Eliraz Levi is the head of the speech-language pathology department at ALEH’s rehabilitative and residential center in Jerusalem. She has more than seventeen years of the field and has been working at ALEH for four years.
“After I moved to Israel, I heard about ALEH from some of my friends who worked there, and who loved their work,” said Eliraz. “They wanted me to see what it was like, so I went to visit.”
During her first visit, Eliraz met the ALEH children and watched clips of them pushing their limits at the Jerusalem Marathon. The experience brought her to tears. “I decided then and there that ALEH is where I wanted to work. This is where I want to make a difference.”
Speech-language pathologists develop plans for how each child communicates and is fed, providing constant guidance and assessing growth. As the head of the department, Eliraz oversees the other speech pathologists, ensuring the highest level of professionalism and efficiency.
Eliraz describes ALEH as a happening place, with a host of daily activities scheduled for the residents and special education students. “Every day is different, it’s never boring. I’m in contact with the teachers, the parents, the staff. We all work together so that each child gets exactly what they need.”
“Every student has a different way of communicating,” explains Eliraz. “The challenge is finding the optimal way for each student to communicate and tracking the progress to make sure that we are helping them advance. Progress is made very slowly, but it is so fulfilling to show the parents what their children are able to achieve. Sometimes, a change is so slight that you can miss it, so I make it a point to highlight even the smallest milestones so that the parents can appreciate them. There is nothing like the feeling of accomplishment when a child makes progress due to your efforts.”
ALEH believes that every child, no matter the level of disability, is capable of communicating in some way.
“Most of the kids at ALEH are non-verbal, so we teach them alternative and augmented communication (AAC). They don’t use their mouths as their primary method of communication, and they can’t read or write, so we teach them to express what they need and what want to say through symbols. We get them to use symbols from a very young age, even the babies. Some kids can use pictures instead of symbols. They point to the symbols that show what they are thinking and feeling. Children have boards with symbols on their wheelchairs and there are boards everywhere, in every classroom, in every common room, and even at the pool. There are also symbols that can be touched and manipulated for children with visual impairments. All children can find some way to communicate. It’s our job as ALEH’s speech-language pathologists to find the specific method that works for each child and help them communicate to the best of their ability.”
ALEH also provides students with high-tech iGaze eye-tracking system that allows children to communicate by using their eyes to select letters, numbers, symbols and pictures on a computer screen. “This incredible technology gives our children a voice, helping them communicate what activities they like and what we can do to assist them best. It really helps us get to know each child.”
“I love helping the kids connect to those around them, and I love sharing the experience with my family. My children enjoy coming with me to ALEH to help out and play with the kids. Just being at ALEH gives you a wonderful feeling – it’s like no other place. It’s a real privilege to be a part of what is accomplished here every day.”