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Get to Know Board Member Dr. Yuval Asner
January 26, 2022 - Dr. Yuval Asner recently finished reading all seven “Harry Potter” books to his two children, a journey that began two years ago. People familiar with the series will understand this is no small feat—the seven books in the series collectively contain 1,084,170 words. And he isn’t quitting.
“Sometimes your voice gets tired,” he says, “but my dad read to me when I was a kid. Now we’re moving on to ‘Pippy Longstocking.’”
Asner is a pediatric psychiatrist who has been seeing his young patients at Mercy Clinic on Ballas in St. Louis. Both he and his wife, Elaine, grew up in the St. Louis area, although he and his parents lived in Israel until he was 10 years old. The couple returned to St. Louis after he completed medical school at Indiana University—Purdue University Indianapolis and his residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He has been a member of the SSD Board of Education since 2019, representing residents of the Ladue and Rockwood school districts in Subdistrict 7.
Away from work, Asner and his wife enjoy spending time with their kids— a son, 9, and a daughter, 6— who attend school in Rockwood. He occasionally carves out some time to play Dungeons and Dragons with his son and his son’s friends, but the entire family enjoys exploring trails and creeks together. Both children are Cub Scouts and attend the same meetings, though they’re in separate dens— it simplifies the family activity schedule and allows both kids to participate in things they like to do.
An intellectually bright student, Asner was in all the advanced classes at Parkway North High School, but never questioned how special services were provided to students. After completing his medical degree at the University of Indiana and residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, he returned to St. Louis and began employment with Mercy Hospital as a pediatric psychiatrist. That’s when he was introduced to the services provided by SSD.
“I had a patient whose parents told me they were looking for a place their son could get an evaluation for special education services,” he says. “At the time, I thought they’d encounter the usual barriers that I’d seen in other parts of the country. But six weeks later, they told me they’d met with people from Special School District and their son had an IEP. That was a shocking experience for me! And it was the first time I realized what SSD was doing for kids throughout St. Louis County. By the time my own son needed an evaluation, I already knew there was a process in place that would help us get what he needed.”
Asner says 2020 was a disastrous year for many of his patients. He had hoped to keep schools open, but later accepted that it wouldn’t be possible to do safely. He doesn’t think the pandemic has increased his patient load, but it has made the lives of the children and adolescents already in his care more difficult.
Describe your professional life.
I see patients from all over St. Louis County and the surrounding area. Although my specialty deals with the treatment of children and adolescents, I often follow patients with developmental disabilities into adulthood. I work with kids with a variety of issues, including ADHD, learning disabilities, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. Many of them have IEPs at their schools. This population of people is perhaps the most underserved in the country.
What life experiences made you want to serve on the SSD Board?
The calling to public service comes from my parents and my upbringing in the Creve Coeur community. My parents taught me public service is something we should all strive to do.
I always knew I wanted a career in medicine, but I didn’t know I’d like psychiatry until after I went to college in Indiana. After graduation, I spent a year doing volunteer work with AmeriCorps in New York City. That year of public service was a formative experience for me. When I was in medical school, I began doing psychiatry rotations and working with forgotten people who are often misunderstood. And that’s when I realized I especially liked working with kids.
When my wife and I moved back to St. Louis, I didn’t know about SSD. My previous experience in getting services for patients who needed special services had been challenging and confrontational — I essentially had to fight for them because there was a lack of funding for special services. But now I know how transformative those services can be. I’ve often seen more improvement in patients who get the special services they need than when they’re on medications.
I don’t think there’s anything like SSD in the entire country. To truly understand kids in our community, we must understand their needs. Most of my patients are kids who receive SSD services. So when I found out there was a vacancy on the Board, I applied.
Who has been the greatest influence on your life, and what did this person teach you or mean to you?
My parents have had a strong influence on me when it comes to public service. There was always this expectation that we all should do more for our community— life is not about living selfishly. But I’ve met a lot of inspirational people throughout the years. When I was living in New York, I think I was inspired by the leaders of our AmeriCorps service program, whereas in medical school, it was the doctors who taught me.
What are you most proud of accomplishing?
My kids — I love them! I think that’s how most parents feel. We have a great relationship. Spending time with them is both humbling and rewarding. I know it sounds corny, but I’m really happy when I have a positive impact on any kid’s life. It’s pretty remarkable!
What keeps you awake at night?
I try to get to bed on time. It varies but 10 PM is what I call “pumpkin time.” Sometimes I think about my patients, but after years of being in my profession, I’ve gotten used to some of that worry. When the pandemic started, I did lose some sleep. I worried about whether keeping kids in school was the right or wrong decision to make. They’re going to write books about the year 2020 and all the decisions that were made, but at least we’ll know we were trying to do the best we could.
Describe your favorite meal or dish.
I make a pretty good paella using the recipe from America’s Test Kitchen. It takes a long time— my wife and kids don’t like it, but it’s great. I also like to eat lots of salads and sushi. My picky son now likes sushi and my daughter will eat it, though it isn’t her favorite. This has been a major meal triumph at our house over the last few months.
What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?
I practice Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but I’m not very good at it. I used to enjoy scuba diving— when my kids are older, we’ll all go scuba diving. I like spending time outside and visiting creeks. I also enjoy vegetable gardening— we plant dill, and when the butterflies lay eggs in the leaves, we capture them in a jar and watch them hatch into caterpillars.
If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Maybe the Galapagos Islands.
Name one of your favorite books and tell us why it’s a favorite.
“The Hobbit”– it’s the first almost adult-level novel I remember reading. I first read it when I was nine years old, but I find myself rereading it all the time.
What kind of music do you like to hear?
Whatever my wife and kids tell me to listen to. I’m not picky.
If you could be a fictional superhero, which one would it be and why?
Spiderman— he’s pretty cool.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would probably change the amount of free time I have.
What do you want people to know about you?
I think that some people don’t realize that members of the SSD Board are stakeholders in the District. Some of us have kids with IEPs and, naturally, are very invested in SSD’s success. But none of us are compensated in any way. I stay up late a bunch of nights to do Board work. We’re just citizens who share the same concerns as others in the District.