By Ruth Kaniel
Arugot, located in Haifa – Israel, is a dynamic learning and therapy center for children with learning disabilities, developmental delays and emotional problems. A range of nurturing programs address the needs of 400 children, all from the lower socio-economic sector.
A multi-disciplinary staff provides remedial tutoring for dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia; occupational therapy for developmental delays and sensory issues; speech therapy for language delays; and expressive therapies such Art Therapy, Drama Therapy, Animal Assisted Therapy for emotional problems. All treatments take place at one location.
The work with children is enhanced by ongoing parental supervision, giving parents valuable tools to help their children retain achievements gained in therapy, outside of the therapy setting.
An innovative multi-sensory Snoezelen Room is used in diverse ways – such as emotional therapy using a dance/movement model and occupational therapy. Unique methods in the Snoezelen Room have evolved at Arugot such as treating war victims for trauma, treating groups of siblings in co-therapy and taking a cat inside combining Pet Therapy with Snoezelen Room Therapy.
In addition to a learning and therapy center, Arugot runs 3 developmental preschools for children with developmental delays who all have high potential. With early intervention and intensive treatments in the area of occupational and speech therapy, they have the ability to overcome their difficulties and join their peers in regular classes once they begin first grade. Arugot boasts a record of 75% – 85% success rate of mainstreaming graduates.
Children attend preschools for 3 – 4 years from age 3 till 6/7. Learning takes place in small groups with a low teacher-student ratio. All staff members are qualified in special education or in the paramedical field.
Professional methods used in our preschools include:
- ToM – Theory of Mind:
Theory of Mind proposes that people understand that they don’t share the same thoughts and feelings as others. This awareness develops naturally in typically developing children. Children slowly acquire the realization that other people look at events from a different perspective. Special needs children lag behind their typically developing peers in their development of theory of mind. This impedes their social and communication skills.
During early childhood, children learn the early skills needed for theory of mind later on. These skills include the ability to: pay attention to people and copy behavior, recognize emotions in others and understand concepts such as happy and sad, know that they are different from others, know that personal desires affect actions, understand cause and result, use their imagination and pretend.
With normative development, theory of mind emerges between the age of 4 – 5 in the following order: the understanding of “wanting” – different people have different desires; the understanding of “thinking” – different people have different, but potentially true beliefs about the same thing and that people’s actions are based on what they think is going to happen; the understanding that “seeing leads to knowing” – if you haven’t seen something you don’t necessarily know about it; the understanding of “false beliefs” – sometimes people believe things that are not true, and they act according to their beliefs, not according to what is really true.
Developmentally delayed children don’t develop theory of mind naturally. This impairs their social skills and communication patterns. By understanding the theory of mind, professionals understand the behavior of young children and help them develop.
- I.R. The Greenspan Floortime Approach:
The Floortime Approach is a technique used to push children to their full potential. Parents and professionals are encouraged to engage with children on the floor using play by entering their games. They follow the child’s lead and then direct the child to increasingly complex interactions. This is called “opening and closing circles of communication” and is central to the Floortime approach. Floortime aims to help children reach 6 developmental milestones which are crucial for emotional and intellectual growth: self-regulation, intimacy, two way communication, complex communication, emotional ideas and emotional thinking. Floortime addresses speech, motor and cognitive skills through the focus on emotional development.
- ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis):
ABA is a scientifically validated approach to understanding behavior and how it is affected by environment. Behavior refers to actions and skills. Environment includes any influence – physical or social – that might change or be changed by one’s behavior. Methods of ABA have helped learners acquire many different skills including language. ABA focuses on principles of how learning takes place e.g. using positive reinforcement. Using ABA, it is possible to effect meaningful and positive changes in behavior.
- Instrumental Enrichment based on Dr. Feuerstein’s methods:
Dr. Feuerstein’s theory of cognitive modifiability holds profound implications for the learning disabled. A remedial technique called Instrumental Enrichment is used to teach thinking skills. Learning is enhanced through the child’s capacity to progress through direct exposure in formal and informal learning situations.
- Giraffe Language – Changing Learned Communication Patterns – a behavioral method helping children to resolve conflicts:
An approach that teaches children to change their way of interacting from negative to positive patterns. Giraffe Language is characterized by non-violent communication, it is the language of the heart – a term coined by Dr. Marshal Rosenberg. Children can be taught to respect each other, react with compassion and feel empathy towards peers. They learn skills that enable them to avoid assumption, clarify feelings and settle their differences. This is juxtaposed with Jackal Language which might be naturally acquired as children grow and develop and is characterized by defensiveness, resistance and counterattack. Children in Arugot preschools learn how to communicate effectively, promoting healthy relationships at preschool and at home and later on in the classroom.
The staff at Arugot continues to learn new, updated methods, participating in courses, lectures and professional conferences. Our Snoezelen Room expert recently presented papers at two international conferences: 1) International Conference organized by ECARTE (European Consortium for Arts Therapies) on: “Traditions in Transition” New Articulations in the Arts Therapies in Krakow – presenting her groundbreaking work with mothers of children at our Center. 2) International Conference at Bijie, China on “Creative Arts in Early Children Education”.