Israel Is Smaller in Size But Stronger in Spirit


The withdrawal from Gaza, scheduled to begin in mid-August, is one of the most important events in the history of the State of Israel. It will determine whether Israel can continue to be a Jewish and democratic state.

In an Alert Paper published in June 2003 by the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, titled “Jewish Demography: Facts, Outlook, Challenges,” a renowned demographer, professor Sergio DellaPergola, makes the following prediction: Sometime around 2014, there will be between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea more Arabs than Jews. My interpretation of this chilling statistic is that in less than 10 years, if Israel keeps the West Bank and Gaza and still wants to remain Jewish, then it will become an apartheid state; and if it wants to remain a democracy, then it will lose its Jewish nature. Or, in the words of a Palestinian poet-in-exile, Mahmud Darwish, “If you don’t want a Palestinian state on 22 percent of the land today, in 20 years there will be a Palestinian state on the whole land.”

Pulling out of Gaza, then, is the beginning of a long journey, which will hopefully bring Israel back to its senses. But is it indeed? Many Sharon mavens believe he wants to get rid of Gaza only to strengthen Israel’s grip on the West Bank and thus coerce the Palestinians into accepting some kind of “autonomy.” The trauma of the Gaza pullout, with the ugly scenes expected to flood TV screens, should supposedly convince the Israelis and the world community that further withdrawal is impossible. Sharon even went to Ariel (a West Bank city of 18,000) recently and promised it would forever be ours.

If I were living in Ariel, I would start looking for a moving company, just in case. Not only because Sharon said something and maybe meant the opposite, but because the basic analysis of DellaPergola remains unchanged. Whether Sharon meant it or not, he has just started a process bigger than he had envisioned — namely, bringing Israel to its viable borders. It remains to be seen if in due course he will be the one to break the bad news to the West Bank settlers or if someone else will lead us in the next painful phase. Either way, it has to be someone from the right, because in Israel, only the right can carry out the policy of the left.

Settlers and opponents of the evacuation claim that the way Sharon brought about this plan was undemocratic: He dismissed his campaign promises, disregarded his reluctant Likud party, fired two right-wing ministers and refused to hold a referendum on the evacuation plan. His conduct reminds one of the Jewish woman, who, in the darkness of the shtetl, mistakenly prepared the cholent (traditional Shabbat stew) in the night pot. The worried woman asked the rabbi if it was kosher. It is kosher, he told her, but it stinks.

It stinks, indeed, yet it’s kosher. It was repeatedly approved by the Knesset, the body representing all Israelis, and by the Israeli Supreme Court. As for Sharon’s sudden U-turn, wasn’t Menachem Begin elected in 1977 on the slogan of Greater Israel only to give Sinai back to the Egyptians when the historic opportunity presented itself? And anyhow, the settlers, who for decades benefited from Sharon’s talents when those helped them in cunningly maneuvering all governments in their favor, should be the last to be surprised and cry gevalt when he suddenly turns against them. As for a referendum, I don’t recall ever being asked if I agreed to settling the West Bank and Gaza. I didn’t.

At stake is not only the future of the settlements, it’s the future of Israel’s democracy. Sharon’s plan to pull out of Gaza is actually about the ability of Israel to turn the will of the people into political action in a democratic way. The execution of the plan will determine whether the Israeli democracy is still a functional one or a democracy in name only, incapable of implementing its most important decisions because veto power has been surrendered to a few extremists.

In the coming days, many of us will watch agonizing scenes coming from Gaza. However, we shouldn’t lose sight of the wider perspective. Stepping into an operating room in a hospital while a patient is being operated on might be a disheartening experience. Yet it is a vital act in the road to recovery. Pulling out of Gaza — and later, out of the West Bank — is likewise vital to the survival of Israel. With self-defined borders at last, the State of Israel, democratic and predominantly Jewish, might be smaller in size but stronger in spirit, ready to defend itself if attacked or to give a helping hand to the Palestinians once they embark on a peaceful track.

Uri Dromi is the director of international outreach at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem. From 1992 to 1996 he was the spokesman for the Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres governments.

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No Jewish Child Left Behind


Amid the troubling statistics of the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey, there is one genuinely positive trend. The percentage of children in Jewish day schools is the highest it’s ever been. Twenty-nine percent of Jewish children today have attended a day school at some point.

Many Jewish parents have recognized that a day school education can give their kids the strong identity and sense of rootedness that they need to navigate an increasingly complex world.

There is no greater measure of a grass-roots phenomenon than the fact that such a large percentage of Jews are willing to shell out upwards of $10,000 to $15,000 (after taxes) a year from their own pockets to finance their children’s Jewish education. The current generation of young parents is trying to embrace day schools as never before. Sadly, however, everyone cannot afford day school. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish children whose families are not religiously committed or very rich are still being left behind. They just don’t have enough money to pay the high cost of day school tuition.

As young families try to vote with their feet; communal philanthropies are woefully lagging far behind.

Notwithstanding the countless commissions that have produced endless dialogue and flatulent institutional rhetoric, there has been no massive infusion of cash to help boost this positive trend in Jewish life. Philanthropies shrug their collective shoulders and claim that there are other existing priorities that must be met. Meanwhile, they are failing to cultivate this healthy new shoot of Jewish life.

Funding Jewish education can no longer be borne solely by the parents. As tuitions are doubling every eight years, fewer and fewer families can afford to educate their children Jewishly. The user-payer model of teaching our children about their heritage is bankrupt.

It is in the entire Jewish community’s self interest to have the next generation of Jewish children literate in our heritage, history and understanding of Torah values. Statistics have conclusively illustrated that children of intermarried and assimilated families do not support Jewish institutional life. Lack of adequate Jewish education funding is becoming a spiritual euthanasia. If existing philanthropies will not or cannot redirect funds to help our own children, new options must be sought and pursued.

In an attempt to solve this extraordinary funding crisis, a movement is fomenting across North America. The idea is simple and direct: Establish locally controlled and managed Superfunds for Jewish Education and Continuity (SJEC) that would raise money to provide scholarship funds for all students in that community. The raised money would be distributed in only one of two avenues.

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• The scholarship money would be distributed on a pro rata basis to all of the day schools in the local area, based on their respective enrollment in kindergarten through 12th grade.

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• The donor can designate a particular school or schools. The donor’s request would always be honored and would take precedence over the first option.

As an added encouragement for people to give, each superfund would have an affiliated Ben Gamla Society of donors which would match every donation with an additional 10 percent incentive gift. The goal is very simple: Every Jewish child should be able to attend a high quality day school that has an affordable tuition, irrespective of the family’s stream of religious affiliation or financial resources.

In Chicago, SJEC has just begun to organize and commitments to establish the Ben Gamla Society of Chicago have already been made to match 10 percent of a $2 million scholarship fund.

Critics will argue that we don’t need another Jewish fundraising organization. While it is true that the existing philanthropies provide much-needed assistance in many deserving areas of social welfare, the costs of education are not being adequately served. And it is unlikely that existing philanthropies will commence a systemic overhaul of their funding priorities. Most institutions are too entrenched in their political culture to rethink themselves; however, business cannot continue as usual.

Others will argue that day schools are an Orthodox issue. But increasing enrollment in community day schools over the last decade belies this claim. In addition, distinguishing users by denomination is discriminatory and inflammatory.

We must recognize that every Jewish child deserves a chance to love their Jewishness and that it is a communal responsibility to provide our children with those educational opportunities. If we don’t, for most of us, intensive Jewish education will only be available to the rich.


George D. Hanus is chairman of the Jewish Broadcasting Network.

Stopping the Violence


It’s no secret that Israelis experience many of the same social ills that Americans do. However, there has never been an official study to identify the breadth and nature of domestic abuse in the Jewish State… until now.

A survey — the first of its kind in Israel — was recently conducted by the Los Angeles/Tel Aviv Partnership — a coalition formed by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles — to help social workers and government welfare bureaus understand the country’s domestic violence and sexual abuse problems, and to prescribe solutions. The domestic violence covered in the findings includes all manner of physical, sexual and psychological abuse.

Supervised by Dr. Yosefa Steiner and Dr. Minah Zemach, the study is comprised of statistics culled from interviews with anonymous women reached at home during the day. In all, 1,019 households were polled, serving as a representive sample of the total population of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa vicinity. In addition, 101 ultra-Orthodox residences and 100 Arab homes were studied. The research also included information on services available to address social disorders, the degree of coordination between them, and their accessibility to those who require them.

Until the Partnership launched this study, an official survey of Israeli home violence had not been attempted. The initiative for conducting such research was not a question of money, but of timing. Awareness of these issues rose to the surface in recent years, after a dramatic rise in reported child abuse and incest cases from 1990-1993, and some high profile spousal abuse cases that even included murder.

This domestic violence project was a by-product of the Partnership, in conjunction with the Department of Social Welfare and Health of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Israel (JDC-Israel), and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles (the Partnership’s parent organization). A budget for the survey totaled $46,000, with $25,000 of that total budget coming from the Jewish Community Foundation; $15,000 from JDC-Israel; and another $6,000 from the municipality of Tel Aviv.

Says the Partnership’s local chair Herb Glaser, “It’s apparent that the Jewish people have problems in this arena irrespective of geography or economic class or the religious vs. secular component. And we have a mutual problem in both communities, which we didn’t expect to find.”

Both communities are on the minds of the people behind the domestic violence study. Last March, a Partnership symposium invited Israeli field workers to visit agencies within the City of Los Angeles and County of Los Angeles systems. They learned about multicultural populations, family violence court, Jewish shelters, and the county’s Domestic Violence Council — a consortium of community, law enforcement, and social services personnel.

A subsequent gathering last June sent a team of experts to Tel Aviv: a USC School of Social Work professor; representatives from Los Angeles County Domestic Violence Services; Jewish Family Service (JFS) employees; and Fredi Rembaum, director of Israel and overseas relations for the Jewish Federation.

Vivian Sauer, director of Adult and Children Services for the Federation-run JFS, commends the work-in-progress nature of the enterprise: “Personally, I thought it was [an] extremely productive way to bring two communities together and come up with some concrete proposals to work on these areas, based on the needs of these communities.”

Adds Nissan Pardo, Ph.D., who chairs the Partnership’s Los Angeles Health and Human Services Committe, “From the early 20th century, the spirit in Israel is that we’re responsible for each other and that carries over… up till today. There’s more of a common spirit. The way they handle batterers and individuals is very different than what is done here. That is from what we can learn.”

Rembaum also evokes this Israeli theme of collective responsibility: “In Israel, providing [for] the people’s needs is the business of the government and if services aren’t met, they must find a way to provide them.”

In fact, Tel Aviv actually has a program that extricates the male batterer from the household and commits him to counselling services.

“We don’t have that here [in the U.S.],” says Rembaum. “We have jails.”

Rembaum looks forward to the next step in the Partnership’s strategy: “Right now, we are preparing a proposal for funding to implement workplace training in Tel Aviv. Los Angeles representatives will start working with them in the next few months.”

The training will teach employers and supervisors how to identify and treat victims of abuse.

From Israel, Ellen Goldberg, director of Planning and Evaluation for JDC-Israel, communicated to The Journal her pleasure in being involved in this ambitious welfare undertaking. Goldberg reports that USC professionals have been assisting the project on every step of the survey.

Says the administrator, “This has enabled [Los Angeles and Tel Aviv agencies] to understand different perspectives to problems and their solutions.”

As an example of the cross-cultural influence taking place, she cites the establishment of a Tel Aviv counterpart to Los Angeles’ Domestic Violence Council.

“We are bringing fresh approaches to solving problems in each other’s domain,” says Goldberg. “[Ultimately, it will help] create better solutions and services for our respective populations and needs.”


Researchers’ findings include:

* Incidents of domestic violence have taken place in 12.5 percent of all households in Tel Aviv. That’s a high figure, relative to findings in other nations.

* Women were the targets of violence in 7.0 percent of households, while minors were the victims in 17.7 percent. Also high, as are the findings below.

* In two-thirds of the families polled, both women and children have been abused.

* Physical abuse occurred in 10.7 percent homes, while sexual abuse occurred in 2.8 percent of the families sampled.

Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun Epidemic


The statistics are shocking. Last year, more than 1 million children carried a concealed pistol to school. In 1997, 32,436 people died because of firearm violence. And of that number, only 268 deaths could be categorized as “justifiable homicides.”

These are just some of the reasons the Board of Rabbis of Southern California held “Call to Action against Gun Violence,” a community gathering at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino. In what organizer Rabbi Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel deemed “a very good beginning,” Monday night’s event — devised in the wake of the Aug. 10 North Valley Jewish Community Center shooting — attracted more than 250 congregants and leaders from institutions of all denominations.

Los Angeles Police Department Chief Bernard Parks, who supports a ban on all assault weapons and Saturday night specials, retraced the evolving trends of gun-related crime over the last three decades and encouraged people to work toward countering the proliferation of arms “for the long-term health of your community.”

Following a panel discussion that included Parks, Attorney General Bill Lockyer and Valley Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Harold Schulweis, attendees were directed to a series of workshops designed to educate citizens on specific gun violence issues. At a workshop titled “Projects for High School Youth: Developing a Regional Approach,” Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Rabbi Dan Moskowitz of Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills met with high-schoolers to inspire some student social action. At the exchange, Yaroslavsky told his young audience that the recent North Valley shooting became the catalyst to ratify legislation banning gun shows — home to unregulated suppliers of firearms, as well as hotbeds of anti-Semitic and racist liturgy — from Los Angeles County property.

Elsewhere at the “Call to Action” event, state Sen. Tom Hayden and Rabbi Haim Beliak discussed “Guns, Hate Groups and the Holocaust”; Councilmember Michael Feuer and Ann Reiss Lane, chair of Women Against Gun Violence, handed out a list of gun control legislature and phone numbers of politicians to contact; and state Sen. Adam Schiff and Assemblyman Wally Knox lectured on the fine points of California’s gun control and firearms laws.

Geller’s gun violence conference is only the latest in a grass-roots movement growing in the wake of the JCC incident: the aforementioned passing of local legislature to ban gun sales on county property; Bay Area philanthropist Richard Goldman’s recent $4.3 million bankrolling of the Bell Campaign, a San Francisco General Hospital-based lobby group of people whose lives have been directly affected by gun violence; and the American Jewish Congress’s recent campaign urging Congress to strengthen gun regulation.

After the Board of Rabbis’ event, Geller told The Journal, “My hope is that in my own congregation…people will meet and form a core in an effort to educate the rest of the congregation about the issue.”

The next step ahead for the Board of Rabbis will be to meet with members of the various congregations and explore additional measures. And while the North Valley JCC tragedy might have spurred the group to rally the community against firearms proliferation, Geller does not see the gun violence issue making a quick fade any time soon.

“It is so much an issue all around the country,” says the rabbi, “that it, unfortunately, will not go away. It becomes an issue that Jews have to respond to simply because it’s become so pervasive.”

For more information on issues related to gun violence, contact Women Against Gun Violence at (310) 204-2348. For more information on getting involved in community action supporting gun control, contact the Board of Rabbis at (323) 761-8600.


Autism: The New Epidemic


Barbara and Sheldon Helfing never
expected to have one autistic child, much
less two. Their son Leland, now 5, was born
prematurely and began showing signs of a
neurological disorder before reaching his
1st birthday.

“Leland had very poor balance and he
wasn’t yet responding to us with words or
gestures,” Barbara said. “But initially autism
did not come up because he was clearly
interested in his surroundings and in other
people.”

Leland began getting help through the
state’s Early Intervention Program. However,
since the state agency did not require a
diagnosis prior to providing services, the
Helfings had no idea that their son’s
problem might be genetic. When Nathan
was born, the Helfings rejoiced in their
healthy new son, but by the time he was 18
months old, the heartbroken parents could
no longer hide from the fact that their
younger son had also fallen prey to the
disorder.

The Helfings are part of a growing trend that
is affecting the Jewish community in
unprecedented numbers. The statistics
most often quoted in past reports about
autism state that autism spectrum disorders
occur in four to five in every 10,000 births.
However, according to the Autism Society
of Los Angeles, a soon-to-be-released
report on children in the state of California
shows a 400 percent increase between
1986 and 1996 — or one in every 500 births.

In terms of the Jewish community, a study
being performed at Stanford University’s
School of Medicine is looking into how
families of Ashkenazi origin are affected
(see box). Researchers stress that so far
there is no indication that Ashkenazi Jews
have more of a tendency toward autism than
the general population. However,
professionals who work with autistic children
say the overall increase in cases has had a
definite impact on Jewish families.

“While I would not say the Jewish community
is any more hard hit than other communities,
we are certainly seeing plenty of Jewish
families with this problem,” said Dr. John
Lutzker, chair of the department of
Psychology and director of graduate training
at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles.
“I have contact with the (state-run) Regional
Centers and with the school districts and
they cannot put a lid on this. It is indeed an
epidemic.”

Dr. Sandra Kaler, a psychologist
associated with the Neuropsychiatric Unit at
UCLA, agrees.

“The Jewish community has been equally
struck by this and I think there was an
assumption we would not be,” Kaler said.
“Now when I go out to a Jewish preschool to
do an evaluation, I frequently see one or two
children with autism, where before it was
very rare to see more than one.”

Autism is a neurological disorder that
typically appears during the first three years
of life and includes disabilities or delays in
the areas of social skills, communication
and cognitive development. Children can
either be born with the disorder or develop
normally and then regress, usually between
the ages of 18 and 24 months. It occurs four
times more often in boys than in girls (one
reason why scientists suspect a genetic
link). About 70 percent of children with the
disorder also show some degree of mental
retardation. Autism is considered a lifelong
disability, but with early intervention many
children learn enough skills to lead
independent lives.

No one knows for sure what has caused the
skyrocketing numbers of children diagnosed
with autism. Because of the gender bias
and because so many families have more
than one child with the disorder, several
ongoing studies are focusing on the
existence of a genetic link or mutation.
Other scientists are examining
environmental factors like diet, vaccinations
and pesticide exposure.

Part of the rise in incidence may be
attributed to a change in the definition of
autism spectrum disorders. For many years
it was easy to tell children who fit the classic
diagnosis of autism: An inability to relate to
others, poor or no speech, violent or
self-injurious behavior, repetitive or
seemingly meaningless activities. However,
the diagnosis has evolved to include
children who relate fairly well socially but
who have delays in other areas like
language or fine motor skills. (This is
sometimes called pervasive developmental
delay, not otherwise specified or
PDD-NOS.) On the other end of the
spectrum are children who have solid
communication skills but find it difficult to
relate to other people, sometimes
becoming obsessed with a narrow range of
ideas or objects, a disorder known as
Aspergers Syndrome.

But Lutzker said the change in evaluations
cannot completely explain what
professionals are seeing in their offices.

“It’s an interesting dilemma: Is it that we are
more aware of autism or are there truly
more incidents? I’m inclined to lean toward
more incidents just because of the endless
number of children we are seeing these
days,” he said.

Lutzker, a behavioral psychologist, is a
strong advocate of the discrete trial training
method of treating children with autism.
Discrete trial training (also called applied
behavior analysis or ABA), was designed
by Dr. Ivar Lovaas of UCLA in the 1960s
and uses behavior modification with both
positive and negative reinforcement to
shape the child’s response. Other
developmental professionals prefer using
the newer “floor time” therapy. Created by
Dr. Stanley Greenspan, a psychiatrist at
George Washington University Medical
School, this teaching method is
child-directed — the therapist follows the
child’s lead in playing games and
performing activities that enhance the child’s
communication skills. Many autistic children
also receive speech and occupational
therapies.

Working out a successful treatment plan is
one of the many battles that parents such as
the Helfings find overwhelming at times.
Both their boys have different strengths and
weaknesses and each requires a program
that supports their needs. Therapy, including
a home-based ABA program for Nathan
and Greenspan sessions for both, often
takes up eight or more hours a day for each
child. Ironically, both Barbara and Sheldon’s
professional training makes them
well-suited to the task of raising children
with special needs; Barbara has a Master’s
degree in education (including a credential
in special ed) and Sheldon teaches
psychology at local community colleges.

Barbara said the hardest part is dealing
with family and friends who don’t seem to
grasp what life with autism is all about, the
constant toll taken on the family’s time and
emotions and finances as they research
every option for helping their sons. She tells
the story of a friend who called up in tears
because her daughter had missed out on
getting into a gifted class by two points on a
test. Barbara said it was hard not to laugh
because “I wish for one moment that Leland
or Nathan had a problem like that!”

“What it comes down to is our kids are in a
perpetual toddlerhood,” she said. “Their
mental age is not where their chronological
age is; that’s what makes it more taxing for
us as parents. Other parents spend a lot of
time talking about their kids’
accomplishments and what we talk about
may not seem like much. But the things
other people take for granted, we really
appreciate.”

The family has struggled to find their place
in the Jewish community. Currently they are
not affiliated with any synagogue. Barbara
said when Leland was a toddler she joined
a Mommy & Me class at a large
Conservative temple, but was disheartened
by the response of other mothers when
Leland finally attempted to speak.

“He was vocalizing, making these sounds
that weren’t quite words, but it was the first
time he had even tried to talk,” Barbara
said. “And I saw two mothers pull their
children away from him, like it was
contagious. Instead of applauding that this
child was finally speaking, they reacted like
he had a disease.”

To add insult to injury, when Barbara called
to tell the teacher she and Leland were
leaving the class, the teacher asked if she
could tell the other mothers that Leland was
a special-needs child unsuited to the
program. Barbara said the feeling she got
from the experience was that children who
were different posed a threat to the
reputation of the highly touted,
“academically enriched” program. The
rejection, she said, still hurts.

Sheldon is quick to point out that not all the
family’s experiences with synagogues have
been negative.

“There are some good programs out there,”
he said. “But the general population reacts
from fear — what you don’t know might hurt
you. The misnomer about autistic kids is
that they’re crazed and violent, when in fact
they are so locked inside themselves they
would not hurt anyone.”

Dr. Bryna Siegel, author of “The World of
the Autistic Child,” has seen many Jewish
parents during her tenure at both Stanford
and the University of California at San
Francisco. Siegel, who is Jewish, said the
emphasis on education and the high
expectations of parents and grandparents in
our culture makes it more difficult to accept
a diagnosis of autism.

“The problems Jewish families have in
coping with autism is by and large what I
see in most well-educated, upper
middle-class families,” Siegel said. “There
is a much greater sense of disappointment
in having a child with a disability as
opposed to a working-class family. And
there isn’t as much room in the Jewish
community for these children as, say, in the
Mormon community where they are seen as
a chance for family members to grow
spiritually through love and compassion.
Judaism really doesn’t have an outlook like
that.”

Siegel said that in some cultures where
large families predominate, having a
special needs child is less of a burden
because the work can be shared among
more people.

“But except for the Chassidim, Jewish
families are not having a lot of kids. For
those families, this child may be their only
one, and that can be hard,” she said.

The Los Angeles Jewish community has
been slow to respond to the recent surge of
families with developmentally delayed
children. Few programs exist to teach these
children Jewish culture and values. In the
San Fernando Valley, there are special
needs programs at Valley Beth Shalom,
Temple Judea and Kol Tikvah, but except
for VBS, these programs are limited to a
few hours one or two mornings a week. The
standards of admission for Jewish day
schools such as Abraham Joshua Heschel,
automatically eliminate many children with
disabilities, including autism. Other schools
will only take an autistic child if a one-to-one
aide is provided, which may be out of the
financial range for parents already pushed
to the limit by medical treatments.

The University of Judaism, however, recently
established a Master’s degree program for
people interested in working with autistic
and abused children, which will put more
knowledgeable, appropriately trained
teachers out in the Jewish community. For
those already in the field, the Bureau of
Jewish Education, at its recent Early
Childhood Education conference, hosted a
seminar on Autism and Aspergers for
educators along with several classes on
evaluating children for speech and language
delays.

But the Helfings’ best advice to other
parents of autistic children is this:

“Know your child, their strengths and
weaknesses,” said Barbara. “Know the law,
or hire someone who does. The truth is, in a
situation like this the playing field is not
even. To the degree you’re informed about
your child, the disorder, what resources are
available and about your rights is the
degree to which you will be able to help your
child succeed.”

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