By Josh Glass, Jackie Heymann and Regional Director of Youth Engagement for NFTY-MV Beth Lipschutz
Looking back on the past on the five days we spent at NFTY convention in Los Angeles, it is astounding how much we did. We met new tons of new people, heard some very inspiring speakers, ran around Universal Studios and so so much more. Needless to say, by the time that Monday afternoon rolled around, all 850+ NFTYites were a bit exhausted. Despite this exhaustion, though, those who participated in our action theme program showed how passionate they were about making our NFTY community into a safe, inclusive place for all participants.
The program that we wrote and led was all about including teens on the Autism Spectrum in our NFTY community. During this time, we did some activities to help participants better understand what challenges a teen on the spectrum might be experiencing. After gaining some understanding, we had a discussion on how we, as NFTY leaders, could adapt and tweak TYG programs to make them more inclusive of those on the spectrum. We had always known that NFTY is more inclusive than the typical community but the response that we received was more than we could have imagined. All of the teens were coming up with idea after idea in order to make sure that everyone felt included. They all felt that it was their duty to ensure that if someone was going to make the effort to come to a TYG event, they would be welcomed with open arms. During this program, we were fortunate enough to have a couple teens that are on the spectrum contributing to the conversation. They stressed how important it was to simply feel a part of the group and explained how little things, such as telling them the schedule ahead of time or engaging in conversation, can go a long way. They also stressed the importance of taking the time to get to know each teen, as everyone is an individual with different needs, interests and desires.
This short program demonstrated the accepting nature of the NFTY community. Just under fifty teens were able to come together and come up with actionable ways to make all participants feel welcome. In the hustle and bustle of NFTY Convention, it would have been so easy to just brush this program off but everyone was engaged in discussing how to include all teens in NFTY.
While this group of teens showed how welcoming and inclusive NFTY can be, do people who are not in NFTY know about these possibilities? The NFTY Regional Staff and local TYG staff have resources available to help make accommodations for any teen that is interested in participating. If you know a teen on the Autism Spectrum interested in participating in NFTY, please talk with your local TYG advisor or Regional Staff Member as to how to include and accommodate the individual teen. NFTY has proven how to be inclusive. We challenge you to come up with ways to be inviting, too.