Inclusion is a word that is used a great deal these days, but for our family it has a more personal meaning. It is personal because we have a daughter with autism, Ava, whom we want to be included in everything that life has to offer. We especially want for her to be able to access an education in the least restrictive environment, which for her means attending a general education classroom and attending Beit Sefer on Sundays with her siblings.
With Ava’s school district, we have had to advocate for her to receive the free appropriate public education (FAPE) she is entitled to by law. We have had much help along the way, including professional and non-profit services. Both entities were extremely helpful in giving us the knowledge we needed to advocate for our daughter in the most effective way possible.
At Temple Beth Israel (TBI) in Pomona, where we are members, we did not need to advocate for Ava’s rights since the congregation was already supportive. TBI believes and lives our Jewish values of social justice and Tikkun Olam. They have provided a Madrichim that shadows Ava at Beit Sefer and are understanding if during Tot Shabbat she rushes to the Bimah to greet the Rabbi and Cantor.
Through our many challenges, I had decided to start Advocacy for Autism to assist other families in providing them with the support and resources I wished we had received from the first day of Ava’s diagnosis. We have partnered with Autism Society Inland Empire and host monthly support group meetings at TBI.
During the past six months of the support group’s existence, we have covered several topics, including: “Individual Educational Program (IEP) Workshop”; “Social Skills and Applied Behavioral Analysis”; “In Home Support Services” and “Growing Up with Autism.” On January 9, we will host Mark Woodsmall, Esq. of Woodsmall Law Group, who will lead a free “IEP Goal Writing Workshop” to help parents and caregivers create, simplify and write measurable and effective goals for their child’s IEP. A calendar of events is posted on www.advocacyforautism.com.
Ava is almost six years old now and has made amazing progress through her therapy and school. She is able to speak in sentences and her disruptive behaviors have been reduced. With Advocacy For Autism, I hope to continue to provide families with education, tools and support so they too can effectively advocate for their child. _
Nicole Aptekar is a parent, advocate and founder of Advocacy For Autism. She is active in several non-profit organizations focused on autism, including Autism Society of Inland Empire. She is also active in her temple community, Temple Beth Israel Pomona, where she serves on the Board of Trustees. Nicole, her husband, Jeff, and their children live in Chino Hills, Calif. For a calendar of upcoming meetings and workshops, please visit www.advocacyforautism.com.