Brandon’s story: thee of a special needs Jewish learner

by | Sep 8, 2017 | Other News

In the beginning…
We got the first diagnosis in 2003. ADHD. Nothing to worry about there, right? Lots of kids have ADHD. Heck, even I have ADHD.

But as time went on, we knew that there had to be more than just that. So, in July 2006, when Brandon was six years old, we took him for testing by a speech therapist. Then, we received another diagnosis.

Communication Disorder—Expressive Language Disorder, Auditory Processing Deficit, Visual Processing Deficit.

Then, in November, another.

High Functioning Autism (HFA), specifically Asperger’s Syndrome.

And the diagnoses continued into December.

Significant Anxiety. Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NVLD), Right Hemisphere Cerebral Dysfunction.

Brandon attended the Shalom Children’s Center at the JCC in Norfolk. When the JCC moved to Virginia Beach, we put him in Parkdale School. When it was time for school, he started Kindergarten at Granby Elementary. Twice. In first grade, he was moved to a self-contained classroom at Jacox Elementary. He stayed there until he hit his speech therapist. He was moved to Camp Allen. He lasted three days there. They put him on homebound services. I finally got him in the SECEP Autistic Children’s Program. He was fairly successful in this program. In the sixth grade, the SECEP staff wanted to move him to their Re-Ed program. Trusting them, I agreed. Lesson learned —be careful about which community organization you choose to entrust your child’s education. He was bullied horribly. He still has nightmares and flashbacks.

Over the years, Brandon had a few placements at Virginia Beach Psychiatric Hospital. We also placed Brandon at Cumberland Hospital for Children and Adolescents. From there, he was placed at the Hughes Center for Autistic Children. He was there for more than a year. When he was discharged and came home, he was placed at Rivermont School Tidewater. It isn’t the best placement for him, but it is the only choice we had.

So, now you have the story of Brandon. Lots of diagnoses. Lots of school and hospital placements. Lots of turmoil. Lots of struggles.

Temple Learning
Oh, wait. I’ve left something out. The one consistent thing in Brandon’s life. Religious School/Sunday Learning at Ohef Sholom Temple. He started in pre-K. Except for when he was hospitalized, he attended every year. He grew up at OST. He grew up with the same classmates.

It wasn’t easy at OST Sunday Learning. I couldn’t just drop Brandon off like I could with his sister. I had to stay, just in case he lost control. But the temple and Sunday staff stuck it out with me. They never once suggested that Brandon should be anywhere other than where he was. In 2013, the education director received a grant from the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater to start a program for children with special needs called Open the Gates. OST hired a certified Special Needs teacher and assigned a one-on-one assistant to Brandon. We met and developed a Jewish Individualized Education Plan (JIEP). Before long, I noticed that there were other students in the program; students of all ages and grades. Brandon started thriving in the classroom. He participated in the work. He joined in the discussions. He learned.

Brandon is 16 years old now. An amazing thing just happened. He was Confirmed along with those same classmates. The young men and women in his Confirmation class were so kind; so understanding; so generous. After the Confirmation, when I was congratulating each of them individually, their response to me was, “Brandon was amazing.” They were all so proud of him.

And now, another amazing thing is happening. After Confirmation, the director of Family Learning offered Brandon a job as a Madrich, teen assistant. He acknowledged that Brandon would probably not be able to do the traditional job that the Madrichim do. But he said that if Brandon was interested in working, he would find some place for him. We submitted the application and will know soon what position he will fill and how he will do. So, the story of Brandon is to be continued.…

faYe Howe is a member of the Family Learning Committee at Ohef Sholom Temple. Her favorite quote on the subject of special needs learners is reprinted here. For more information about Open the Gates at Temple, and Temple’s 1-year, Sunday Learning Open Enrollment for independent households, contact

– faYe Howe