Do You Know How to Ask?


A blog post by Martha Goodman, Coordinator of MD SNAP.
When my daughter Meira was not even a year old, my friend Ellen, the founder of CJE’s Maryland Special Needs Advocacy Project (MDSNAP), invited me to job share with her.  I demurred, saying I already was very busy with my job in Jewish outreach and with a million appointments for my daughter with Down Syndrome.  Ellen responded that by joining MDSNAP I would become a stronger advocate for her.  I started my new job the next Monday…
In the Passover Haggadah we acknowledge that we need to help the one who does not know how to ask.  Hopefully, we will enable him to come to point where he can ask for himself.  This is true, too, for all the families that we work with.  Often, they do not even know what they don’t know!  When I give a one-sentence description of our work, I say “MDSNAP is group of volunteer advocates who are trained to assist parents to access testing and services through the public school system.”    But what I really want to do is help people ask the right questions, and find the right answers.
From Meira’s first days in the Infants and Toddlers’ Program, under the caring coordination of Kodem Kol’s Naomi Shabtai, she was exposed to ASL – American Sign Language.  Meira is a very verbal child, but without a doubt she has gained tremendously from ASL.  Of course, in the early days, it allowed her to tell us, as she rubbed her two palms together, that she wanted cheese.  Later, it supported her as she learned her ABCs.  But now, at the beginning of first grade in her new school, Ohr Chadash, sign language came to her aid again, and literally helped her to ask. (Check out Signing Time and Rachel Coleman for more about friends and the benefits of ASL for hearing children.)
It was the morning of orientation in her special classroom, run by Shemesh with additional support from MSDE.  Meira was excited, and looking forward, as she had told me many times, to making new friends.   The class is made up of kindergartners, a first grader, and second graders.  Each grade came at a separate time, so when we arrived, Meira was the only child there.  The teacher greeted her, gave her paper and crayons, and told her about the class.  Then the teacher asked if Meira had a question.  She said yes, emphatically.  The teacher encouraged her to pose her question.  Then there was a long silence, as Meira thought.  Then I saw what she was thinking, as she hooked her index fingers together, right over left,   then left over right.  Finally, she looked up her teacher and asked, “Friends?”  Quickly, the teacher reassured her that the next time she came to the classroom there would be many new friends to play with.  Meira had learned how to ask.pen
In so many ways, Meira is my best success story, among hundreds.  MDSNAP helped her  get the right services from the public school system, find  scholarships for camp, introduced her to other resources, like Gesher La Torah and PJ Library, and ultimately helped her enter a Jewish school and receive therapies through then PEN Project.  But most of all, it helped her to ask her own questions.
Do you need help with a question?  I’m here to help!

CJE is an agency funded by THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.