Special Needs and the Seder Night

Anyone who has experience of a child with special needs, whether a parent or a teacher, knows that they challenge us to stretch our boundaries and approach things from outside the box. Often because of the simple fact that our child isn’t able to get into the box in the first place. They need to feel safe in a world that is confusing and complicated.

With a special needs child (or adult), you can’t fall back on tried and trusted methods of daily living. Whether its learning or just getting through the day, we have to remember that a square peg will not fit into a round hole however hard you push it and pray that it will suddenly work.

Do you remember when you were in school and you had to cram pages and pages of textbook material into your head before every big test? I’m sure you and your friends worked out the best tactic for you, whether it was cramming all night, making flashcards, listening to lectures, or testing each other.

What I do know is that one size does not fit all, and even among your group of friends, you probably had various different ways of learning for your exams.

Over the years, both scientists and psychologists have developed different models to understand the ways that people learn best. One of the most popular theories is the VARK model. It identifies four primary types of learners: visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic.

Each learning type responds best to a different method of teaching. Auditory learners will remember information best after reciting it back to the presenter, while kinesthetic learners will jump at the chance to participate in a hands-on activity.

With our special needs children, we often need a combination of all four methods. The beauty of the Seder Night is that we put on a show that is a perfect blend for all types of learners. It is comprised of not just one form of learning, it encompasses what works well for engaging all of our children.

This is what makes Seder special.

  • First of all, the learner is generally with family or friends and can feel safe and relaxed.
  • The participant learns visually — by watching the rituals. The lifting of the kiddush cup for Ha Lachma, the pointing to the Seder Plate.
  • They can learn kinesthetically by doing, through touch, taste, by dipping a finger in the wine, searching for the afikoman.
  • If they are able, the learner can read in whichever language they are most comfortable and confident.
  • The learning can be auditory, listening to the stories, enjoying the songs.
  • And finally, the learner can ask as many questions as they like.

The whole point of the Seder is to teach the children, to pass on our knowledge, history and traditions. On Pesach we go one step further, our traditional Seder, the reading of the Haggadah are performed in a manner that includes all of our children. Regardless of which type of learner they are, the Seder holds something that can appeal.

Why is this night different from all other nights? On this night our special needs are not set apart, they are naturally catered for in the most inclusive way of all. The Haggadah and traditions are interactive and exciting for everyone. The Seder Night, our celebration of Pesach is a blueprint of inclusion for all our special needs.

About the Author
Abi Taylor-Abt is an outstanding Jewish Educator and Curriculum Developer who has worked in the field of Jewish Primary and Secondary Educational Curriculum Development for over twenty years. She is the author of Lessons in Jewish Learning - a grab and go curriculum for communities and Jewish schools. Originally from London, Abi spent time living in Israel, South Africa, England and the United States. After working in Boise, Idaho, Abi spent 5 years in Israel for the second time whilst her children served in the army. She is currently Director of Education for Yachad a combined educational endeavour between the conservative congregation of Beth Shalom and the reform community of Temple Emanu-El in Michigan, USA. A 2018 recipient of the Klein/Grinspoon Award for Excellence in Jewish Education, Abi is also awaiting the video version of her recent ELI Talk Detroit Speaker Fellowship.