A child with autism plays with other children (file).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Like any other disorder, autism affects different people in different ways. Although individuals with autism have been diagnosed as such in Israel for more than 45 years, recently it has become a word that is being increasingly bandied about without many people knowing exactly what it means. It is caused by genetic and environmental factors. Parents of young children should be alert to the symptoms – such as lack of interest in surroundings, inability to communicate, or alternately to over-communicate and endlessly repeat the same thing, often in a very loud voice; and repetitively stacking or lining up the same objects over and over again.
Shani, whose brood of three includes a set of twin girls, noticed that one of the twins was not playing with her toys and that all of her responses were lethargic and totally devoid of enthusiasm. After the little girl was diagnosed with autism, Shani was asked to bring in the other twin. It transpired that she too displayed autistic tendencies. Shani and her husband were desperate to have the twins treated, but it took a year before they found a suitable educational-therapeutic facility.
Shani told her story on Sunday in the presence of President Reuven Rivlin, Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and some 250 parents of autistic children, therapists, and autistic children and adults.
Another mother of an autistic daughter Yaeli, a person better known to the wider public than Shani, was journalist Lihi Lapid, a long-time activist on behalf of autistic children and adults. “There are a lot of people in the world who don’t listen, and a lot of people who yell,” she said. “There are also those who fight to hear and those who fight even harder to be heard – even when they have no voice.” She emphasized that she was present to speak on their behalf and on behalf of her daughter. She quoted a survey that indicated that 80% of parents would not want their offspring to be in a group together with special needs children.
It was for this reason that she was grateful to Rivlin, for opening up the President’s Residence to the autistic community – and to thereby transmit the message to the nation, that the right thing to do is to reach out to autistic children and adults.
The event included an art exhibition by autistic artists and musical performances by autistic singers and musicians.
Although Rivlin and/or his wife have hosted numerous events for special interest groups dealing with specific disorders or diseases, this was the first time that Rivlin hosted an event designed to create greater awareness of autism, and a heightened understanding of the need to, as much as possible, welcome people with autistic disorders into mainstream society.
According to a statistic released at the event, there are 25,000 people in Israel who have been diagnosed with some form of autism, and until some researcher unlocks the secret of the gene that causes it, the numbers will multiply.
Among the younger autistic visitors in the reception hall were some who would not be quiet and who kept yelling. Ordinarily, when a child or an adult creates that kind of a disturbance at an indoor event, they are asked to leave or are forcibly removed. Not in this case. “Feel free,” said Rivlin, immediately relieving any embarrassment that might be felt by parents.
RIVLIN BEGAN his own address by quoting a poem written in 2014 by a 13 year autistic boy by the name of Eyal Shahal Porat in which he described himself as an isolated island in the heart of the sea. Elsewhere, he had learned that he was not like other people, wrote Eyal. The sea was full of tears, but the island was full of love and in need of a comforting embrace. Eyal was sad to have been saddled with the burden of this hurtful disorder. But in the final lines of his poem he wrote “But when I am embraced and loved, I know that I have reached the shore.” Eyal, is one of the people who has no voice. He cannot speak and communicates by sign language. No one realized how deep a person he was until he began to share his poetry.
Noting that autism is on the rise, Rivlin cautioned that as a nation, “we must be prepared to treat autistics and their families and to share our world with them.” He declared this to be a national mission, adding “there is no shame or sin in being autistic.” He also noted that autistic people were highly talented and accomplished.
Litzman commented that among the sages it is believed that autistic people are on a higher plane. Relating to International Autism Awareness Day which falls annually on April 2, Litzman said that, “it obligates us a society to aim for equality for the autistic community and to provide it with the resources that will ensure that it can function productively.” While there have been major improvements in treatments of autism and more accepting attitudes on the part of the public, there is still much more to be done, Litzman acknowledged.
Eleven year old Roi Mori, who is on the spectrum of autism, was introduced as an ambassador for autism, and speaking with confidence said that the public has to learn more about autism. “Don’t look at us as autistics, look at us as human beings,” he entreated, before sitting down at the grand piano to play a very difficult piece of music with the aplomb of a professional.
Dressed in a beautifully tailored suit, after completing his performance, Roi came off the stage and walked along the front row to shake hands with Rivlin and Litzman. His face looked slightly strained as his mother ushered him back to his seat, but bets are on that Roi Mori is on his way to being a piano virtuoso.
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