By Ben Tinsley
DALLAS — Josh Bransky, 13, of Plano might have missed out on a formative growing experience if JCC officials had not made him an active part of the Dallas Maccabi Games.
Josh has special needs. He is a competitive swimmer who has autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. He has to take ADHD medicine every four hours. There are times when noise and light get to be too much and he has to be led away to calm down.
Abbii Cook, JCC Youth Programs director, said when the JCC was asked to help Josh, they assigned the teenager a “shadow” — a male college student volunteer who stayed with Josh throughout the duration of the Aug. 2-7 Dallas Maccabi Games.
Josh’s mother, Adrienne Bransky, said as a result, Josh was able to win three medals — two bronze and one silver. He also received a Middot medal given to a select few athletes and artists who are exemplary leaders and embody the Jewish values of the Maccabi Games.
“It was so cool to be able to see Josh come into his own with these games,” she said.
Josh could very well have succumbed to sensory overload at any moment but his “shadow” was good at calming him down and helping him regroup during the hectic Maccabi days.
“He took him to a place where he could calm down and made sure he took his meds every four hours,” Adrienne Bransky said.
When Josh needed to hydrate, the “shadow” was there to help, officials said.
All in all, the JCC made it possible for Josh to have a life-affirming experience.
“I can’t say enough about the staff of the JCC,” Bransky said. “The fact that Team Dallas Delegation Heads Matt Rowland and Abbii Cook were willing to make this happen made all the difference. There were kids from Shelton School of Dallas who saw Josh and actually engaged him in conversation for the first time. This welcoming, supportive experience showed him and a lot of other people that he is capable.”
Cook said Josh was the only child with autism that she knew of who asked for help during the Dallas Maccabi Games.
“Helping Josh is something we do at the J because we believe in inclusion,” she said. “We did what we would do for every kid. We want this to be an avenue for every walk of life.”
Cook said some parents make the mistake of assuming there won’t be help for their special needs children at the J.
“Some parents just write it off, but Josh’s parents have been huge advocates for him,” she said.
For Adrienne Bransky, it was glorious to see her son winning a prestigious competition under his own steam.
“He made it through a difficult time on his own,” she said. “The other players were cheering him on and he really needed that. The kids on the team who go to his school were congratulating him, and he just got invited to a bar mitzvah.”
Josh said the Maccabi Games experience, for him, was unforgettable.
“I was smiling when I got those medals — a huge, beaming, smile,” he said.