By Guest Blogger Iris Kowen
For me, the biggest challenge in having a severely disabled child was the fear that he would never be able to maximize his potential. Though I understand that my son, Shai, has limitations, I am equally aware that these shouldn’t prohibit him from developing to his fullest.
At age 16, following years of evaluations and misdiagnoses, Shai was labeled profoundly disabled with mental retardation. His condition included a series of side effects that severely limited his motor skills and left him wheelchair-bound. Though his obstacles were great, he possessed a spirit and curiosity that belied his disability. So, while we recognized the challenges he faced, we were equally cognizant of our parental responsibility to help our child reach his potential.
This sense of responsibility was the reason we turned down group homes that focused on basic care rather than personal progress. It was also the reason we left our extended family in Florida to move several times across North America, and it was our major motivation for ultimately making aliyah.
We chose to move to Israel because ALEH Negev offered us the opportunity to fulfill our responsibility to Shai. The stated goal of ALEH Israel’s largest network of residential facilities for the severely disabled, is to enable each child, regardless of the severity of the disability, to realize his or her potential and live a quality life on par with the rest of society. ALEH Negev, a cutting-edge rehabilitative village in the south of Israel, is specially designed to provide a continuum of residential care for children with severe disabilities as they grow from adolescents into young adults, exactly the kind of care that Shai requires.
Several years later, I look back on our decision with a sense of pride and gratitude. I am proud of the sacrifices my family, including two teenage daughters, readily made for Shai, and of their determination and grace in making our aliyah so successful, despite the initial hardships. And I am especially grateful for those who continue to help Shai progress each day.
Ultimately, no matter what a child’s strengths or weaknesses are, as parents, we are driven by a desire to help them fulfill their capabilities and reach their potential. As I watch Shai communicating through a computer, splashing in the pool and enjoying numerous programs that stimulate him throughout the day, I know that thanks to ALEH, disability will not hold Shai back from reaching his.
— Iris Kowen