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Youth with Special Needs Join the Youth Movement as Equals

Dror Israel’s youth movement takes a holistic approach of inclusion, striving to create an inclusive social environment as well as provide employment preparation for special needs youth.

Teens and youth with special needs are often overlooked in extracurricular activities. For many youth with special needs, this means that they experience social interactions at school, but feel left out and sidelined from the developmentally crucial informal social encounters after school, compounding the social challenges that they experience.

Dror Israel’s youth movement, following a vote on the issue at its national annual conference in 2015, has increased its focus on making the movement branches an inclusive space for all youth, including those with special needs. Around 50% of all youth movement branches have at least one participant with special needs - an estimated 1,200 participants. They are located all across the country and come from all sectors of society.

As opposed to “mainstreaming” which aims to insert the child into the existing normative environment, the “inclusion” approach seeks to make adjustments to make the framework accessible so it can properly “include” the participant. This can be done in many different ways, depending on the needs of the participants.

Last summer, many 11th and 12th grade youth leaders underwent a five-day training seminar about how to be an inclusive educator. They gained knowledge and skills that help them to properly facilitate an inclusive space, which they have been putting to use in their role as junior counselors this year.

In some movement branches, there are “typical” groups of participants which include one special needs participant. This creates an important and educational social encounter between all of the participants.

In others, the youth leaders put together one group made up entirely of participants with special needs. This allows them to specially tailor activities to the needs of the group, while the group is still involved in activities for the entire youth movement branch and interacts with other groups there in various ways.

Both of these approaches have created meaningful and fun encounters and have helped to create a more inclusive and inviting place for youth in the branches, while facilitating new friendships and teaching “typical” kids important life lessons about the equal value of those different from them.

In addition to the focus on creating an inclusive social space, the youth movement has initiated a workforce training program. With an understanding of the developmental and social importance of entering the workforce, the project aims to help teens with special needs get their first summer job. In the program, a mentor helps to facilitate a job for a special-needs teen with a participating business and continues to mentor the teen throughout the duration of the job. Though the roll-out of the initiative has been postponed due to COVID-19, business partners such as stores and theaters have enrolled and remain invested in the initiative and ready for it to begin as soon as it becomes possible.

Dror Israel’s youth movement has always prided itself on creating a safe and inviting space where participants are treated equally with care, no matter who they are. The movement continues to challenge itself to improve, demanding constant awareness of challenges impacting different populations and sectors of society and creative, progressive thinking and hard work to create an equal and accessible place for them. This is part of the ongoing work of Dror Israel to create a more equal and just Israeli society.

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