Monthly Archives: January 2013

Narrowing down the high school choices for ds13

Several weeks ago, ds13 spent a day doing pyschometric testing at the yeshiva we decided is our top choice.   (All of the yeshivos we were looking into require this testing, so you only have to do it once and you can send the results to other yeshivos if you need to.)  After these results were received, all students they were interested in a follow-up interview with were invited on the same day.  Ds was in the hospital then and obviously couldn’t make it for the interview, so once he got out we rescheduled for today.  However, the head of the yeshiva called this morning to say he wasn’t going to be able to make it due to the weather; though ds had already left and the call came three minutes after his bus was scheduled to arrive, fortunately the bus was late and ds got the message in time.

It’s funny how it didn’t occur to me to ask about the results of the testing, which was performed by an independent organization and I could have called to check how he scored.  No one in our family thought of it; to us it was something that had to be done but once the test was taken that was the end of it.  We still wouldn’t know his score if not for a student at that yeshiva who lives locally.  He saw ds at shul on Friday night and said, “I heard you did okay on your test.”  The friend who was with him nudged him and said, “Tell him what the rebbi said.”  So boy #1 told him, ds got the top score of all the applicants to the yeshiva.  That was nice to hear and though I’ve been telling ds all along that he’ll do fine with the testing and not to worry about it, it was good for him to have outside validation.

Around the same time he went for the testing at this yeshiva, he also interviewed for the new high school that will be opening in the coming year here in Karmiel;  the plan is it will be a charedi yeshiva that offers the bagrut at the 5 point level.  Right now all the yeshivos like this are in the center of the country and it would be amazing to have something suitable right here in our city.  If it gets off the ground and the plans for the school continue to be in line with what we’re looking for, I assume this is where ds will attend since I feel very, very strongly that 14 year olds should be living at home.  But we’re making backup plans for attendance at a dorming yeshiva, the one that I mentioned he tested at (assuming he’s accepted) if the local one doesn’t work out.

We decided against testing at Maarava mainly because most of their graduates seem to go with the long term kollel plan.  My husband was in kollel for ten years, so I’m obviously not anti-kollel.  But I am opposed to the idea that kollel is the right choice for everyone, and I’m bothered by the idea that it’s a negative value for men to support their families.  I don’t want ds to be in an institution in which he’ll get messages that push only this path.

Some Anglo parents have told me that although they’re sending their boys to charedi elementary schools, they think that their sons will go to a yeshiva high school that offers secular studies and eventually will enter the professional world just as their husbands did.  I think they’re underestimating the messages their sons will be internalizing, messages that will make it unlikely that they’ll value an education apart from the traditional charedi model.

There are a lot of ways that I feel we’re walking our own path since moving to Israel, and this is one of them.  It may sound like the high school choice I’ve shared about is logical but we know hardly anyone who is making the choices we’re making.  But as I’ve said for years, if you want what everyone else has, then do what everyone else does.  If you want something else, you have to find your own path.


Evaluation at Feuerstein Institute

There have been a lot of trips with Yirmiyahu to various doctors, but almost none of them have been at my initiative – they’ve been following up on things that the doctors have asked me to do.  Obviously it’s been important to get all of these medical tests done – checking his heart, intestines, blood, hearing, sight – but I want to help Yirmiyahu beyond basic health maintenence.  There are so many parts of him that need to be developed, just like every child, but supporting him in these ways will require more consciousness and education – and this isn’t in the realm of the medical world.

That means I need to turn to those who specialize in those areas for assistance, and today Yirmiyahu and I headed to Jerusalem for his evaluation at the world famous Feuerstein Institute.   When I was first trying to connect with them, it took a while to speak to the person in charge of the evaluations for infants, but once I did she scheduled me for an appointment less than three weeks after we spoke.  She told me they have a long waiting list but they give top priority to the parents of infants with T21, since early intervention is especially critical for them.

It was a cold and blustery day, with pouring rain and many hours of bus travel, a day that I held Yirmiyahu for twelve hours straight (with a short break when he was on the mat for part of the evaluation).  And it was worth every second.

The Feuerstein approach is based on the concept of cognitive modifiability, which I think is similar to what neurodevelopmentalists  call neuroplasticity.  That means that the brain isn’t static but grows with use.  Professor Feuerstein has repeatedly shown that a person can be helped to develop his cognitive abilities in a very conscious and purposeful way.  Mediated learning is a big part of this approach, and the goal is to help a child to learn to think, not just to memorize facts.   Their goal for children with T21 is full integration beginning with school and eventually marriage, work and/or post high school studies.

People come from all over the world to benefit from this approach.  In the waiting room I met a mother whose youngest child is now 13 and has T21.  She told me they live in Argentina but since he was two years old they’ve been coming to Israel for six weeks every year (right now it’s summer vacation in South America) for her son to have intensive daily therapy at the Institute.  And since he’s the youngest of twelve children, when they started coming she was bringing seven children with her for those six weeks!  She told me she searched all over the world and this was the best place she found.  Her son was just bar mitzva and did all the leining – she said that his progress thanks to the Institute has been amazing and worth all the efforts in coming.  I wish I could have spoken to her longer – she’s the first parent of a child with T21 that I’ve met in person since Yirmiyahu was born – but after a few minutes of chatting the evaluator arrived and our conversation ended.

I had the chance to meet with Professor Feuerstein, a living legend at the age of 90+ who has been a leader in this field for over fifty years.   He did a short evaluation of Yirmiyahu (this was in addition to the main evaluation) and though it was a bit difficult for me to hear everything he said (since Yirmiyahu was complaining in my ear and the professor didn’t speak very loudly), he was very enthusiastic about Yirmiyahu’s development so far.  He clearly delights in working with children and was warm and encouraging.  He himself has a grandchild with T21 who is in his early 20s now.  He concluded our conversation by telling me to be sure to send him the invitation for Yirmiyahu’s wedding.  :)

I think Yirmiyahu is developing well, but I don’t really have anything to compare to.  So it was helpful to get feedback from those who have been working with the T21 population for so long.  At the end the evaluators commented it’s uncommon for them to see a baby with T21 like Yirmiyahu.  I knew they weren’t referring to his extreme cuteness :)  so  I asked what that meant.  They said that he’s amazing!  I asked what that meant, and they said he’s doing so well in every area – good mouth closure even with a stuffy nose, minimal signs of low muscle tone, attentive to people and sounds, good eye contact and tracking, a lot of verbal babbling  – this isn’t typical for the infants they see.  I’ve been worried that I haven’t been doing enough for him, as well as worrying that the breathing issue caused by his sensitivity to his formula has been compromising his development and this was really reassuring.

I then asked what their thoughts on low/high functioning children were.  One evaluator told me that what matters isn’t the starting point but how much the parents invest into the development of their child, because that’s what determines the outcome.  I told her that while that may be true with older children, I can’t see that it applies in our situation because Yirmiyahu is only six months old and if he’s doing so well, maybe he was born advantaged.

Both evaluators immediately disagreed and said that they noticed a number of things I’m doing that I may not be conscious of that are benefiting him in his development.  I had to ask what I’m doing, since I thought I was just holding him while I was speaking with them!  The examples they gave were all what I consider just being a responsive mother – establishing eye contact, talking to him, holding him securely, showing him things.  Then one said, “What you’ve done that is unusual is believe in his abilities and treat him accordingly.”  They also said that carrying him in a wrap is wonderful for his development since he gets to see so much of the world from a different vantage point than being on the floor.

I put Yirmiyahu on the waiting list for weekly therapy services there (speech, OT, PT), but it will probably be months before there will be room for him.  I don’t know how I would work out a weekly trip with him to Jerusalem, but I’m thinking that if I can do it, it would be very beneficial to work with people who have experience with the specific needs of kids with T21.  They were taken aback when they learned that he’s not getting any kind of therapy where we live except for weekly physical therapy, and asked why.  I told them what I was told, that there’s no benefit to him getting speech therapy until he’s talking, no benefit to occupational therapy because he’s too young, and in any case his physical therapist can integrate elements of all the therapies into his weekly session.  They asked what I thought about that.  I told them that I don’t agree but I’m not going to fight for services because it won’t benefit Yirmiyahu to be seen by therapists who don’t think he needs help and don’t know what kind of help he needs.  I’m learning what I can on my own and trying to add it into the day as much as I can.

As a mother I don’t look for support from the traditional medical representatives, which is a good thing since I’d be very disappointed if I was.  What they like is when you do what you’re told without asking any questions or without any thoughts of your own ( last week a doctor told me with disapproval: “You’re an intelligent woman but you’re independent”).  As a result, I’ve minimized talking about any initiatives I’ve taken with Yirmiyahu.  Even things that to me seem really minor and pretty close to mainstream seem to annoy them – a little example of this is when last week a doctor asked if I give him iron, and I said that it’s included in the vitamin supplement for people with T21 that he gets daily.   Then I was asked with annoyance, why are you giving that instead of the iron supplement that we give to all children?  Honestly, I really don’t think this should be a big deal.  Don’t think that I’m going to bring up craniosacral work, nutritional support, neurodevelopmental techniques…So you might be able to understand how nice it was to be validated rather than criticized for my efforts to help him!

Not only were they encouraging about how he’s developing now, but also about his future.  They’ve worked with so many kids and seen what can be accomplished, so they really believe in kids with T21 and are matter of fact about their ability to accomplish things that most people believe to be unrealistic – namely, to live a normal and meaningful life.


Stocked up with gas masks for the entire family

Soon after moving here last August, I saw notices that gas masks were being distributed in Karmiel and figured that there was no rush to get them – I’d pick them up when I had a chance.  Every Israeli citizen is supposed to be equipped with a gas mask, and though it’s important there was no immediate need for them and I had lots of things to do in the wake of our recent move.

Unfortunately, I later learned that it was just a temporary local distribution, and all the regular distribution points are in different cities.  This isn’t a big deal if you have a car, but there’s no way for me to bring home twelve gas masks by bus.  So this stayed on the edge of my mind as something I needed to do, but not something I could accomplish without a significant cash outlay for a rental car or taxis.

When I learned that last week was the end of a one week distribution for gas masks in Karmiel, this time I knew to make it a priority.  Dh came home by taxi loaded down with twelve gas masks (we also picked up one for ds19), and I’m so glad to have this taken care of.  I wanted to put them in our storage are since they take up a lot of space but my kids think I’m totally irresponsible since they’re supposed to be kept somewhere that they can be quickly accessed, though I told them that they can be moved to a higher priority spot if G-d forbid it becomes necessary.

This is one of those things you take care with the hope that you’ll never need them.


Kids are home sick…and oh, how nice it’s been!

We’ve had some kind of virus that’s knocking out almost everyone in our family, starting from about two weeks ago.  It’s been taking a long time to clear – maybe because one person gets better and then the next person gets it!

One thing that it’s really brought home to me is how much daily stress is created by sending ds5 and ds3 to gan.  Being home with sick kids isn’t something parents usually consider a fun time, but this past week that the two of them have been home sick has been the nicest I can remember in a long time.  Dh agrees.  It’s been a relief to be released from living according to someone else’s schedule, the rush in the morning to get them out on time, the rush to pick them up and them coming home tired and out of sorts.

At this point in my life I’m living with a significant amount of cognitive dissonance – that means that there are choices that I’m making that I’m consciously aware of not lining up with what I really want.  One of these is having my littles in preschool and kindergarten.  There were good reasons for these choices, but some of those reasons have shifted and become less compelling.

Dh said he’d really like ds3 to be home with me, effective immediately.  I feel the same way but I really don’t want to tell his preschool teacher and the cheder administration that he’s not coming back.  For one thing, this is the same teacher ds5 had last year (she was teaching four year olds then), and I pulled him out at the end of February.  She’s a dedicated and excellent teacher who has done a great job – I have only positives to say – and I don’t want to insult her.  And I also don’t want to become known as the flaky mom who puts her kids in a framework and then pulls them out when she feels like it.  So my ego/social needs and my need for integrity in how I live my life are conflicting – I don’t want to be looked at in a certain way, I don’t want to make others uncomfortable.

Then there’s what I do want: to help my children develop all parts of themselves, to have a strong degree of family connectedness, to parent according to my ideals rather than my fears.

Actually, this is the same issue I faced when I began homeschooling over twelve years ago.  At that time, I had three children in school (2nd grade, kindergarten, preschool) who were all doing very well.  But I believed that they could be doing better out of the school framework.  However, I was really afraid of making a choice that would position me to be seen by others as ‘different’.  It was a huge decision that took a lot of courage, and one that I often looked back at as one I was glad I made, that made a huge difference in what our family became.  It’s interesting to be faced with something so similar at this stage, and yet the factors are all so different.  It’s these factors that cause me to question and doubt myself – a new culture, a new language, a religious identity that is determined to a large degree by your degree of communal conformity…it makes what seems like a familiar decision entirely new and different – and that brings with it fear of making the wrong choice and failing.

This year I’ve been trying to see if it’s possible to raise school kids with the traits of homeschoolers.  I reasoned that my kids used to do academics in the morning and social stuff in the afternoon.  So perhaps I could consider their school hours their social time, and the afternoons when they’re home as our ‘homeschooling’ time.   So far it’s been pleasant, but it’s clear that homeschooling isn’t just about teaching in a more relaxed manner, or your kids pursuing their interests, or spending lots of relaxed time together.  There’s also the negatives of school that aren’t affecting them, which takes a lot of energy to moderate.  I’ve known this intellectually for many years, but now I’m experiencing it first hand.

There’s always something to think about, but it’s been really nice this week to just enjoy how things are without needing to make any choices.