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Getting Excited for the Passover Seder

How a boy with autism learned to love this Jewish holiday.

Passover doesn’t seem like the kind of holiday that would excite most kids. 

There are no presents like on Christmas or . There is no dressing up and collecting candy like with .  There are no parades or fireworks like the Fourth of July. 

But, for our son, it is a glorious time. 

We had been invited to Seders since Kai was very young, though it has only been in the past couple of years that he really took an interest.

When he was six years old, we got a DVD from the library that explains Passover to children. Chanuka & Passover at Bubbe's featured Muppet-like characters, and tells the story of the freeing of the Jews from slavery in ancient Egypt, and the symbolism in the modern-day Seders. 

After viewing the video, Kai declared that he wanted to celebrate Passover. As luck would have it, that year was the one time that no one we knew was planning to have a Seder. But when his grandmother learned of Kai’s interest, she put one together for us.

At Bubbe’s house, when Kai saw the booklet that gave the "20 Easy Steps" for a family Seder, he was hooked.  Passover was now and forever one of his favorite holidays.

I think there is something about the structure of the ritual that appeals to a child with autism. Having a predictable order – from the drinking of the wine, to dipping a vegetable in salt water, to reading the text of the Haggadah – was highly appealing.

The Seder plate, with its six symbolic foods, each in their proper place, fascinated him.

And for a boy who loves numbers, the Seder ceremony has a lot to offer: the four cups of wine (or, in our case, grape juice); the 10 plagues; the four questions.

While Kai was excited about the numbers and the steps, I was happy when he listened respectfully during the various blessings that were given.

The next year…

Last year, we went to his aunt’s house for the Seder, and Kai was really revved up about it.

It was funny that the other kids, and more than a few of the adults, too, for that matter, wanted to skip ahead to step 16 – eating dinner.  But, Kai was happy to go through all of the steps.

We took turns reading the Haggadah. Some of the steps were written in both Hebrew and English, though most of us read only the English parts. When it was Kai’s turn to read the Four Questions, he insisted on reading both in English and Hebrew (which was shown in both Hebrew and Roman characters).

I cannot vouch for his pronunciation, but his effort was outstanding.

When step 10, the Ten Plagues, was completed, Kai began singing Dayenu, the traditional song of Passover, which was step 11.  The rest of us were happy to have that be a solo, and let Kai go on with his boisterous version.

He enjoyed eating his gluten-free matzo, and the charoset was his favorite food. 

As we settled into dinner, Kai was behaving remarkably well. But, for my wife and I, no matter how well our son is behaving at the moment, we always have an inner nervousness that things will change. 

He often cannot sit still at the dinner table for long, at least without some type of electronic entertainment, and we did not bring any to the Seder. But on this occasion, he sat nicely, and even waited patiently for others to finish their meal. 

I’ve read that the word "Dayenu" means approximately "it would have sufficed.”  Spending an evening with family would have sufficed for us. Seeing our son take such an interest in Passover and behave so well made it extra special. 

We are all looking forward to this year’s Seder.

Here’s hoping that all of you who celebrate have Happy Pesach this year, too.

forest barbieri April 03, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Yuji: Always a pleasure to read and have a better to understanding of the parental challenge and many rewarding opportuniies you have with Kai! Likely Kai enjoys the steps and sequencing of the Seder. One of the things we love about Highland Park is the diversity that it provides our family and two daughters (10 & 3). When we looked to move a year and a half ago with the entire United States on the radar, we ended up 5 blocks from where we started as we value and enjoy the community we live in. The fact that my daughters are interested in and have a conceptual understanding of Passover, Hebrew School, Bat Mitzvahs and of course Hanukkah, is an important part of their understanding, acceptance and values that will serve them well in life.
Yuji Fukunaga April 03, 2012 at 03:14 PM
So true, Forest. We feel the same.
Yuji Fukunaga April 03, 2012 at 08:55 PM
We feel the same way, Forest.
thesaifeye April 05, 2012 at 07:34 AM
I am quite new in passover this year. That’s why looking for something special. Really got something exciting from you here. Wishing you a happy Passover. You can take a look at this passover message: goo.gl/lFsMZ on this celebration. Very unique one.

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