In This Special Fathers Network podcast, David Hirsch talks to Special Father Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson. Rabi Artson and his wife Elana are parents of 25 year old twins, Shira and Jacob, who’s severely autistic. Rabbi Artson has found that allowing his non-verbal son Jacob the ability to communicate via keyboard was the key to unlocking many of Jacob’s difficulties. And like many parents of special needs children, the bond between child and parent is very strong indeed. We’ll hear great stories, profound insights and examples of what makes the Artsons a very tight knit family unit.
Dad To Dad 25 – Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson opens up about his twins, one who is severely autistic.
Tom Couch: This is the Special Fathers Network podcast. The Special Father’s Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers.
Sometimes the mentor father is just there to answer a few questions. Sometimes they become good friends. It’s a proven support system for new fathers with special needs kids. If you’re a father looking for support, or if you’re a dad who’d like to offer support, go to 21stcenturydads.org. That’s 21stcenturdads.org.
David Hirsch: Hi, I’m David Hirsch. This is the Special Fathers Network podcast. Stories of fathers helping fathers.
Tom Couch: And I’m Tom Couch. Today, David talks to special father Rabbi Bradley, Shavit Artson.
Bradley Shavit Artson: I tell people that one of the blessings of having a son with autism, I’m the only dad I know who’s 25 year old will give him a full-body hug.
Tom Couch: Rabbi Artson and, and his wife, Elana, are parents of 25 year old twins, Shira, and Jacob who’s severely autistic.
Bradley Shavit Artson: My love for Jacob was at his ferocious and we enjoy each other’s presence.
Tom Couch: Rabbi Artson and has found that allowing his nonverbal son, Jacob, the ability to communicate via keyboard was the key to unlocking many of Jacob’s difficulties.
Bradley Shavit Artson: I believe all people have the right to communicate, which means our job has to be, to figure out how to be able to gain access to their intention and their content.
Tom Couch: We’ll hear great stories, profound insights, and examples of what makes the arts since a very tight knit family unit.
Bradley Shavit Artson: We were able to hold on to each other and create a family that really is at the very heart. My heart.
Tom Couch: And keeps me going. Here’s David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Being a father is very important to me. I’ve started a number of charitable organizations designed to increase the role of fathers. One of them, the Special Fathers Network, is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers, raising children with special needs.
We’ve been interviewing some exceptional fathers of special needs kids, and we want to share their stories with you.
Tom Couch: So here it is. The Special Fathers Network podcast interview with David Hirsch and Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson of Los Angeles, California, a father of twins who works at American Jewish University. Rabbi Artson. Thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Bradley Shavit Artson: I’m happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
David Hirsch: You and your wife, Elana, have been married for 34 years. And now the proud parents of 25 year old twins, your daughter Shira and your son, Jacob, who was diagnosed with severe autism. Let’s start with some background.
Where did you grow up and tell me something about your family, including any siblings?
Bradley Shavit Artson: Sure. So I grew up in San Francisco, grew up in a, not religious home. So religion was something I came to as an adult. I have a sister Tracy, who is two years younger than me, and we’re still very close to this day and I have a brother, Matthew, my father subsequently remarried someone other than my mother when they separated.
And, um, and so Matthew is much younger than me. He’s 20 years younger. And he lives in Los Angeles, as do we, so we’ve become very close as well.
David Hirsch: And what are your siblings do?
Bradley Shavit Artson: Uh, my sister is a psychotherapist and my brother is a part time actor who works as a legal assistant.
David Hirsch: Okay, wonderful. So how would you characterize your relationship with your dad now?
Bradley Shavit Artson: Now great. What I will tell you is things he and I have discussed this. I don’t think I’m betraying it. We had a rocky relationship when I was younger. Ultimately I spent two years not talking to him at all. And then I chose to come together. But the ground rules that I established was we could not discuss the past.
I want you in my life. You want me in your life? Whenever we talk about the past, we argue. So let’s just stop talking about it. Cause we’re not going to agree. Since that time, he’s become very loving and I’m grateful that he’s in my life. I call him now twice a day. He lives in Northern California. So we speak a lot every day, and I’m thankful that he’s still around and that he’s present.
And he has been a support for me since we got back together.
David Hirsch: And how long ago was it that you got back together?
Bradley Shavit Artson: Uh, I was, I guess sometime in my thirties. So that was a while ago. I’m turning 60 this year. So 30 years ago.
David Hirsch: Okay.
Bradley Shavit Artson: The first, the first two and a half decades were not so good.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well, we won’t talk about the past then we’ll when to talk about from that point going forward.
Um, and it’s great to hear that you have been able to put some of those differences or issues behind you and move forward. Uh, all too often, people are not able to do that, and it’s a debilitating, dysfunctional relationship, um, that holds people back. Sure. Is there any advice or lessons that you can take away from the experience with your dad?
Bradley Shavit Artson: Well, look, I don’t think people reduced to lessons so I can tell you what I did, how I guided myself the first was I don’t think anybody should ever allow themselves to be a doormat to anybody else. Being willing to walk away is really important when someone is putting you down in ways that are not legitimate.
Too. I think most people are trying their best on often are open to learning a better way of doing things. I also think that sometimes you need to do a refresh and a pause. And so, you know, I know that in our case, by cutting it off was a way of making my father focus in ways that nothing had before, like the power shifted because I have the capacity to walk away.
And so that turns out to have been one of the best things I could have ever done for the two of us. And then I think it’s helpful to cultivate some chronic forgetting. There’s a piece of Jewish wisdom that teaches that God forgets what we remember and remembers what we forget. I think that, that, that notion that there are times that God chooses to forget things is a healthy model for all of us.
David Hirsch: I love that.
Bradley Shavit Artson: It’s not just dwelling on the past. It’s letting the past be in the past. And saying, okay, what do we want from here on him? And how do we build that and work on our focus and our energy is going to be on from today forward. Not we’re going to heal what’s broken from yesterday. Yesterday is gone and we don’t have to bring it into the present if we choose not to
David Hirsch: Sage advice.
Thank you so much for sharing. So I’m still thinking about role models, and I’m wondering, uh, what, uh, Impact your grandfathers on your dad’s or your mom’s side have had on you.
Bradley Shavit Artson: Wow you are a bloodline guy, aren’t you? so here’s what I want to I’ll answer your question, but first I got to say something rabbinic, according to Jewish law, if you can only save either your father or your chief rabbi.
You’re obligated to save the rabbi first because your life in this world, but your rabbi gives you life in this world on the next. I’m saying that because I want to argue for the role of mentors and the dad. Isn’t just a biological thing. And finding older men who can see you as you want to become. And who can help you become that person is crucial.
And some people are lucky enough to have their mentor also be their dad. That’s great. And that’s a real blessing, but for a lot of us, it’s not possible. So our dad can become better and more loving and kinder and more supportive, but we needed to go out and find other men to be those mentor father figures.
And I want your listeners to know that, but that’s an important thing. If it’s either my biological father or grandfather, or I’m stuck, then we’re all do that. It’s not; there are lots of guys out there who are happy to be mentors and who will get you. And so you need to find them. So my grandfather, my father’s father died when I was relatively young.
I was 13. So I remember him and I have fond memories of him, but I can’t say that it was deep, deep. My mother’s father. Lived longer. He made it into my high school years. Honestly, the grandparents had the greatest impact on me was my mother’s mother.
David Hirsch: Really? That’s interesting.
Bradley Shavit Artson: She was a survivor. She came to this country as an immigrant, as a nine-year old girl from Odessa.
She had a tough life. She was legally blind by the time I was born, and she was just a source of resilience and strength and love. And we adored each other. And I think about her to this day, you know, she keeps me going.
David Hirsch: Yeah, that’s wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing. And while I do have a curiosity about bloodlines, I am all about mentors and positive adult male role models and people’s lives.
So let’s go back to your educational days. You got an AB from Harvard in 81, and then you were ordained through the Jewish Theological Seminary in 88. When you were a younger person. Thinking back to your completing your education. What were you thinking from a career standpoint? Where were you pointing?
Bradley Shavit Artson: Um, well, when I finished college, I thought I was going to be a politician. So I had been an LBJ intern in Congress. One summer. I worked for Senator Alan Cranston, who was the US Senator from California and my junior summer, I worked as an intern. Well, I was a volunteer intern for the assemblyman from San Francisco, a talented man named Willie Brown.
And at the end of the summer, Mr. Brown offered to pay me retroactively for the summer and to hire me for the following year. And so I went back to my final year in college, knowing that I was going to be a legislative aid to the assembly, went from San Francisco, who in the interim became the speaker of the state assembly.
So I had two glorious years working for Mr. Brown. And that persuaded me not to be a politician. He was at his great, but the demands of the job made it clear to me that I couldn’t figure out a way to have a meaningful friendship circle and family life and be a politician, which is not to say that others can’t figure it out, but I could not.
But I could My then-girlfriend, who is now my wife of 34 years. She said to me, I’d always talked about being a successful politician and then going to a Rabbinical school at the end of my career for the learning. And she said, if that’s what you want to do, you should not postpone it. You should do that now.
And that was good advice. Most of what she tells me is, so I, uh, went through Rabbinical school, intending to be a congregational rabbi, and I was for 10 years in Southern California. In a place halfway between LA and San Diego called Mission Viejo.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Um, so how was it that you and Elana met then?
Bradley Shavit Artson: We met at Friday night services at college, in the last stanza of the final hymn of the service. My wife has a beautiful voice and is utterly oblivious to what’s going on around her.
Uh, all of which I knew by the end of that hand, because she sang with a different melody than everyone else in the room and had no clue she was doing it, which tells you everything you need to know.
David Hirsch: Okay. I won’t probe any deeper then but thank you for sharing. So, uh, your career has been for the last 20 years or so with the American Jewish University and the Abner and Roslyn Goldstein Dean’s chair at the Ziegler School of Rabbinical studies.
Is that correct?
Bradley Shavit Artson: That’s correct.
David Hirsch: What is it that you’ve been doing there for the last 20 years?
Bradley Shavit Artson: Well, as Dean, I’m responsible for supporting the faculty and helping make sure that the faculty gets hired and promoted and that sort of stuff. I’m responsible for recruitment of new students and for counseling them as they’re in the school and beyond, uh, I’m responsible for policies for the school fundraising, for the school, getting donors to support creating lay leadership.
And then I also teach I’m a professor of philosophy. So I teach an introductory philosophy course for the first year students, I teach a course on science and religion for the fourth year students. And I teach a course on applying the Bible to contemporary social issues in the final semester of the senior year.
And in terms of our conversation, one of the things that I’m most proud of is, you know, we have a lot of schoolwide events at my home, which means a lot of our students have personally met and interacted with Jacob, my son, which means I’m proud to know that we’ve trained a generation of rabbis who are comfortable with autism and who know and care about an autistic individual.
Um, and for whom that’s now part of their Rabbi.
David Hirsch: Yeah. I think that’s wonderful. So you’re also a Dean. If I remember of a program in Potsdam, Germany, what is that about?
Bradley Shavit Artson: So we were called several years ago by the University of Potsdam, which is one of the large public universities in Germany. And they already had created a reform rabbinical program and they wanted to create a conservative one too.
I am, although it’s a bit awkward and complicated. From Los Angeles. I am the Dean of the school in Germany and we ordain and train European conservative Masorti rabbis to serve in Europe.
David Hirsch: Does that include traveling or are you able to do that remotely?
Bradley Shavit Artson: I do it mostly remote, and I traveled to Europe about once a year or once every other year.
David Hirsch: Very interesting. And, um, I think I remember reading that you also do a weekly Torah commentary and you’ve got a pretty good group of subscribers.
Bradley Shavit Artson: I do. And then nowadays I also have a public figure Facebook page. So if your reader, if your listeners are interested, they could go to facebook.com/RabbiArtson
Um, and there, I put up a weekly video about the Torah portion. It’s a minute or two long. And I’d put up articles and essays and comments and wisdom from Jewish tradition to help people be better people.
David Hirsch: I love it. Um, and you’re also an author of 11 books. Um, one of which was Love Peace and Pursue Peace: A Jewish Response to Aar and Nuclear Annihilation.
Bradly Shavit Artson: I wrote that while I was in Rabbinical school, my latest book is Renewing the Process of Creation and it looks at science and religion. And the book before that was. God of Becoming and Relationship that lays out my theology of God and the Bible and spirituality.
David Hirsch: Um, spirituality, Are there, um, more books that you’re working on currently?
Bradley Shavit Artson: Uh, no. I’m at the moment working on life, so I haven’t had that. I want to write, but I haven’t been able to find the time yet. I’m hoping that that will open up in the next couple of years.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well, you’ve been quite prolific in your career. That’s impressive. Okay.
Bradley Shavit Artson: Thank you.
David Hirsch: So let’s talk about special needs, um, on a personal level, and then beyond I’m sort of curious before Jacob was born, did you and Elana have any connection to the special needs community?
Bradley Shavit Artson: No. I mean then personally, we obviously, as a pulpit rabbi, I had congregants who had children with special needs and I tried to be present for them in a way that any kind of person would, but that’s very different than, the education you get living with someone with special needs.
David Hirsch: So going back to when Jacob was first diagnosed, what was your first reaction?
Bradley Shavit Artson: Oohh, my first reaction was sorrow and fear. The doctor who diagnosed him, tried to give him a test, and that failed miserably. And he came out talking about pervasive developmental disorder. Which I knew enough to know was a nonsense term. You know, you go in, cause your kid has several things that aren’t going the way you want them to.
And all pervasive developmental disorder means is there are several things that aren’t going the way you want them to. But then the doctor kept talking about autism while he had diagnosed Jacob with PDD. So we were terrified. Part of the challenge, I think for any parent is. However much, we think we don’t have a list of what we want for our kids.
We actually do. And most of the time it stays invisible because they ended up fulfilling some portion of that. But every parent who faces a diagnosis with their own child has to find a way to let that list go. Um, yeah, that’s a lifelong path.
David Hirsch: How old was Jacob when the diagnosis was made?
Bradley Shavit Artson: Jacob was about three.
David Hirsch: And what type of advice did you get early on that helped you?
Bradley Shavit Artson: Honestly, not much. We were desperate to try anything. So we tried all kinds of treatments, of all kinds of approaches, most of which were meaningless and did nothing, some of which were disasters. You know, I think it was the love, my wife and I have for each other and our love for Jacob.
And for me, You know, my religious faith has always been idiosyncratic and that I don’t expect God to fix my problems. And I don’t think that religion means everything will turn out. okay. I think then what religion means for me is you’re never alone. And so I felt that in Jacob has always been a deeply spiritual person, too.
I think that these people who grow up with special needs, I have to be so strong and such survivors to make it in the world. And for Jacob Torah was a great resource. So he was what kept me going at the beginning. Um, you know, I, my love for Jacob was at his ferocious and we enjoy each other’s presence, and that helped get me through.
And then ultimately the big turning point, there were two, um, we found a therapist in Orange County who specialized in floor time. And his name is David Monarch.
And I want to say his name cause it’s to his praise. He was amazing. He was the first person who literally got on the floor with Jacob and entered into Jacob’s world.
And he just exuded kindness and goodness in the sense that it was going to be okay. And so we kind of gave ourselves to Dr. Monkarsh should be carried us through. And then when we moved to Los Angeles, several years later, Jacob was six at the time. We found a speech therapist and she exposed us to facilitated communication.
Whereby Jacob was able to show us that he had taught himself how to read. And that was extraordinary. We didn’t know who was in there. And we had assumed that Jacob wasn’t attending. But in fact, he had been following everything and was really smart. And that made it possible for him to tell us what he was thinking, but the content of his thought of that has made all the difference.
David Hirsch: So let’s drill down on this facilitated communication because as I remember the story, it was within an hour that the Darlene Hanson, the speech therapist was able to discover the Jacob who was nonverbal. I was able to spell and read within a very short period of time.
Bradley Shavit Artson: Yeah.
David Hirsch: So I think listeners would want to know more about this.
Bradley Shavit Artson: Right, so what I will tell your listeners, this is also somewhat controversial, I think, for the wrong reasons, but when they set up double blinds, the kids won’t perform. And so there are a lot of people who are convinced that it’s bogus. So let me, can I tell you some stories that turned me from a skeptic into a true believer?
David Hirsch: Please.
Bradley Shavit Artson: So I was in a car accident and I was in the hospital for two weeks. I had surgery on my foot. My sternum was broken. I came home and I’m in bed, not able to move. And it’s Saturday morning, and the kids are in the bedroom with me. Elana my wife comes in and she says, come on kids. It’s time to get ready to go to synagogue.
Jacob flings himself on the ground sobbing and is like having a full meltdown. And she takes the buddy board over to him and Jacob types I want to be with. And then he says the word Abba out of his mouth mean that’s Hebrew for dad. So I then say, okay, Jacob, you don’t have to go to the synagogue. You can come get in bed with me.
He gets up dries. His eyes stops, crying and is fine. It gets in bed. Jacob comes home from school one day. Elana asks him. So what did you learn in school today or what happened today? And he types with her ugly girl taught us. So she calls his teacher and says, do you want to explain what Jacob typed? And she tells her what Jacob typed, and the teacher said, well, at the last minute I was called out for an IEP.
And let me just say his assessment of the substitute isn’t wrong.
David Hirsch: laughing
Bradley Shavit Artson: But I have seen enough times with Jacob has revealed real information that I otherwise would have not no way of knowing which could be verified. And I’ve seen that it’s worked. It’s a useful behavioral intervention. It gets the behavioral results that we needed. Look, you recognize that autism is a movement disorder that Jacob’s body betrays him all the time.
Micro movements are hard for him, but macro movements, he has more control over. And speech is a series of multiple micro-movements. Whereas moving your arm is a macro movement. So you put a keyboard in front of his hand, and you provide resistance, which allows him to organize his muscles, to go towards the keyboard.
The facilitator is never going toward the keyboard. The facilitator’s always resisting and pushing the hand away. One of the challenges that Jacob and others with autism have told us about is that they don’t have a sense of their own body, like where it is, how it’s located, where it’s moving. When a neuro-typical person sits in a chair, you are aware of your body and the chair, and you can feel the chair letting you know where your arms and your legs and your back are.
Jacob tells us he doesn’t know that unless something is touching him and. And there’s some pressure or motion. So facilitated communication. Is it designed to help let him know where his arm is since he’s going to be typing his words and also aware of the movement of his arm by setting up a regular motion for his muscles so that he can keep in motion.
So you begin with a keyboard called a buddy board. Sometimes we use an iPad so that he can have a sound output when he types and the beginning, you start with very simple sentences. Yes. No. Hungry. Tired. And you put your finger in his palm, and you push away from the keyboard. And that allows him to initiate a motion in which he goes towards the keyboard.
And you just as facilitator. Push away all the time. You let him touch the keyboard, and then you push him away from it. And that allows him to create a counter rhythm where he goes to the next letter that he wants you. So you start very simple, and then you climb up a language ladder. So you start with simple things.
Are you hungry? Yes. Would you like a sandwich? No. Would you like broccoli? Yes. And then you move to more complicated things. Would you like to take a shower first, or would you like to eat lunch first? First, I’d like to take a shower. And, and so you do all simple things that you can verify that you’re getting it right?
And then you can move to slightly more conceptual things. So we’ve started his age doing online courses with Jacob. They’ve done an online history course. They’ve done an online psychology course where he takes the quizzes with the aid. So you know what the right answer is or not. And then eventually you can move to much more abstract thinking, which we can now do with Jacob.
And as you’re doing that, and you want to provide less and less facilitation and that rely more and more on the typist. So you do that by moving your support further up his arm so that you’re holding his arm right below the elbow and that eventually above the elbow. And then after that, on the upper arm, or just tapping him on the shoulder so he can have a sense again, of where his body is and how it’s moving.
That’s really in a nutshell, how FC works,
David Hirsch: that’s fascinating. And over what period of time has this been going on? Was it literally from his age seven to age 25 that you’ve been doing this,
Bradley Shavit Artson: they just started age eight to age 25. Yes. And, and with, with a lot of people by me, by now, hundreds of hundreds of people are doing facilitated communication.
It can take a decade, it can take two decades. It’s a long process. Cause it’s, it’s a whole different way of organizing your body and organizing your thoughts. And then hopefully the more you do it, the more. The person is tapped into their ability to express their own intentionality and their own thinking.
And so that interest in that one paradoxical side benefit is Jacob is actually more verbal now than he was when he was younger, as he’s used to having words come out of him.
David Hirsch: So does he communicate mostly by typing still mostly by words or is it a combination?
Bradley Shavit Artson: So he can say simple things. With words, he can say, I love you.
He can say hungry. I want a sandwich. He goes to the computer television and says, I want YouTube. When we get to YouTube, he tells us what video he wants to watch. So he can do that. But more complicated things. Dad, I’m really mad at you because you didn’t ask me my opinion. And I want you to consult with me that he has to type.
David Hirsch: I think there was a story about you being on a flight or something.
Bradley Shavit Artson: We were flying back from Hawaii and Jacob type two Elana move. I want to talk to Abba. And I sat down with Jacob, and up till then, we had never done a really complicated conversation. He and I we’d just done simple typing and he started the sentence with ‘I’m so mad at you and then laid out all the ways. And he, you know, he was 15. So he was right on schedule. I was a disappointment to him. And at some way, halfway through the typing, he and I both realized that we were having this very complicated conversation without Elana’s help. And we both got so excited that at that point, he just threw down the keyboard and started hugging me.
And we just hugged all the way back to the mainland because we were so excited by this communication breakthrough.
David Hirsch: That is a heartwarming story. That’s wonderful.
Bradley Shavit Artson: It is that I will also say to the skeptics that I can assure you, it was not my projection to all detail, all the ways that I’m a disappointing father.
David Hirsch: Yeah, that is a remarkable story. So I also remember, uh, something about Jacob, uh, sending an email to the HuffPost, explaining what it was like for him to communicate. And I’m just going to read this, and you can tell me what, what the background or what the backstory is. This is Jacob communicating to the HuffPost.
Before I was introduced to typing, I had retreated into anxiety, fear, and despair. I read everything around me, from books to TV credits to newspapers and on the kitchen table. But I had no one to share my ideas with. So I just retreated into my own imaginary world. I wasn’t suicidal because I have an incredibly supportive family, but I was constantly frustrated by them, my limitations.
Bradley Shavit Artson: Yeah.
David Hirsch: How old was he when he wrote that?
Bradley Shavit Artson: Oh, you know, I don’t, I don’t honestly, he was a teenager, but I don’t remember exactly how old, if people Google Jacob Artson and he has several articles out there that he’s written and the huffing post-interview, but that’s a measure. Look, I mean, that tells you how important it is to find some mode of communication that allows the person with special needs to communicate their inner life.
And how crucial that is. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t have outburst. And it doesn’t mean we didn’t go through some years of some violence, but it does mean that he’s able to calm down and tell us what he needs or what he wants or how we’ve frustrated him or whatever.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, it’s remarkable when I stop and think about it, he’s intellectually very high functioning.
Yep. But he has this. Difficulty in expressing himself verbally and this keyboard and the facility medication seems to be, you know, one of the avenues, one of the more successful avenues for him to express himself. So he’s more well understood.
Bradley Shavit Artson: So, you know, and I, I’m sure he’s not the only person who’s very, motorically challenged and very smart.
Right. And I think that’s true, not just for special needs people. I think there are all kinds of people who have different clinical conditions where they’re kind of in a what looks like a cocoon. Um, and I believe all people have the right to communicate, which means our job has to be, to figure out how to be able to gain access to their intention and their content.
Concept. Yeah, I had had in Jacob’s case and a lot of people, FC is a great way to do it. It’s not the only way. And there are times I wouldn’t use it, but, but for a lot of things, it’s really been a lifesaver.
David Hirsch: It sounds like it. So you’ve talked about some of the challenges that you and Elana have encountered.
Are there any others that come to mind when you look back over the experience? Well,
Bradley Shavit Artson: I guess what I would want to put out there is. You know, there’s a lot of talk about what to do with special needs kids and some talk about special needs teenagers and not a lot about special needs adults and parenting doesn’t end with when they become adults.
What ends is that There’s a program up until they finish high school. And then suddenly they’re kind of put out in the world with, you know, having a good life and goodbye, and I believe we need to pay much more attention. I think the resources are grossly inadequate, and we don’t really try to focus on some of the key issues.
One of which is loneliness. I think it’s very hard to create a social life again for someone like Jacob, who’s intellectually very acute. He knows the difference between a program and a friend, um, and what he wants our friends. So that’s what we’re putting a lot of effort into, but that’s really hard. Um, and then he also is now stronger than I am.
So if we can’t convince him, I can’t coerce him anymore. And so that creates its own set of issues too. Uh, which I don’t think there’s a lot of conversation about. So I think the new frontier is how do we help adults with special needs? Live lives of meaning and joy and interaction. And we’re going to have to figure that out over the next couple of decades, hopefully sooner rather than later.
David Hirsch: Yeah. That’s a really important point about what happens when they form all education programs that are available to all individuals across the U S at age 22 and younger, and all of a sudden, that goes away. And for many, it’s not a, a smooth transition.
Bradley Shavit Artson: That’s right. That’s right. So,
David Hirsch: um, I’m curious, um, has Jacob always live with you or have there been different living situations?
Bradley Shavit Artson: Jacob has always lived with us. It is his hope and ours that at some point he will live independently, which means in his own place with aids. So we have a condo that we purchased for him in Culver City. And we’re working on helping him spend more and more time there with the goal of eventually being there more or less full time.
But that’s a couple of years off. That’s going to take some work to get to.
David Hirsch: So that’s a work in progress. If I can refer to it as such,
Bradley Shavit Artson: there is indeed it’s an aspiration, and he really wants it. And you can imagine that being 25 and living with your parents, even if you love your parents, it is a mixed bag.
People really like to be on his own. He’s not interested in living in a group home. So we’re going to have to try to help bolster his independent skills so that he’s able to feel like he is safe and capable of being on his own with 24 hour around the clock staff. Okay.
David Hirsch: Well, I think what we’ll do is we’ll circle back a few years down the road, do a followup interview, and that’ll be one of the things that we’ll be talking about as part of what is in the past then, um, you know, about Jacob living independently.
So I’m curious to know what impact Jacob’s situation has had on his sister Shira and the rest of your family for that matter. Well,
Bradley Shavit Artson: you know, I think it has created opportunities and insights and stresses we would otherwise not have had for Shira. You know, we’ve been really fortunate. We work very hard to not have her be a second mom and to have her own childhood in her own teenage and her own life.
So she had gone away to college, and she went away to graduate school, and she did a year in Israel as a gap year after high school. And it was very important to us to try to shield her, not from being a loving sibling, but from not having to live his life rather than her own. And I think we were mostly successful in that.
And evidence of that is that she’s now become an occupational therapist, I think in part, because she saw them in our lives all the time. And, uh, and she wants to be responsible for Jacob when the time comes. Wow. So very blessed by that, you know, and I’ve said to her several times, that’s not an irrevocable choice.
You have the right to change your mind at any time, but she’s very committed, and she really loves him, and he really loves her. So they’re very close. And I think part of the reason they’re close is just we’re lucky, and the luck of the draw and temperament part of it is we really did try to not take away her own childhood.
And have her be a second model
David Hirsch: and then realize years down the road that she resents that and you know, that not being a healthy situation. So I think you might refer to it as luck, which perhaps there is some of that, but I think it might be a testimony to the parenting that you and Elana and the thoughtfulness that you brought.
Bradley Shavit Artson: But David, I want to, I want to be clear. I think there are lots of good parents. Those kids don’t wind up like that. And what I want to not do is add to their burden. Right? So share a, has a certain temperament and some kids lean in and some kids fleet. And I don’t think that’s traceable, always two choices.
The parents made. I think that, you know, people come loaded with their own personalities. So yes, I think we weren’t good parents to both of our kids. And I think that helped. I also think we’re very lucky. In who Shira is. There’s a kind of caring goodness in her that she was able to take that on, but I don’t think that’s inevitable.
And I don’t think that it’s obligatory, like, I think you could be a good person and still say, I can’t do this. We’re just very fortunate. And I think that’s a combination of good parenting and temperament and law.
David Hirsch: Fair enough. Um, so I’m curious to know what supporting organizations, uh, you might’ve relied on, on Jacob’s behalf, special Olympics or other organizations of that nature.
Bradley Shavit Artson: Well, we’ve done a whole bunch of things, you know, he’s participated in special needs educational programs. There are special needs camps that he’s participated in, in Colorado, but really involved. He participated in some synagogue programming. Some Jewish camp programming at camp Ramah he’s participated in, we had him in a non public school setting called Emerson Academy and the Los Angeles Valley definitely Valley.
Um, that was great for him. He has done special Olympics. There’s a whole bunch of athletic programs in Santa Monica and in LA that he’s participated in.
Yeah. Well, I was just wondering if it sounds like there’ve been nanny and Jacob’s case, is there one that was more consequential or more contributed more to his development?
I think they’ve all contributed. Mmm, no, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t single anyone out there have been several that have been consequential. Some of them I’ve mentioned. Mmm. You know, um, we keep finding new organizations that help in different ways. Excellent.
David Hirsch: So we touched on spirituality and a lot of your work is around spirituality.
You did indicate that when you were growing up, you grew up in a non-religious environment. What was it that spurred you to be more deliberate or intentional about your spirituality and the career path you’ve taken?
Bradley Shavit Artson: Um, well, those are really two separate questions. So what got me open to Judaism and spirit, and then what made me want to make a career out of it?
So the answer to the first question is I literally fell in love. You know, I had two Christian roommates in college and they were fine human beings. They got me interested in thinking about religious questions. I knew, I couldn’t believe what they believe. So I went and talked to the rabbi, and he said, you’ve got to try it out and see what being a believer feels like.
So I did, and that was really profound for me. And then I just grew in my love of Judaism and thank God I did. I Marvel at the strength of people who don’t have religion. I think atheists have to be the strongest people in the world to be able to get out of bed every morning. For me, my faith has given me Resilience and strength I would otherwise not have had. So that’s kept me going. And then at some point, I had wanted to be a politician. When I saw that I didn’t like the life that a politician who has to live religion by then had become a great love of mine and Elana, my then-girlfriend now wife suggested I go into it.
So I did.
David Hirsch: So I’m thinking about advice and one of the most important takeaways that come to mind in raising a child with differences.
Bradley Shavit Artson: So, I guess a couple things, one is be kind to yourself and your spouse. Try not to keep score for who’s overburdened more and try to keep the focus on how can I be of service and how can I be helpful and how can I also find moments of joy and delight and care?
Don’t take it out on your own body. Eat healthy. Try to find ways to work out, forgive yourself the days you don’t do, either of those things. Mmm. Avoid people who can’t love your whole family. You know, we sifted out friends, people who we would have been friends within a different life. We couldn’t be friends in this life as there are people who just were incapable of really accepting Jacob.
I mean, they said all the right things, and they tried, but they would end up ignoring him when he was around, and we’ve removed them from our lives. You know, and ultimately have found people who can love us in the quirky ways that our family requires. So I would encourage people to do that. Don’t try to force yourself into institutions that don’t want you, that always worked out badly for us. Find or create the places that welcome you and embrace you and embrace your special needs person and have hope, you know, that individuals with special needs are survivors.
And they’re really strong and they’re really beautiful. And that’s not to say they’re saints, and that’s not to say they don’t make challenging too. Jacob isn’t perfect, but he’s worth it. And in the end, we were able to hold on to each other and create a family that really is at the very heart of my heart and keeps me going.
David Hirsch: Wonderfully stated.
So under the category of advice still, what advice can you provide dads who have a child with a physical or intellectual disability?
Bradley Shavit Artson: Um, the advice that I would give to dads, I think being a man in our culture has its unique set of challenges. One of which is the rules aren’t clear anymore, but there are an awful lot of men who feel like showing weakness, showing emotion are the same thing and who expect their child to add glory and honor to them somehow.
And I guess I want to invite dads today to not give in to that Western notion of fatherhood. Cause I think it’s crippling and corrupting, and it’s also profoundly unbiblical, biblical fathers cry, biblical fathers share weakness. Biblical fathers are engaged with their spouses and their children and their extended family.
And I want to invite American dads, temporary debts to step into that kind of fatherhood, which is one of engagement and vulnerability and closeness. You know, I tell people that one of the blessings of having a son with autism, I’m the only dad. I know who’s 25 years old. We’ll give him a full body hug.
You know, in public the beach every Sunday, Jacob wants to be with me and in the water, we sing Disney songs and we hug and kiss in public and learning to not be embarrassed by that is such a gift. Yeah. Right. I don’t care what strangers may think. And that took Jacob to help get me to, so I invite dads to find a way to liberate themselves from the crippling.
Expectations they’ve inherited and that other people want to put on them and to embrace their God given light, to just shine, love and shine resilience, because ultimately that’s the world we all want to live in. And it’s a way better world.
David Hirsch: Well, I’m hoping from your lips to God’s ears, which is what my grandmother used to say to me when I was young.
And as I got to be older, that that is an experience that all men will be able to experience.
Yeah. So why did you agree to be a mentor father as part of the Special Father’s Network?
Bradley Shavit Artson: Um, look, I tried very hard to see life as an opportunity to serve, and I think if I can help some men be their better self and then help their children to grow up to be better or their grandchildren or their nieces or nephews, then that’s a great way to use my talk.
So I’m hoping that there’ll be some guys out there that can hear this and it’ll be a lifeline for them, and they’ll know that they can do it and they can rise to the occasion and that it will get better. And if I could help a couple of guys own that, then this was a great use of time.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Bradley Shavit Artson: I think you’ve covered it. I’m grateful that you provide the opportunity for people to gain strength and vision and resilience. So thank you for what you’re doing.
David Hirsch: You’re welcome. So if somebody wants to get information on your work, the weekly Torah, your books. On the publications that you’re involved with, where would they go or how would they go about contacting?
Bradley Shavit Artson: The easiest place to go is Facebook.
So if they go to www.facebook.com/rabbiartson, and they can like my public figure page and everything I write or say winds up on that page.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Rabbi Artson and thank you for taking the time and many insights as a reminder, Rabbi Artson is just one of the dads who’s agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs.
If you’d like to be a mentor or father or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation to your own, please go to 21stcenturydads.org.
Bradley Shavit Artson: I’m happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personalized matching process.
New fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers. Sometimes the mentor father is just there to answer a few questions. Sometimes they become good friends. It’s a proven support system for new fathers with special needs kids.
If you’re a father looking for support, or if you’re a dad who’d like to offer support, go to 21stcenturydads.org. That’s 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And thank you for listening to this Special Fathers Network podcast, stories of fathers, helping fathers.
The Special Fathers Network Podcast was produced for 21st Century Dads by Couch Audio, and again, to find out more about the Special Fathers Network go to 21stcenturydads.org, 21stcenturydads.org.