Autism spectrum disorder is the most common neurodevelopmental disability in the United States, affecting one in 54 school-age children in every socioeconomic class, race and gender, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s latest findings. Across the world April is Autism Awareness Month; however, at Akiba Yavneh Academy (AYA), autism acceptance is an important focus every day of the school year. “I have been privileged to educate countless children on the autism spectrum. Every single one of them has been awesome and unique. Each one brings their own amazing light to life, and it is up to us to help them learn to shine their light for others to see,” said Amanda Walker, AYA Student Support director. Walker, who oversees student support as well as the Ma’alot Learning Platform — the school’s integrated special education department — is no stranger to the challenges autism can present to a family. Her younger brother was diagnosed on the spectrum at age three. “I know firsthand the impact a good teacher and program can have for a child on the spectrum and their family. Our goal, here at Akiba Yavneh, is to offer the highest quality evidence-based practices in a caring and nurturing environment,” said Walker.
The importance of ensuring that all families and all types of learners seeking a Jewish education can find a welcoming and nurturing environment at AYA is vitally important to the faculty and administration of the school. “The Jewish people have always attributed our success and survival toward our people’s extreme value placed on education. We must reach our Jewish children and ensure we provide them exemplary general studies and Judaic studies education. However, for too long, too much of the field of Jewish education has left out those families and children that were too ‘out of the box.’ We dream of a Jewish day school that provides a truly inspiring experience for every Jewish child, no matter the challenges he or she may face. That is truly the mission of our people and the promise of our heritage,” said Rabbi Yaakov Green, AYA head of school.
AYA is able to create such a unique program through the generosity of several philanthropists, including lead gifts from The Walter and Lillian Cantor Foundation and another anonymous donation that have directly led to the creation of the school’s Structured Learning Classroom (SLC). “Families affected by autism in our community deserve the best possible education, support and care. Through our amazing donors’ generosity and the dedication of our very talented educators and therapists, Akiba Yavneh is making this type of environment possible in a Jewish day school. It truly is amazing.” said Walker.
The highly trained educators in the SLC utilize cutting-edge, research-based methods to educate children on the autism spectrum. Rebecca Steinfeld, the school’s SLC classroom teacher, remarked that “the Ma’alot Platform encourages students to believe in themselves and their abilities through individualized instruction and personalized support. I feel so fortunate to be a part of a program that helps students with varying academic and behavioral needs succeed in a Jewish day school environment.”
For information about how Akiba Yavneh Academy can help your child with autism, contact Amanda Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org.