simply one part of who he is—he is a really sweet, fun young man who loves learning and is passionate about hip hop and punk music. I am so proud to be his mom and I love to support other parents as they navigate life after a disability diagnosis. I hope to see you and your family at one of our JDAIM programs~and please know that I am here if you ever want to talk or connect me with a friend who may appreciate our Whole Community Inclusion programs.

Sign up for our Music Circle “Understanding Differences” here and check out our February calendar for JDAIM programs near you.

February is JDAIM Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month!

Show your support by helping us raise $10,000, which will be generously

doubled by the Lasko Family Foundation.

Gabby and her son George.