A Spectrum Of Support For Jews With Autism


A mother’s offhand comment here about the need for a place for Jewish children with autism has, 15 years later, spurred an international research center.

In 1997, the mother of two young special-needs children who lives in the New York area told Joshua Weinstein, a veteran educator with a Ph.D. in special education who was serving as CEO of a local health care agency, that no major program for Jewish children with various forms of autism existed.

Intrigued, Weinstein did some research on the neuro-developmental disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate and establish relationships with other people, and he decided to form his own autism program.

The result, the following year, was Shema Kolainu (Hebrew for hear our voices; hear-our-voices.org), an independent, nonprofit school and treatment center in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood that has grown into a nondenominational center providing services for more than 1,000 children each year.

“There is no other organization doing this,” he says. While autism does not affect Jews any more than anyone else, the frequency of its diagnosis in the general population has increased in recent decades to one in 88 children in the United States, and new cases of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Israel grew by 500 percent between 1995 and 2005.

“Autism doesn’t discriminate,” Weinstein says. “It’s across the board.”

His interest in autism broadened in 2004 when he established icare4autism (the International Center for Autism Research & Education), a Manhattan-based sponsor of medical research and academic conferences that will host an international conference at Jerusalem’s International Convention Center on Aug. 1-2. The conference will feature scholars from several dozen countries, including the Palestinian Authority.

“We are apolitical,” Weinstein says.

Icare4autism will break ground later this year on a five-acre global autism research center at the Hebrew University Mount Scopus campus in Jerusalem; plans will be unveiled at a reception here next month. The event will honor Dr. Eric Hollander, chair of the icare4autism scientific advisory committee and director of the Compulsive, Impulsive and Autism Spectrum Disorder program at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

The first such international, interdisciplinary autism center, set to open in 2015, will include a “model school,” a database on autism research and a medical research site.

One of its main backers is Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Weinstein says.

Weinstein says his expanded outreach into autism research and treatment still has kept its local roots — the mother who inspired his original research in autism is a member of the Shema Kolainu board.

The icare4autism reception will be held Thursday, June 7, 6-8 p.m., at EZ Studios, 325 W. 37th St. in Manhattan. For information, call (212) 836-1806 or e-mail solender@ujafedny.org.