Feature Stories

Mother in Moscow Champions Education for Children with Special Needs

After successfully dealing with her son’s autistic disorder with virtually no support, Sofia became a coordinator for JDC and the Jewish Agency’s unique project for the Integration of Children with Special Needs in Moscow, Russia.
After successfully dealing with her son’s autistic disorder with virtually no support, Sofia became a coordinator for JDC and the Jewish Agency’s unique project for the Integration of Children with Special Needs in Moscow, Russia.

When Sofia R., 54, first learned her only son had an autistic disorder, she gave up her job as a computer programmer to focus on his education. Despite his high IQ, his behaviorial issues kept him from being accepted to kindergarten or primary school—and there was no special educational framework for him anywhere in Moscow. While homeschooling allowed Sofia to oversee her son’s learning, she knew he needed to develop critical social skills as well so Sofia initiated a computer club for young kids. When he had reached adolescence, Sofia learned about the ORT school in Moscow, a Jewish secondary school with a unique computer studies program she believed would be a good fit for her son’s special abilities and exceptional intelligence. He got in, and she followed him there, and that small step ultimately altered his life—and hers.

In an unexpected career change, Sofia became a computer studies teacher. She quickly found other students in her classes who also had different autistic disorders but were becoming successful programmers. Defying the school’s biggest skeptics (who knew no more about autism than anyone else in Russia’s educational system), Sofia became the children’s staunchest advocate. And when JDC and the Jewish Agency joined forces with UJA Federation of New York in 2006 to create the first Integration Program for Children with Special Needs, she was instrumental in shedding light on the unique needs of children with autism at the ORT school, whom she believed had been stigmatized too long. Given her first-hand knowledge, Sofia was invited to run the program at ORT (one of several institutions participating in the program); she continues to play an instrumental role at the school today.

With JDC and Jewish Agency support, the Integration Program has become a catalyst for research, professional development, and educational outreach on autism and other special needs affecting children and youth. One year ago the first students from the Integration Program graduated from school and several even proceeded to universities. Sofia, in turn, regularly speaks at conferences on congenital topics and roundtables where amendments to national education acts are discussed.

“I wanted to organize the system that I needed as a mother of a special child but that wasn’t available anywhere. I asked myself, how can we develop an inclusive educational program that will allow children to get help but will not lower the general level of education in a school? I knew it was possible,” explains Sofia. “Today I feel huge sense of responsibility for the kids that are in the Integration Program, and for the new kids who come to us every year because there is no other place where they will be accepted. We are their only hope.”

Sixth grader “Andrey,” who is autistic and excels in computer studies, is one such child. He came to the school one year ago and found the understanding, support, and special help he had never had in any other school. Whereas before he thought any misstep would get him kicked out of school, now he feels fully integrated into his class and engaged in what he is learning.

Today Andrey is exceling in his studies and is developing socially. He proudly shares that he recently collaborated with a fellow classmate on a prize-winning project on artificial intelligence for the local scientific community high school. He is also enjoying learning about Jewish values and traditions and his Hebrew is improving each day.

The Integration Project in Moscow serves over two hundred children who have a variety of special needs and incorporates the work of more than 70 professionals and 40-plus volunteers in five different schools. The children receive individual attention from specially trained teachers and a team of on-site psychologists; they also benefit from a collaborative and supportive environment—something critical to their development of social skills and positive self-esteem.

To ensure the highest quality expertise and preparedness for those interacting with the students, teachers learn to work with children with a variety of needs and volunteers receive training to take part in off-site school events, help participants during festive events at the school, and work at Summer Camps that JDC also supports for families with children with special needs. The Jewish Agency contributes its expertise to the program’s informal Jewish educational elements, including trainings for volunteers and counselors, as well as the camp.

Next year the program will expand to include training sessions for parents and other family members of special-needs children to provide critical emotional support, insight on helpful parenting approaches, and foster improved relationships between the families and educators.

Andrey’s parents are hugely grateful to the Integration program. ”For Andrey and our whole family this program has been a real blessing. It is a true home here; this program gave our son a chance and changed all of our lives.“

Tags for this story: Children, Disabilities, Families

Subscribe to our RSS feed: Feature Stories – JDC Around the World
X

An error occurred during your login.

X

JDC, Cookies, and Your Privacy

Cookies are small pieces of information sent by our web server for storage on your computer, to be retrieved when you return to this site. We use cookies to allow you faster, more convenient access, and to prevent you from being required to log in on every page of our sites.

For more information on JDC’s use of cookies, read our Privacy Policy.

X

An Error Occurred

X

Logging In With One of Your Social Web Site Logins

Instead of trying to remember a bunch of special username/password combinations to log in to different web sites that you visit, you can now link your account on this web site to your account on one (or more) of the social media web sites shown and log in with the same username/password combination that you use on that social web site to log in to our site.

To provide this connection in a secure manner, we use Gigya, a social network connection provider that works behind the scenes to make safe, secure connections between user accounts on different systems, such as popular social media web sites like Facebook and web sites like ours where you are actively involved in social issues and causes.

Each time you log in, Gigya uses special application programming interfaces (APIs) to establish the connection between the sites and validate your username and password. Neither our web site or Gigya receive or store your social network passwords.

In addition to reducing the number of logins you have to remember, connecting your accounts can make it quicker and easier to share an activity or cause you feel passionately about from our web site with your friends on your social web sites.

You can break the connection between your accounts at any time.