I was in Israel recently on a personal visit and wanted to learn more about the Be’er Sheva Alut (Autism) Center, which I had heard great things about. I was fortunate enough to be given a brief tour of the Center.
Before visiting the Center, my only experience with autism was, like many, recollections of the film “Rain Man” in which Dustin Hoffman portrayed an autistic character. Upon arrival, I was immediately impressed with the level of customized details in both the layout of the Center and the programing intended to provide their clients with a level of independence that meets their clients’ individual needs. The staff informed us that autism, worldwide, is unfortunately a more common condition compared to 10 to 15 years ago.
The Center is comprised of 4 independent large homes, allowing for up to 8 autistic young adults to reside in each home. As we noticed in the Center, there were more males compared to females; with about 3 to 4 females for every 10 males. This appears to be consistent with the national average.
The autistic residents have in their homes a common living area, kitchen, laundry facilities and even an outdoor garden in which they are encouraged to grow their own vegetables and plants. These amenities certainly improve their ability to be independent. The Canadian chapter of JNF (Jewish National Fund) is in the process of helping build a small park with outdoor gym equipment so that those living at the Autism Center can also keep active and fit.
During my visit, it was not possible to meet with the autistic residents as they were away on a field trip. However, as we toured the residences, we were told stories about the residents. One particular story struck me, of a female resident who was extremely talented in the area of miniature art. I was shown her fabulous mirror frame made of what seemed like dozens of miniature dolls, each one created and painted in great detail. I can imagine the hours she must have spent to develop this art and wonder where she got the inspiration from. No doubt this art is worthy enough to be in a museum.
This visit certainly increased my awareness of autism and the need to support facilities like the one in Be’er Sheva. In my opinion, The Alut Center can become a model for other countries to learn from. This Center provides a great means for those living with autism to lead more independent lifestyle.
The Alut (Autism) Center has inspired The Young Adults at the Spanish and Portuguese to donate the proceeds from tomorrow’s Tu B’shvat event on February 7th to their cause. Come and join us.
For further info and to sign up for the dinner see the Spanish and Portuguese Young Adults website.