If I am Only For Myself What Am I; Tikkun Olam, Aspergers and Haiti

If I am not for myself who will be for me;

If I am only for myself what am I;

If not now when?- Rabbi Hillel

It is a Jewish tenet of faith to make the world in which we live a better place. It is called tikkun olam.

Don’t you just love those know-it-alls who say that persons with autism are incapable of caring about others? That those with autism spectrum disorders are so self-involved they do not know that others even exist, that others have feelings, and that others have desires or needs. Actually I would say that they are describing most materialistic self-indulged people in our modern consumer driven society. I would also hazard a guess that these materialistic narcissists are not persons with autism.

I don’t know where it comes from that the professionals who work within the autistic community come up with these hard and fast rules. There is such a varied spectrum of characteristics that if you know one person with autism you know one person with autism. You know how autism effects one individual and that doesn’t necessarily apply to anyone else on the spectrum.

 That the powers that be think that our children lack the capacity to participate fully in society, and being charitable is a part of participating in society, is insulting. A large part of me thinks that after all these years of dealing with the psychiatric world that it’s the experts who are more of the problem than the solution. Look at the hullaballoo about joining aspergers and autism into one DSM. The psychiatry community wants to make their lives easier in dealing with a disability that has so many exceptions and changing characteristics, the actual person with autism be damned. It’s like the disabled person is not important in the decision concerning how they are to be defined. Talk about a civil rights violation. I’d like the psychiatric community to tell any other community (ethnic, religious, sexual orientation) how to define itself and see if they can get away with that. Bet the answer would be not be a positive one.

I can tell you that my aspie boys spent this morning loading and packing medical supplies for Haiti. A few weeks ago they loaded medical supplies for Africa. Last week collegeman gave away hundreds of dollars of his book money to Save Darfur (we had to have a talk about that). Highschoolboy likes when I give to the ASPCA and Smile Train. Charity is a way of life for us. Anyway, this morning was a success. Since collegeman and Highschoolboy had just been there a few weeks ago, the director was well aware of who they were.

Hubby couldn’t figure out if the boys are so identifiably different than their peers that a trained medical professional can see the autism right away. That one I really can’t answer. I know that the boys will always be different, but how identifiable I really don’t know.  Honestly I am not sure I care at the moment. During the Africa charity drive the director immediately took collegeman under her wing and started giving him jobs.  What we found was a kind woman who, if she knew or saw that they were different immediately honed in on their skills and put them to work.

Today, since the boys were very familiar with the layout of the warehouse they were the champs. In fact, there were teenagers there who would turn to collegeman and get him to help them. We think it’s the facial hair. I understand one of them even called him “sir.” Now that’s cute. Collegeman used to do that to teens with facial hair when he was in middle school too.

The best part was that in the middle of the tumult of packing the medical supplies, collegeman has a discussion with the director of the program about chaos theory, how it applied to what they were doing at the moment, and how if there were less volunteers they would be more efficient. Leave it to him to try to figure out a way to make things better and to throw a scientific conundrum into the middle of it. (I told you he channels “Sheldon” on a daily basis.) She responded that it was ok, and that she liked all the people and that she could handle the hubbub. Never heard if he let it go at that, bet he didn’t. I am sure hubby either intervened or she gave collegeman another project to do to get him to shift his attention.

I have to tell everyone collegeman makes me proud. He may not really understand not to give all his money away; it left him short of cash for his books. Well, not really, I bought them for him. He was supposed to have used the money from the summer for his books. Trying to teach him a little about taking responsibility since so many of his peers actually have to work to afford college. So I wanted him to understand that his money has to go for some things associated with school too. But how can you punish him when he gave his money to charity. He didn’t spend it on a video game; he gave it away to save lives. So I let collegeman earn money doing chores over vacation to work off his books.

I am also not allowed to throw away any old clothes. Both collegeman and Highschoolboy know about the local community center that takes old clothes and gives it to those less fortunate. Collegeman during high school used to try to collect food for their food bank his freshman year. So we also have to give them any food periodically. If there is a food drive, clothing drive, money drive, both of the boys are participating. Both understand their obligations to the world at large. Both know that they are members of society at large and that membership comes with obligations.

I wonder how many neurotypicals, the ones psychiatrists say are just fine and without issue in society, spent their three-day weekend helping others. I don’t care what they decide to do with the DSM. I have decided that these psychiatrists are not going to define my children as to who they will or will not be. It is a Jewish tenet of faith to make the world a better place. We call it tikkun olam. I am going to let this righteous path and obligations to society define theboys. I am going to let Rabbi Hillel define the boys. Then ultimately the boys can define themselves. 


Until next time,




Text "HAITI" to 90999 and give $10 to the Red Cross for Haitian relief.


About Elise "Ronan"

#JeSuisJuif #RenegadeJew... Life-hacks, book reviews, essayist...
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One Response to If I am Only For Myself What Am I; Tikkun Olam, Aspergers and Haiti

  1. J. says:

    Very cool, Elise. I see empathy in my aspie boys every day. They lack theory of mind, not empathy. They may not understand why it is offensive to tell Grandma she has bad breath, but they do understand not to, and that the little ones who get bullied need defending.

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