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Hunger-striking parents protest work conditions for adults with autism

CM 18/10/2021

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Hundreds of parents, teachers and people with autism gathered outside the Knesset for a demonstration on Monday evening in which they demanded that the budget for work activities for people with autism over 21 be raised.
The demonstration was organized by Emanuel Cohen, 56, whose 22-year-old son has autism. Cohen has been on a hunger strike for 20 days and has been sleeping in a tent near the Knesset, along with several other parents, some of whom are also on a hunger strike.
Calling on Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Social Welfare Minister Meir Cohen, speaker after speaker asked politicians to address the hardships facing people with autism once they “age out” of the school system at the age of 21.
Cohen praised the education system but said that after they turn 21 “they are pushed out of a helicopter” and given almost no services. The occupation centers that serve people with autism who are lower-functioning – a sizeable portion, if not the bulk of people on the autism spectrum – like Cohen’s son and the majority of people with autism and their families at the demonstration, usually provide repetitive meaningless work, which often causes a deterioration in behavioral and communications skills of people with autism. “It’s the biggest human rights
crime in the history of Israel,” said Cohen.
The speakers at the demonstration had three demands. One was for more meaningful work for people with autism, who “deserve challenging work, they deserve to keep learning,” said Tami Ben-David Yona, a mother of a son with autism in Jerusalem who is active in Alut, the organization that advocates for people with autism.

 Emanuel Cohen, organizer of the demonstration and father of an autistic son, has been on a hunger strike for 20 days. (credit: HANNAH BROWN) Emanuel Cohen, organizer of the demonstration and father of an autistic son, has been on a hunger strike for 20 days. (credit: HANNAH BROWN)

The other demands were to increase the wages of the teachers and staff who work at such centers, who currently receive minimum wage and who are often forced to leave to support their families. The speakers praised the teachers and staff, saying they were doing the best job they could under terrible conditions, but that they deserved to be paid better. They also demanded an increase in the number of staff members, so that these work environments could be therapeutic and “not just babysitters” as Cohen put it. These demands would amount to somewhere around NIS 20 million of the budget. The Social Welfare system currently pays around NIS 4500 per
month for these services per person with autism and the hunger-striking parents are asking for an increase of about NIS 2000 per month, which they said would make a meaningful difference in the quality of life for their children for the rest of their lives.
MK Michal Waldiger joined the demonstration a little before the end and said that “the government should reach into its pockets and pay these wonderful staff members who work with people with autism more than NIS 30 per hour.”
The crowd was energized and the event had a festive air as parents who have been fighting together for their children’s rights for decades greeted each other. Yona said that “this struggle for our children now that they are in this phase of life parallels what we had to do to get their schools built. We have had to fight for everything.”
Cohen thanked his wife for taking care of his son while he was on the hunger strike and sleeping in the tent and thanked all the parents and staff who work with people with autism. “It’s much harder to spend eight hours taking care of a person with autism than it is to be on a hunger strike.”

Source: Jerusalem Post

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