Professional Development – from a traumatic diagnosis to personal growth
My son's diagnosis as a learning disabled child opened a window to a fascinating new world for me, of which I have been a student ever since: I studied for a BA degree in special education and became a professional in learning deficiencies. Later on I studied for an MA degree and specialized as a diagnostician and corrective teacher. The knowledge which I acquired in my studies I applied in treating my son. At present I a professional learning deficiencies therapist.
My son's diagnosis was a traumatic experience, but from a perspective of twenty years I can say that it was a founding event for me as a mother and a human being. Our son presented formative gaps as a result of high fever convulsions, followed by formative regression, especially in the linguistic and motoric domains. Due to difficulties that were observed at his nursery school, his teacher reported his objective difficulties compared to his peers to the educational authorities. Due to her reports and those of the kindergarten's psychologist, we were invited to a placing committee in regard to placing him in a another nursery school, more suitable to his special needs, where his difficulties would be treated professionally.
The committee labeled him as a child with special needs, suffering from significant linguistic and fine motoric difficulties, as well as difficulties in communicating with his peers. He was referred to a diagnostic/rehabilitative nursery school within a wider therapeutic framework at Tel Hashomer. On the same day I decided to study the subject in depth; I started reading professional literature, and enrolled to study special education. Four years later I graduated from the BA program Cum Lauda – with theoretical as well as practical knowledge.
Being a mother I searched for the right direction for my son, which would enable him to fulfill his potential. The knowledge which I acquired in my academic studies permitted me to understand his difficulties; and the practical tools allowed me to assist him privately in developing specific skills, and even chose the proper professional assistance. During that time my son went through a systemic diagnosis and a linguistic as well as motoric deficiency was found side by side with an above norm cognitive ability. It was recommended that he would continue to be enrolled in an ordinary nursery school and receive professional assistance. I hand-picked the best occupational therapist and communication clinician for him with whom he worked intensively. Meanwhile we moved to a new neighborhood, there he was assisted by a integrative teacher at the ordinary nursery school. He acquired reading and writing skills, as well as organizational and task assignment ones with my assistance,. Upon entering elementary school he was mature and ready, and no problems arose at that junction.
During the years I continued to study and perfect my professional skills in the discipline of learning deficiencies and the integration of students with special needs. At "Nitzan" I was qualified as a "learning deficiencies" diagnostician and a corrective teacher, and I acquired tools from Prof. Feuerstein's diagnostic, dynamic toolbox. Later on I completed an MA thesis in behavioral sciences at "Maagalim" institute. My thesis dealt with behavior design in a small class of learning disabled children. Afterwards I specialized at "Beit Berl" in group leading in order to assist parents of learning disabled children. The head of the faculty was the psychologist Haim Weinberg.
Feeling the need to delve deeper into the learning deficiencies domain, I enrolled at the MA program of the Israeli extension of Derby University.
These were fascinating studies; I learnt a lot and graduated Cum Lauda. Since I aim at constant development, PhD studies were a natural sequel.
However, before reviewing the PhD contribution to my professional progress, I would like to describe retrospectively my professional apprenticeship.
My personal practice is based on a belief in an educational mission which aims to allow students, especially those with learning difficulties, the full realization of their potential; bridging, for students and their parents, the gaps between their scholastic achievements and their social and emotional functioning. My guiding principles are empathy and wholeness as well as professionalism and clarity.
After completion of my BA studies I sought to work with a difficult and complicated population, as a way to fulfill myself and my goals. The emotional and scholastic experience of tutoring my son introduced me to those children in need of different ways to express their potential, who deserve support.
I arrived at an elementary school in Lod, being received by a principal endowed with a vision. Rather quickly I received a mandate to introduce new programs and practices in my area of expertise. During the initial three years I was the homeroom teacher of a class of children with a variety of learning deficiencies. I concentrated on their gradual integration into ordinary classes. I introduced a successful "Token Economy" scheme to improve their behavior, to their own and the staff's satisfaction.
In my second year I was offered another position in diagnosing and assisting learning disabled children. We opened a scholastic and emotional support facility for those children at school, which operated during and after school hours, assisted by a psychologist, tutors and teacher who underwent a specific training. Together with the teaching staff we worked out an idiosyncratic treatment plan to assist each student in expressing his talents.
I actually acquired a special position in school: being at the same time a diagnostician, a homeroom teacher and a subject leader. This multitasking contributed in many ways to my professional progress, and opened many new professional opportunities. As a learning disabled counselor and a past special education teacher I did a lot to prevent learning disabled students from dropping out, this through attention to all support circles: home, school, family, siblings and community.
During those years I also diagnosed and treated at "Nitzan"; instructing parents in "Learning Deficiencies" and groups in "Interpersonal communication". Later on I opened a private clinic where I diagnose, practice corrective teaching and holistic support of the child and his family.
When analyzing my professional progress throughout the years, I detect unique characteristics that propel me forward, in learning, development and professionalism. My best trait is persistence and dedication. All trough my many functions I assisted, guided and supported adults and children in special needs of love, caring and complete acceptance. My career is very meaningful and central to my life; it feeds my vision and inspires me with a sense of mission. The process which I underwent with my son, created a self probing process, through which I found a unique path to people's hearts and minds, to being tolerant and to tolerating the different and the slow.
Next I wish to specify the ways by which my doctoral studies assisted in my professional and human progress.
First of all, my doctoral studies inflated my knowledge. I am constantly exposed to new and up to date professional literature. This accumulated knowledge anchors my acquired expertise to theory. My enlarged theoretical knowledge clarifies and strengthens my practice (Shkedi…). Moreover, it gives definitions and a rational for actual phenomena. Therefore the accumulated knowledge serves as a feedback to my practice.
My Work Based Project allows me to turn my life’s project into a PhD dissertation. This is has been a new experience for me, expanding my professional potential. Research experience has sharpened my natural tools. For example, as a diagnostician I take advantage of observation and interviewing techniques acquired during my academic research, as principal tools in learning about my patients. As a diagnostician I map the skills of a boy/adolescent, looking for strengths and exposing weaknesses; while as a researcher I use the same tools to gather and formulate knowledge. As a qualitative researcher I examine the diagnostic/therapeutic field from a wider perspective, creating a research narrative and using it as a basis for an optimal treatment method for ADD children.
Research experience has augmented my observation skill. As a diagnostician I am required to observe my patients, their families, other professionals, etc. My enhanced ability to observe strengths, weaknesses, to identify interactional dynamics (between the child and other family members, between the family and other professionals, etc.) makes me a better diagnostician. As a researcher too I am required to observe from a wider angle, to position my lens at a distance in order to capture more details, and document a wider and more general reality.
Objective observation requires a certain distance. As a diagnostician I observe the singularities – the child, members of his family, etc. At a higher level I function within a case. An academic dissertation requires me to distance myself from the unique and prepare a multi-faced analysis of my work. This wide perspective enables me to identify similar patterns and general processes.
Doubtless, these processes which I have experienced during my studies – acquiring up to date knowledge, widening my perspective, sharpening my professional tools – these prepared my professional passage from a diagnostician to a case manager.
In fact, the "method" perfected during my years of work with my son was mainly intuitive. The child was at the center of different treatment plans, and I – as a mother and a professional in formation—kept in touch with the therapists.
As a mother I spent precious time and resources wandering among professionals and suffering frustrations. I can still remember my initial lack of knowledge and feelings of alienation and going astray, and they form the basis of the empathy that I feel toward the parents of my patients. The pattern of my treatment method was developed in conjunction with the growth of my son. Only after becoming a professional, did I learn the skill required to pick the right supporting personnel, to manage the whole process.
I started referring my patients to suitable treatments, while often serving as a go between them and schools or the medical establishment. Later on I began case managing. First of all, I conduct a diagnosis, then I meet the parents and explain my findings. I arrive with the parents at school (nursery, high school, army) and present the diagnosis; I contact the educational counselors and homeroom teachers, and inform them of the learning profile of my patient. Then, based on all data, we create a work plan. I meet regularly with all those who are involved with my patient, in order to create a common ground and team work to advance the child/adolescent. Together we examine the proper execution of the work plan according to my recommendations (if and what kind of assistance is given in school? are they implemented with regard to examinations? is there scholastic improvement?)
Case management is in fact an additional layer of supervision in school. Out of my experience I can easily demonstrate a difference in attitude toward a professional case manager than toward lay parents. Often school personnel are not even aware of a learning deficiency.
Out of my personal experience, and my daily practice an integrative model was created, comprising: diagnosis; a learning plan based on strengths, guidance of the parents and school personnel, corrective teaching, case managing all relations with the authorities, and keeping close ties with supporting circles.
Last year I was qualified by "Nitzan" as a personal coach of youth with learning deficiencies and their parents.
The need for coaching arose out of my familiarity with children and their parents and with difficulties that occur in schools as a result of misunderstandings and communication breakdowns. Currently I coach parents and youth with learning deficiencies, improve their scholastic results, family climates and quality of living. The motto of co-active coaching is that the trainee is a holistic human being, and that all the answers reside within himself; therefore we assist him in finding himself and his strengths, while identifying a supportive structure. For me coaching is another layer that is integrated within the systemic model.
After being qualified as a coach, I was invited by "Nitzan" CEO to join a new project: "Coaching parents of children with learning deficiencies" at all ages, with a view of improving their skills in advocating for their children, and their quality of the life. "Nitzan" is the leading Israeli association that strives to enable the learning disabled population to achieve their full potential. "Nitzan" treats thousands of individuals each year, responding to the special needs of children, youth and adults. Nitzan’s services include didactic assessments, psychological treatment, para-medical treatment and rehabilitation towards independent living. "Nitzan" is interested in developing support services to parents of children with learning deficiencies. "Nitzan" believes that parents’ cooperation is crucial to improving the life of children with learning deficiencies, however, little is known about the needs of these parents.
Parents need to acquire the tools necessary to better plead for their children and support them. Because of lack of information and tools, very often they turn to me to manage the case for them.
Within the new project we have developed a workshop with a view of devising a supportive parental model. This plan plays an important role in my daily diagnostic and therapeutic work with the learning disabled and their parents.
Seven professionals take part in the workshop: The CEO of "Nitzan", two psychologists, a pediatrician, two parents’ coaches, and I. It is directed by Dr. Haviva Eyal – a clinical psychologist and family coach.
This project and the model that it will produce are supported by extensive research intended to define the needs of Israeli parents to the learning disabled, and by analyzing field work that is done in the country. The final outcome of the research will be a unified model that would serve "Nitzan" in all its parent support projects. As a part of the project I will coach and empower one parent of a girl with learning disability. My findings among others will serve as the basis for the future model. The process will be backed by questionnaires at every stage. The initial model will be analyzed and improved, with a view to our field work, until we reach a final, homogenous, version for parents’ coaching. It may also improve relations between parents and children. Later on, we – who participate in its development – will teach the parental model at Nitzan and privately.
Finally, my doctoral studies have been a major contribution to my professional identity. Prior to them I had many identities: a diagnostician, a corrective teacher, a counselor and a coach of parents and staff. My PhD project integrated all this into one occupation – case managing according to a model which I have developed in the last twenty years.