Tikva L'Yeled Bringing Out the "Special" in Special Education Children
By Moshe Schapiro
"Look, there they are!"
Chaim thrust his finger toward the horizon, showing Yosef the tiny speck of an airplane that was growing larger and larger as it approached the Jerusalem Airport. The four-seater plane soon came in for a clean landing, and three smiling children waved wildly from behind its windows to their cheering classmates.
Eight-year-old Dovid jumped out of the plane first, his pace slowed slightly by the braces supporting his thin legs. Yaakov popped out next, grabbing his walker from a teacher standing nearby before chasing after Dovid. Baruch alighted last, the teacher grasping him around the waist before gently placing him in his wheelchair and wheeling him after his friends.
Inside the airport, Dovid, Yaakov and Baruch were afforded a hero's welcome, complete with high-fives and a torrent of questions: "How was it?" "Did you have fun?" "Were you scared?"
As the next group of students prepared for takeoff, Dovid, Yaakov and Baruch, their faces flushed with excitement, assured their friends that flying over Jerusalem was not only not scary, but very exciting and a lot of fun.
Just Like Regular Kids
On that sunny August day, Dovid, Yaakov and Baruch, along with their 20 classmates, had a chance to do something they rarely have the opportunity to do: feel like regular kids. The boys, all of whom are students at Neve Tzvi, Tikvah Layeled's educational-medical institute for children with cerebral palsy, were on a field trip to the Jerusalem Airport, where they were taken on an aerial tour of Jerusalem.
And when they were thousands of feet in the air, with their wheelchairs and walkers pushed into the corner on the ground below, they were no longer children with physical and motor disabilities. They were just regular kids experiencing the thrill of flying and the excitement of seeing Jerusalem from a whole new perspective.
"A trip like this gives these children many things," says Pnina Raizel, Tikvah Layeled's educational director. "It gives them social skills, they interact with each other; it gives them language skills, they learn new words about a plane landing and taking off; and it gives them cognitive skills, they learn and understand new concepts."
But most of all, she says, "It gives them pleasure. It gives them a good time."
Living Normal, Productive Lives
Letting children with cerebral palsy live as normal and productive lives as possible is Tikvah Layeled's goal. With a staff of 22 professional therapists and educators, the organization provides a wide range of advanced diagnostic, therapeutic, rehabilitative, educational and custodial services to children with physical and motor disabilities.
Tikvah Layeled was founded in 1988 by Tzvi Braitstein, whose 18-year-old son Yoel suffers from cerebral palsy. The Braitsteins were forced to travel to the United States in the mid 1980s to find treatment for their son, and they met dozens of other Israeli couples there who were in the same predicament, some having to abandon the rest of their families for months at a time. Mr. and Mrs. Braitstein decided then and there that they would do everything in their power to open a center in Israel that would meet the needs of children with cerebral palsy.
"Although Israel has one of the highest percentages of cerebral palsy incidences in the world," says Braitstein, "it lags behind in CP research and medical assistance, mainly because of budget constraints. For years, that meant that the newest developments in research, care and surgery were generally unavailable in Israel."
Now, thanks to the efforts of the Tikvah Layeled staff and its supporters around the world, children who suffer from cerebral palsy are getting the kind of care once only available abroad.
On the local level, Tikvah Layeled runs an educational-medical institute located in Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem, that serves 70 children between the ages of two and 18. The institute provides them with a general and religious education, as well as an array of physical and emotional therapies.
On the national level, Tikvah Layeled involves itself in improving the overall care of cerebral palsy patients in Israel by helping hospital wards purchase vital equipment for conducting advanced testing needed for surgery and treatment.
In addition, in an effort to help reduce Israel's severe shortage of children's rehabilitative equipment, the organization supports local production of special items such as children's wheelchairs and therapeutic workstations. This equipment is then distributed free to hospitals, institutions and private families.
Finally, to ensure Israel is up-to-date on the latest in CP treatments, the organization brings in medical experts from abroad to train the medical community in the most advanced and efficient methods of therapeutic treatment and surgical procedures. It also funds professional lectures and medical symposiums on these subjects.
"Years ago," says Braitstein, "a parent of a child with cerebral palsy in Israel had nowhere to turn. Now they can turn to us and have tikvah layeled, hope for their child."
Helping Each Child Achieve His Potential
According to Raizel, the education director, the more than 20 children who went on that aerial tour of Jerusalem were the ones who were on the highest level mentally of all of Tikvah Layeled's children.
"What I want to emphasize," she says, "is that when you say a child has CP, you're not saying anything about his ability to function or the severity of it. There's a wide spectrum of levels of functionality and degrees of severity."
Raizel explains that Tikvah Layeled, and specifically its Neve Tzvi facility, serves children with all levels of physical and motor disabilities, doing whatever it can to improve each individual child's situation.
"We adapt to the capabilities and potential of each child," Raizel says. "Like any other school, we help our children gain academically. For those who can't, we help them become independent as they grow older. And for those with very severe handicaps, we prevent deterioration and enhance quality of life."
Difficult Yet Rewarding
Much of the work involved in helping each CP child achieve his potential falls on the shoulders of the organization's therapists and educators, and it's a heavy load to carry.
"You have to be more patient and more understanding," says Atara Winograd, who has worked in Neve Tzvi in various capacities for the last six years. "You have to come down to their level.
But Winograd, who worked as a teacher in the regular school system for many years, says she is happy she made the switch to special education.
"It's harder, but it's more rewarding," she says.
Sarit Kami, who teaches children ages 9 to 13, agrees. Though she says it's often difficult and she doesn't see changes on a day-to-day basis, those changes do happen.
"When I looked back at the end of last year, I realized how much we accomplished," she says. "There was a child who couldn't speak and was able to at the end of the year; there was a child who kept very to himself that opened up. There was also a child who couldn't walk but then began to because of physical therapy."
"It's fun to give to these children," she adds. "It gave me a sense of satisfaction."
Braitstein, Tikvah Layeled's founder, adds that the teachers and therapists get much of the credit for the organization's success.
"Our teachers and therapists put their hearts and souls into these kids," he says. "The kids feel that love and they respond."
Ariella Solomon, a teaching assistant who has worked at Tikvah Layeled for three years, compares her job to the task any mother faces.
"It's like raising kids. If you love them, you work with them, even when it gets hard," she says.
"And besides," she adds, "it's not called special education for nothing.
These children really are special."
Tikvah Layeled is located at 16 Sha'arei Torah Street, Bayit Vagan, Jerusalem, Israel.
Their telephone number is: (Israel Area Code 02) 642-9393.
from the October/November 1999 of the Jewish Magazine