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How synagogues can be more inclusive to children with autism

    Gesher is a new school that has opened in north-west London this term. It strives to support children with special educational needs and fill a gap between specialised education and Jewish studies.

    We are a school that will educate children between reception and year two with a plan to extend to year six.

    Our two co-founders were passionate about the fact there wasn’t a bridge between special educational needs and Jewish education.

    We look forward to supporting children not only within our school but those who struggle with autism or related challenges within the Jewish community more widely. As a start, our deputy head, Leor Harel, will be supporting autism-friendly synagogue services, with the first due to take place at Borehamwood and Elstree Synagogue next week on September 16.

    For children who might struggle with autism during a synagogue visit, here are a few tips:

    • Allow for breaks, as sitting for long periods of time can be very difficult for children struggling with attention and sensory needs. This can be a simple walk for two or three minutes every half-hour or so, depending on the child’s age.
    • Prepare children for what will be happening during the service. Have a visual schedule of how the service will run. Show them this before you attend and allow them to have access to it throughout the session.
    • This can lessen anxiety massively and the feeling of not knowing what to expect.
    • If a child has difficulties with attention, a small fidget toy may help them concentrate for longer.

    Weighted blankets or heavy cushions can help children feel calm and will keep their sensory needs intact so they can sit longer; have these available at the service.

    l If children become overwhelmed, it is important to have a space they know they can go to where they feel safe. It could be an area within the synagogue that is quiet and has somewhere for them to sit.

    This can often help before a child gets to crisis mode and has a melt-down. They should be able to access this area whenever needed.

    l Predictability is often the biggest support in controlled situations. We are happy to prepare a social story about visiting the synagogue and post it on our website for anyone to access and print.

    These stories help explain what to expect and often allow children to feel more prepared and calm.

    It’s a simple concept but can really help.

    Gesher will work hard to be a beacon of excellence for children with SEN in the Jewish community. We will also be a place to turn for parents and carers.

    We are here to help and look forward to ensuring synagogues will be inclusive communities where all can cope and take part.

     

    www.gesherschool.com