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Therapy For Jewish Children With Special Needs

1175962_83057603One of the most important, yet often overlooked aspects of getting therapy is knowing when and how to advocate for yourself or your loved one, a topic we’ve blogged about many times at Therapy Soup.

Now, just in time for Hanukkah, we interviewed Zlaty Kahan, the founder of, a Jewish advocacy and education site that helps parents with special- needs children get the therapy their child needs.

What are the issues that affect the religious Jewish population with special needs in contrast to issues that affect other populations?

The process of getting services for a child with special needs is pretty much seamless and straightforward—if your child attends public school. If the parent or teacher think it’s necessary, the evaluation takes place in school. Then, the child receives the recommended services. From evaluation to individualized services, everything is done in the school.

However, many Jewish children (especially but not only those from orthodox communities)  attend private religious schools. These parents and kids come from across the entire socio-economic spectrum, and many parents work very hard to give their children education that reflects their beliefs and values. For these families, tax payer funded programs that are available in public schools, including special needs services, are simply non-existent or inadequate. 

These parents need to deal with evaluations and hire therapists on their own, a daunting task at best. They might begin by contacting a city, state, or charitable agency in their community. They’ll make numerous phone calls and appointments just to find someone who can do an evaluation, then they have to find a therapist able to give the recommended services. This can be an extremely time-consuming process.

I believe the main obstacle to getting timely, effective treatment is that parents are not aware of their options or their rights. But they do have other, better choices.

What other options are there?

Let me illustrate my answer by telling you about one of my cases.

Leah is a six year old girl that is clumsy and has difficulty with her gross motor skills. Her peers view her as a “klutz” for she is unsuccessful at jump rope, ball, and other activities that interest other girls in her class.

Leah is a depressed child, with virtually no friends due to her very low self-esteem. At the tender age of six, Leah is convinced that she is an absolute failure.

After extensive testing, Leah was diagnosed with low-muscle tone. She was evaluated and was approved for four hours of physical therapy a week, therapy she desperately needs so that she can regain her confidence.

Her mother called up the children’s agencies in her town and to her distress, they informed her that all physical therapists are currently busy with other clients.  They assured her that Leah would be put on a waiting list, and would be serviced when a therapist becomes available.

Six months later, Leah was still on the waiting list.  Six months is a very long time in the life of a child. Unfortunately, Leah’s mother is not able to pay—four hours a week of therapy is beyond the means of working-class families like Leah’s.

But there is another option that I was able to tell Leah’s mother about. Leah can go to a private therapist, one not working for a government agency, and the Department of Education will reimburse her.

Legally, if an agency cannot provide a therapist for a needy child, a parent can request the RSA (related service authorization) form. This will allow them to hire an independent therapist that will be paid by the DOE. Click here for more information on the RSA process.

How often are children “put on a list” for therapy services?

I find that it happens way too often. From my personal observations as a special educator, I estimate that about one in three children are not receiving all the services they are legally allowed to.

The reason is two-fold: Many parents are not aware of all their rights, and even if they are, many of them find it too challenging or confusing to know how to advocate for their child.

For example, there are many parents that have a child with asthma, allergies or other life-threatening conditions and have no idea that their child is legally entitled to have a health para-professional assigned to their child while they are in school. In many cases there are taxpayer-funded programs from the Department of Education that will pay for these services. For more information about free paraprofessional services click here.

It is heart-breaking when parents aren’t able to get their children the therapy they need and that’s where Jewish ConnectEd can help.

You sound very passionate about this.

I am! I’m a reading specialist in a Jewish school. I work closely with both children and parents, and I’ve seen how many parents struggle to get their child the therapy they need. I helped them figure out what steps they should take, and while doing this, I found many wonderful websites that offer helpful advice. But, I did not find a site that specifically helped parents of special-needs children who were enrolled in private school. This was how the idea for Jewish ConnectEd came about.

How exactly does your website help parents?

Our mission is to “educate parents so that they can better educate their child”.  We try to bring the most up-to-date information for parents so that they can make informed choices.

We have articles on many topics: types of disabilities, children’s rights, parent advocacy and more.

Thank you for your time, Zlaty. Happy Hanukkah

Advocating for your child is a skill that can be taught. We found these helpful links at Jewish ConnectEd:

Quit Being a Pushover- How to Be an Assertive Advocate

Top 10 Tips to Successfully Advocate for Your Child

Zlaty Kahan received her MST in Childhood Special Education from Pace University. She worked as a special educator for many years before launching, an online community to help parents of children with special needs.

Therapy For Jewish Children With Special Needs

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2014). Therapy For Jewish Children With Special Needs. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 5, 2020, from


Last updated: 22 Dec 2014
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