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Rafi Wolach teaches photography at SHEKEL summer course..(Photo by: COURTESY SHARON SIMMER)
SHEKEL summer course broadens horizons for students with ASD
By HANNAH BROWN
09/26/2017
For high school students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), unstructured time during the summer vacation can be challenging. But now SHEKEL, an organization committed to the inclusion of children and adults with disabilities, has given some of these pupils an opportunity to use this time to learn a new professional skill, while enjoying an enriching social life and advancing interpersonal skills.

SHEKEL ran a high-level course in photography at its Jerusalem branch for a group of 10 Or Torah high school students. The course was specifically designed to advance socialization and communications skills, in a stimulating and fun environment. The participants, who are all high-functioning and fully integrated into Or Torah’s student body, are also part of the school’s specialized communications class.

SHEKEL photography teacher Rafi Walloch explained how the week-long course created an environment that generated social cohesion and empowered interpersonal communication skills.

“When two students photograph each other, a dialogue opens up. Photography is a powerful communication medium and students need to communicate on multiple levels to achieve their photographic goals. They learned from each other’s work and it was moving to watch them begin to express themselves and develop work in pairs and groups. While at the beginning of the course, there was little social or professional interaction, by the end of the week we witnessed real social cohesion and camaraderie. There was a lot of laughter positive energy and teamwork.”

Designed to teach professional skills, the course included instruction in digital photography and how to build a darkroom, where the students developed black and white photographs. They took various kinds of pictures and spent a day photographing in the Jerusalem city center, including Mea She’arim.

The SHEKEL course was coordinated in close collaboration with the school’s communications class teacher, Modi Haim Dubki. According to Dubki, the course allowed students to see each other in a different light.

“It stimulated a lot of interaction, social and otherwise, something that doesn’t normally happen in the formal class setting. It also broke down the class hierarchy, allowing each student to excel and develop self-esteem.

The students learned serious professional skills and many have expressed interest in pursuing photography professionally. Altogether, it was a very empowering experience.” The students themselves expressed great enthusiasm: “It’s fun to take photos with friends and the photography is really interesting,” said David, a course participant who said he would continue to develop his photography skills as a hobby.

Netanel Miller, who heads SHEKEL’s programs for people with ASD, including a broadbased housing program, and Sally Masignoff, responsible for SHEKEL’s special-education programs, stressed the importance of such opportunities for ASD high school students.

“A course like this advances these students on so many levels” said Miller. “Such programs are critical to their long-term development. We are currently looking for funding to implement similar courses during the course of the school the year, for students learning in communications classes all over the city.” For more information on SHEKEL and its programs, go to www.shekel.org.il/en.
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