All parents are pleased when their child reaches certain milestones: the first staggering steps; the first word; the first day of school; graduation. Parents of special kids have additional milestones: the first time he cooks his own breakfast; the first time he takes the bus alone; the first time he advocates for himself.
The latter was our most recent milestone. Josh was born with what was described as ‘global neurological deficits” resulting from an in-utero stroke. He is blind in his left eye, low-vision in his right eye; he has had years of speech therapy, fine and gross motor therapy, and today has only a slight limp, and some stiffness on his left side. Like many children with physical disabilities, these have impacted learning, maturity rate and independence. It also colors self-perception. There is a profound shyness, an uncertainty of purpose, a wonder if one dares to reach for the stars. School is hard. Social interaction is
hard. Rejection engenders a fear of failure.
Out of the many wonderful, supportive people who have helped Josh on his journey, Miriam Avraham and Camp Shutaf stand out. Shutaf is an integrated camp for children with disabilities and without disabilities. Miriam recruited Josh as a junior camp counselor, and he bloomed. He took on responsibilities for food, for children, for other children’s’ safety. He had to deal with tantrums, taunting, and grow into the role of person-in-charge. It was hard. But this level of responsibility supervised by a core team of counselors and supervising adults, helped Josh grow in confidence and maturity.
After his graduation from high school, Josh was contacted by Hebrew University’s Learning Center for the Blind. They have a number of excellent programs including a mechina for blind and vision-impaired teens and young adults seeking to pass the Israeli college boards (the bagriot). Josh opted for a non-academic route to start, wanting to do National Service. Having worked in a hospital, he hoped to do his National Service in a medical setting but instead ended up working in the traffic division of the Police Department. Learning Center for the Blind arranged a 6-hour work day for its blind and vision impaired students. He loves it! It is a clerical support job, processing traffic tickets, but he likes the people he works with, and he likes his vision-impaired buddy who is also doing his national service there. But what he really likes is the feeling of adulthood. He likes getting up and getting to work on the bus by himself; preparing his own breakfast; packing his own lunch; spending his own money.
Then he was told that he could only do one year of National Service. While additional years are optional, most young men and women do at least two years of National Service. Josh wanted another year. In order to persuade the Learning Center staff that he was sincere, he went to his supervisors, asked them to write letters commending his work, gathered those letters, photocopied them, put them in a “nylon”, went to the meeting, and persuaded them that this was what he truly wanted. He had to be his own best advocate. In Hebrew.
He got another year in National Service at the police department. He passed his milestone. We couldn’t be more proud of him!
By Sarah Williams, mother of Josh Williams