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07 Feb, Tuesday
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Montreal Families

Support for kids with special needs

For children with developmental disorders or delays, early, intensive treatment is key. At the non-profit Donald Berman Yaldei Developmental Centre, a multidisciplinary team work to get kids the help they need in a timely fashion.

When Eliza Parkinson Buksbaum’s second child, Norah, was born, everything seemed fine. But soon Norah’s parents noticed she wasn’t reaching her developmental milestones, like talking, on time. So they began seeking help from the public health system. After a six-month wait, they were able to see a developmental specialist, who then told them it would take several more months to have Norah fully assessed. Then there would be another 14-month waiting period before treatment would begin.

The Buksbaums felt their daughter, who was now 18 months old but not walking or interacting with people, needed help right away. Then someone told them about the Donald Berman Yaldei Developmental Centre, which provides intensive early intervention for children with special needs, such as developmental disorders like autism or neurological disorders like cerebral palsy.

The centre’s Executive Director Menachem Leifer says research shows that early intervention pays off in the long run as children become capable of greater independence and require less care later in life. Leifer founded the non-profit centre, now located in the Queen Elizabeth Health Complex in N.D.G., about 11 years ago. He modelled it after a facility in New York where he had taken his son for treatment. Since its inception, the centre has helped more than 600 children.

The Buksbaums got an appointment at Yaldei for Norah’s assessment two days after making the initial call. Clinical director Ben Baer says it takes at most three weeks to get an appointment. The first meeting consists of an observation session in a relaxed playtime setting at the centre. Then Yaldei’s multi-disciplinary team of therapists discusses their observations and sketches out an intervention plan for the child. Their recommendations are given to the family within a week.

A focus on abilities

Norah was diagnosed with global developmental delay, which means she was delayed in all areas of development, though no medical cause for this could be found.

However, Buksbaum found that the Yaldei staff took a positive approach to her daughter, commenting on all the things the child could do. “It was remarkable,” says Buksbaum “it was the first time I heard someone saying nice things about my daughter… saying something optimistic.”

Her experience reflects Yaldei’s philosophy of focusing on children’s abilities and potential, instead of their disabilities, and of allowing children to learn at their own pace.

Once the Yaldei team has outlined a therapeutic plan for the child’s treatment, they figure out the yearly cost. The fees, which only cover 75-80 per cent of the centre’s real expenditures, range from $5,000 to $ 55,000 per year, depending on the child’s treatment needs. Yaldei is a private institution, which means it isn’t funded by the government so Medicare doesn’t cover any of their treatment costs. While some families can afford the fees, many families cannot assume the entire cost of treatment. When that is the case, the administrators at Yaldei work with the families to find the balance of funding needed through community sponsors, government assistance, and donations from fundraising, foundations and corporations.

Norah began an intensive early intervention plan almost immediately. She had physiotherapy, as well as occupational, speech, oral motor, music, and art therapies.

The centre provides a wide array of on-site treatment options in order to meet the diverse and complex needs of their clients. In addition to more conventional treatments, they provide innovative options such as Picture Talking Therapy, which allows parents to communicate with children with delayed or impaired speech through drawings, or Medek Physiotherapy, which helps children learn to sit, stand, and walk.

Yaldei’s approach is more than multidisciplinary, explains Baer, it’s transdisciplinary. Every child who goes to Yaldei is assigned an educator who works with the child one-on-one in the language spoken in the child’s home. The educator is present for all of the child’s therapies. As well, the different therapists meet regularly to discuss every child’s progress and to fine-tune the treatment plans.

One goal of early intervention is to ensure that children with special needs can eventually integrate into the regular school system. Yaldei works closely with families to make this happen, often by matching children with educator/shadows who stay with the child during a school day. Such “shadows” act as facilitators, collaborating with teachers and encouraging classmates to interact with the child. Yaldei also runs a sensitization program called “One of Us,” where people from the centre visit elementary schools to talk about living with special needs. The program helps foster respect, understanding and acceptance among children for those who might otherwise be labelled “different.”

Today, Norah is 6 years old and attends kindergarten with a Yaldei educator. Norah walks and talks very well, has playdates with her friends, and is taking skating lessons this year. “She’s great, she’s amazing,” says her mom, who used to think her daughter would never walk. “We’re so relieved.”

For more information about the Donald Berman Yaldei Developmental Centre, call (514) 279-3666 or go to www.yaldei.org

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