The High Holidays are a time full of rituals and symbolism, as well as contemplation. However, for the families of children who have a developmental disability such as autism or multisensory disorder, these traditions can sometimes cause difficulties. This impacts thousands of children in Israel, and as many as one in six in North America.

Jean Judes, Executive Director of Israel’s leading disabilities organization, Beit Issie Shapiro, provides some tips to help these families have a sweeter New Year…

Beit Issie Shapiro impacts 30,000 children and adults every year.

1. In simple terms, explain to your children the meaning behind the symbolism of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, so they have some understanding of why we do what we do. Use picture books, or draw pictures yourself, to help tell the story.

2. Before Rosh Hashanah, let your children feel a shofar or toy shofar and practice blowing it, so they are less surprised by sudden, loud noises on the actual day.

3. If your child is sensitive to noise, let them wear ear plugs at synagogue, and get them to count the number of times the shofar is blown, so they are focusing less on the loud noise.

4. Make sure that you have a supply of everything you might need at synagogue, to help your child pass the hours. For example, a drink with a straw so the suction provides sensory input; a favorite snack (something filling to avoid hunger); a favorite toy etc. Make sure to sit at the end of a row and near an exit so that your children can go out easily if necessary.

5. Fasting on Yom Kippur can be especially challenging with children who require a lot of attention, both physical and emotional. Ensure you are ready in the usual way, such as drinking a lot of water or eating watermelon before the fast, and weaning yourself off caffeine from the week before. There are also herbal remedies available to help keep you hydrated throughout a fast.

6. In some communities, the kaparot (atonement) rite is done on the morning before Yom Kippur. This involves waving a chicken over one’s head – you will be the best judge as to whether or not your children will be able to do this, and there are many communities that use money instead of chickens.

7. Well before the fast comes in, help your children to choose non-leather shoes that they will wear on Yom Kippur, and encourage them to start wearing the shoes early, so they get used to the feel of the shoes and are comfortable.

8. Yom Kippur is a good opportunity to teach your kids about the importance of saying sorry. Have them say sorry to their siblings for anything annoying or upsetting they have done that day (they may not remember earlier arguments).

9. Make sure to start your pre-fast meal with plenty of time before the fast so that you can help your children if anything arises and still have time to eat.

10. Speak to your rabbi if your children are Bar/Bat Mitzvah and you are worried they won’t be able to fast, as sometimes exemptions are given to children with autism or other disabilities.

Enjoy the holidays!

The American Friends of Beit Issie Shapiro is holding its Humanitarian Award Celebration on November 5th 2014. For information, and to register please go to www.AFOBISNYGala.org