Autism? Help Is Out There…

Ezer Mizion’s Children’s Division is a national resource that provides a vast array of services for handicapped, high-risk and developmentally delayed children and their caregivers. The range of issues addressed is broad. The professional services and care offered enable the children to advance and reach their full potential.

We all have our challenges in raising our children. How comforting it is to hear from another more experienced mother that your child’s behavior, as exasperating as it is, is normal.  But what about when it is not normal? When your child, the tiny infant you held in your arms with such hopes, is diagnosed with autism? The devastation, the fears for the future are immeasurable. Your day-to-day, minute-to-minute life will never be the same. Your other children are tremendously affected. Family ties fall apart. You desperately need support. Ezer Mizion had undertaken a support group for these mothers. The group served as a place where they could finally feel that people understood their unique challenge. They received practical tools and a lot of emotional energy to deal with the day-to-day challenges facing them. Some of them commuted two hours in each direction to attend the meetings because they gained such a huge benefit from their participation.

Many modes of assistance exist within the framework of Ezer Mzion’s programs. In 1988, Ezer Mizion opened Israel’s first summer camp for children with special needs. Since then, the network of Ezer Mizion special needs summer camps has grown to include 7 camps, over 1,500 staff members and volunteers and over 1,200 children with physical handicaps, brain damage, cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, autism, blindness, deafness and emotional disorders. For these youngsters and their families, Ezer Mizion’s summer camps are the highlight of the entire year.

During the year, Support Programs, Awareness Evenings provide direction for parents. Early Intervention Programs and Day Care enable the autistic child to move forward.

When 2 year-old Gilad was first enrolled in Ezer Mizion’s Ma’on Shaked” Rehabilitative Day Care Center for Autistic Children, he couldn’t tolerate anyone sitting next to him. When anyone came near him, he would lash out in all directions, screaming and hitting. Today, the blue-eyed blond-haired child is very much part of the group. “Whenever he sees me, he motions me to caress him,” says Wolfgur. This seemingly miraculous transformation of a child who once would have been relegated to the “hopeless” category is a striking testament to the success of the experimental program, which was initiated just one year ago, in response to an urgent request by the Ministries of Social Services and Health. “These children are a riddle to their parents,” notes Wolfgur. “Most of them don’t speak, don’t communicate through gestures. Often the parents feel responsible for their condition. But today we know that autism is a developmental, neurological problem, and not psychological. The Center’s staff maps each child’s needs and builds an individual treatment program for him . The Center’s major goal is to encourage each child to interact with other people and to develop communication skills, which will significantly improve quality of life for the child and his family. Some of the children can eventually be mainstreamed into a regular educational framework with the help of a mentor.

Nurit is a striking little three year -old girl, a dead ringer for Shirley Temple with her green eyes, dimples and blonde curls. But although she is physically developed – she sits and stands and walks on her own in an age-appropriate manner, the little girl’s beautiful eyes are expressionless, and her socialization and communications skills are severely undeveloped. Nurit suffers from autism/PDD (pervasive developmental disorders) – a neurological disorder that affects a child’s ability to communicate, understand language, play, and relate to others. But the little girl had another severe problem: she refused to eat. As a result, she was physically frail with limited motor abilities. After months of laborious work, Nurit has finally begun to agree to eat! As a result, her overall health has improved: she has gained weight and is more attentive, responsive and energetic. Efforts are now being focused on developing her communication and social skills.

Sara displayed extreme social anxiety and various other challenges. Her teachers tried but she was not moving forward. Each day Mommy found it harder and harder to send her off to school with a hopeful smile. It was so difficult to face but face it they must. Then it came. The dreaded phone call.  The school was requesting a meeting. The parents were certain of what they would be hearing.  Probably a cold, professional assessment in clipped tones, “We’re sorry. Your daughter is not adjusting. We suggest that you look for another school…” But they were wrong. Oh, how wrong they were! In the course of the year, she received paramedical therapy, with an emphasis on the communication aspect and the DIR method. Slowly but surely, Sara began making eye contact with the staff and even showing affection during the therapy sessions. In addition, she learned to play functionally with educational games and began producing her first words.

The inability to communicate often greatly affects both the child’s ability to perform and his relationship with his family. Ezer Mizion’s AAC Division Loan Center is the only one of its kind in the Middle East for speech generating devices and one of the few existing in the entire world. It’s mission is not only to support and empower people and families confronted by the distressing reality of communication impairment but also to upgrade communication and therapy options by partnering in the development of communication technology and devices and to educating and influencing those in the professional communication field and end-users to tap in to the most updated AAC solutions.

The need is great. The options are vast. Your generosity will enable Ezer Mizion to continue its mission in providing resources for families whose lives have been turned upside down with the birth of an autistic child.

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Dr. Rachamim Melamed-Cohen

Ezer Mizion’s Augmentative and Alternative Communication Program: Giving a voice to those who cannot speak

“There’s a very special person I’d like to tell you about. He’s written many books.”

“Very nice,” you reply with a slightly bored expression.

“With his eye.”

“With his what???!”

“Yes, with his eye. His name is Dr. Rachamim  Melamid-Cohen.

Twenty-five years ago, at age 58, Dr. Melamed-Cohen was diagnosed with ALS. He was married with six children, a PhD in Special Education, a leading position in Israel’s Ministry of Education, a pioneer of special education programs throughout the country when his world fell apart. He had felt weakness in his shoulder which spread down to his arm and then his fingers.  One Friday night, as he was making Kiddush, the cup shook and the wine spilled. Something seemed very wrong and he, together with his wife, Elisheva, began to make the rounds of neurologists until finally receiving the dread diagnosis of ALS.  He was told that all of his organs will eventually lose their ability to function. Eventually, a fly will land his nose and he will be dependent on others to brush it away. ‘You have 3-5 years to live’ said the doctors, three of whom were no longer alive themselves 12 years after his diagnosis.

Within two years, he’d lost the ability to eat using his mouth. Seven years after diagnosis, he was totally paralyzed and connected to a respirator. All too soon, only his eyes were functioning.

But he refused to give up.

Ezer Mizion’s Alternative Communication Division was at his side. He was provided with an eye-tracker system, a highly complex device which Ezer Mizion was able to successfully train him to use. This gifted him the ability of communication, learning, social involvement and constant personal growth – despite his debilitating disease. The Click2Speak eye gaze controlled virtual keyboard, which was developed by Click2Speak in collaboration with Ezer Mizion, was another device that he enjoyed using, claiming that this tool truly improved his quality of life by enabling communication and environmental control through eye movements.

Since then, he wrote 20 books on many topics: research, poetry, education, and prose. Filled with joy of life, he learned how to create pictures digitally. Ten exhibits of his pictures, drawn with eye control, have been displayed in Israel and abroad.

Dr. Melamed-Cohen corresponded with people around the world, wrote articles for newspapers and used vast digital resources to prepare for Torah classes that took place in his home every day – all accomplished using computerized eye control.

Dr. Melamed Cohen passed away in November 2020 at the age of 83 after a fulfilling life that was enriched through Ezer Mizion’s AAC developments.

Ezer Mizion provides services to over 660,000 of Israel’s population annually in addition to its Bone Marrow Registry which saves the lives of Jewish cancer patients the world over.

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Giving a Voice to Those who Cannot Speak

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International AAC Conference held in Sofia, Bulgaria

Life goes on. Tuesday is similar to Monday. We know what to expect. And that knowledge brings us security. And then one day, life falls apart. He becomes a stroke victim, lying on a hospital bed. Nothing is the same. Even his body has changed. What he could do easily in his past life now may be impossible. He is trapped in a nightmare and can’t seem to wake up. He needs explanations, he needs reassurance and he needs simple basic needs fulfilled, needs he cannot do on his own. Now, when he needs so much, he is unable to express himself. He tries to tell the nurse that he is thirsty but she doesn’t understand his garbled sounds. His loved ones try so hard but they, too, are unable to communicate. His daughter cries in frustration. She wants so much to help. She tries several possibilities but he continues to ask in his unintelligible speech, becoming more and more upset that he is unable to convey his thoughts and needs with those around him. More than 62% of stroke patients suffer through this demeaning and discouraging challenge. The stress, the anguish greatly hinder the healing process. But he remains at an impasse, unable to move forward. Continue reading Giving a Voice to Those who Cannot SpeakFacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinmail

Playing Twenty Questions in the Hospital Room

Image result for twenty questions image Sara felt helpless. Her grandmother felt helpless. Each one frustrated, until Sara remembered a course she had taken three years ago.

Sara obtained the email address of her former university teacher, Yonit Hagoel Karnieli, Director of Ezer Mizion’s AAC (Alternative Augmentative Communication) National Center and sent her the following message: Continue reading Playing Twenty Questions in the Hospital RoomFacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinmail

When ALS Robs Its Victim of Every Skill He Had

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Communicating via Ezer Mizion AAC device

We tend to take our abilities for granted. Scratching a mosquito bite, calling out to a friend across the street, running for a bus, licking an ice cream cone…these are all simple daily activities until one finds he no longer is capable of performing these previously effortless actions.

Muscular movement is controlled by the neurological system. Motor neurons ‘tell the muscles what to do’. But if they don’t? That is when we begin to realize just how complex our bodies are. A person finds he can no longer perform actions that have been part of his life since infancy.

This is what happens in ALS. The motor neurons are gradually lost and the muscles they control become weak and then non-functional.  ALS stands for amyotrophic (without nourishment to muscles) lateral (affecting the side of the spinal cord) sclerosis (the hardened nature of the spinal cord). Its onset is gradual and, at first, the symptoms are merely annoying: dropping things, tripping, perhaps slurred speech. Slowly, other muscles become involved including those that help us breathe. Up until five years ago, life expectancy was short with death often due to respiratory failure and lack of ability to ingest nutrition but due to recent technological advances in prolonging life, some ALS patients can now live for decades.

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Reuven maintains his connection to his world using Ezer Mizion AAC equipment despite the ravages of ALS

The question then arises regarding the quality of life of these patients. A typical end stage Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis patient is not mobile at all. He lies in his bed or recliner, unable to lift his arm to reach for a tissue, unable to swallow food, unable to ask for a drink. He is completely dependent on his caretaker for every need. Continue reading When ALS Robs Its Victim of Every Skill He HadFacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinmail

 Autism: What It Is and What It Isn’t

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Taking the Mystery out of Autism

Autism is frightening. It brings to mind a child that not only has physical or cognitive disabilities but also cannot relate to and join normal society. There is a tremendous lack of understanding about the ASD spectrum which leads to compounding the fears of the average parent.   Continue reading  Autism: What It Is and What It Isn’tFacebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinmail

Momentous Conference on AAC (Alternative and Augmentative Communication)

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Communication Being Re-learned

Ezer Mizion, a leader in the field of Alternative and Augmentative Communication, recently hosted a major conference whose purpose was to bring the latest innovations to both professionals and family members. The plight of those who were never given or who have lost their ability to speak has long been on Ezer Mizion radar.

One cannot imagine the anguish of an intelligent, hitherto productive adult with opinions of many subjects who is forced to remain silent as discussions take place around him. His dignity is further reduced when obliged to accept as his daily needs what others provide for him, unable to make his basic wants known. Continue reading Momentous Conference on AAC (Alternative and Augmentative Communication)Facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinmail