The Passover Seder
A Traditional Jewish Holiday Ritual with a 2 way teach – how to help our children with sensitive
needs appreciate the Seder
AND how to help the other participants appreciate our special children at the Seder
by Joyce Olshan

Passover is one of those holidays that we can either love it and all of its components or we can pick and choose and hope to get through it! – Like the Israelites in the desert! If as adults we may feel these different feelings, even more so for our children, and especially our children with sensory involvements.
There are many sensory challenges - different smells, different people, different table seating, different foods, different language. Preparing a child for this celebration is key to everyone being able to enjoy it.
   - Explain the schedule of events to him/her.
   - Describe the setting as much as possible, even if it will be held at their own house.
   - Taste some of the foods beforehand if possible.
   - Practice the parts he/she may be asked to say.
   - Many families make decorations or even some of the ritual objects so the child feels ownership.
   - Let them make their own choices for clothing, where to sit, have favorite fidgets available and ready snacks.

But even with these preparations, some children will find sitting through a seder to be challenging. If the other participants are not prepared, they may not understand the situations that could arise. By turning to the Haggadah itself, we may find tools for helping our children be understood.
One well-known section of the Hagaddah describes 4 types of sons (modern versions also call them daughters) with 4 different levels of understanding. Many interpretations have been given to these 4 types – from a theological, philosophical, and psychological perspective. But I see something more relevant to our children with sensory involvements that can actually help others to better understand and be aware in a productive educational way.

One child is considered the wise child since he knows how to ask questions. Another is considered the wicked child because he separates himself from the people and the exodus experience. The third is considered as a simple one with a simple question. The fourth is one who is there but silent and one is instructed to speak to him directly.

What if we look at these through our understanding of our children?
The wise child is praised for asking questions. But what if the child asking questions has perceptual challenges? They may be asking questions because they cannot comprehend the first time. They cannot follow instructions due to being easily distracted. Are there auditory deficits? Visual deficits? Cognitive deficits? This could be a red flag for sensory processing problems.

The wicked child is criticized for distancing themselves from the crowd. If a child has sensory issues then it is actually a good thing if they distance themselves before their triggers create unwanted behaviors. It is very important to understand the difference between behaviors that arise from sensory overload verses behaviors that are bad social choices.

The simple one should not be judged poorly for not understanding. Things must be presented to them in a manner that is appropriate. Parents and teachers should be attuned to their needs as well. There could be sensory issues that prevent them from absorbing the lessons like their peers.

As for the one who does not even ask, the quiet one in the room, doesn’t make a fuss, may seem to be an ideal child but is probably the one who needs the most attention. They can easily be overlooked since they are not making any disturbance. Why are they not seeking involvement? Is there a speech or hearing problem? Are they guarding some sensory motor imbalance? This is exactly the child who needs to be drawn in and given attention.

Though these 4 prototypes are very traditional, the larger lesson here is that it is time to reevaluate some of our traditional understandings (in the secular world as well) and to reinterpret them to encompass all our children. We must always work to help our children at the same time to help others better understand who they are. There is a seat at the proverbial table for everyone.

Joyce Olshan, OTR/L 

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