Sisterhood Blog

Why We Struggle to Honor Autistic Newtown Victims

By Joanna Dreifus

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Candles are lit among mementos at a memorial for victims of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Zichronom livracha says the liturgy. And, certainly, the memories of the 26 children and adults who were tragically gunned down in Newtown last week are a blessing, not only to their immediate families but also to all of us across the country who have been struggling to comprehend this incalculable loss.

I grieved for these families as we learned more about their loved ones. But gradually, something made me uneasy. On the one hand, there was so much that was poignant about the details reporters like Anderson Cooper were sharing with us. Time after time, we were introduced to children who “lit up” rooms, displayed angelic smiles, and demonstrated great love and caring for others. But I noticed that there were children we weren’t hearing about. And I couldn’t help wondering about their lives, too. Call it a mother’s intuition — the intuition of a mother of children with special needs. But I was not surprised to hear, eventually, that two of the murdered children, Dylan Hockley, 6, and Josephine Gay, 7, both had autism (to different degrees).

Dylan was reportedly found cradled in the arms of his special-education teacher, Anne Marie Murphy, who was trying to shield him with her body. Murphy, a 52-year-old mother of four, was also killed. At Murphy’s funeral, Cardinal Timothy Dolan eulogized, “Like Jesus, Annie laid down her life for her friends.” Dylan’s parents had moved their family from England specifically to Newtown because the school district was known to be extremely supportive of children with special needs. His parents have said that they draw some comfort from knowing that he died in Anne Marie’s arms, because Dylan had pointed to her photo excitedly each morning before school, knowing he’d see her soon.

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A Champion for the Developmentally Disabled

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

It’s not every day that Tina Brown describes someone in her column in The Daily Beast and Newsweek as “an amazing woman.”

Fredda Rosen

But Brown, who has a 26-year-old son with Aspergers Syndrome, described Fredda Rosen just this way. Rosen is executive director of Job Path, a not-for-profit organization helping adults with developmental disabilities find jobs, live as independently as possible and become part of community life.

Rosen, who is 63 and lives in Manhattan, spoke with The Sisterhood about her work, how Judaism informs it, and why the needs of the developmentally disabled should be considered a civil rights issue.

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