Our Love. Their Courage. A Donald Berman Center
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Featured Staff Member - Keren Grant

By profession, Keren Grant frees children from prison. Not your average jail breaker, Keren's mission is to break through to disabled children who are completely unable to speak, and give them a means to communicate with the outside world. As a speech therapist at Meshi's nursery and kindergarten, some of Keren's top tools are sophisticated, specially-designed computers to open channels of communication for children "trapped" within their own bodies. Her methods are painstaking, patient, and full of love.

"I'm always looking for the right key," explains the petite British-born young woman, who has gained international renown for her innovative methods. "Every child is different, and every communications program I build is custom-made." A case in point is Avram, now six, whose severe muscular disability hinders his walking and other motor skills. When he first arrived at Meshi at age four-and-a-half, he didn't speak, and could only utter a guttural "ahhhhh" sound. "He did some pointing," Keren recalled, "but for the most part he was a closed, non-communicative child who did not initiate any communication with the outside world."

Keren first built a "communications board" for Avram, with pictures of objects and actions common to his life: food, toys, activities from kindergarten, animals, and more. Once he recognized these, she added pictures showing action (the verbs) "I want," "I like," "Give me," and others. A third group of pictures were descriptive (the adjectives)-big, small, red, etc. As Keren guided Avram through the pictures on the board-based on the very structure of language-- she presented him with his next tool: a specialized "tablet" laptop computer, sturdy and durable for youngsters with impaired motor coordination.

Keren now created a computerized communications board for the child, who could manipulate the touch screen to point to the words and actions he wanted to express. At his touch, the computer "talked," to say each word aloud. "I can never forget the moment when Avram first comprehended that this was his tool for communication with the outside world. A wall simply fell, and this wonderful child was able to communicate with his family and his schoolmates for the first time in his life!" Keren exclaimed.

TRUE SUCCESS FROM THE MOST POWERFUL TOOL

"And once he 'got it,'" she continued, "his progress was amazing. He began initiating conversation, and got such pure pleasure from the computer. We brought his parents to the school to observe his therapy sessions. Imagine what they saw: they had only known their silent child, and suddenly there was a completely different boy before them. Their perspectives totally changed, and we enabled them to borrow the special computer to use at home. (Each computer costs over $6,500.) This year we went one giant step forward and took the computer away from Avram---He can now speak six-word sentences on his own, and he's still making steady progress. Best, once he began interacting with his classmates, he has become one of the most loved children around."

According to Keren Grant, Meshi is one of the few rehabilitation centers in Israel that uses Alternative Augmentative Communication--methods that supplement or replace impaired speech and writing to meet a person's communication needs -- to the highest level. Each child's computer is equipped with a communications board that the Meshi staff has created especially for him or her. Speech therapists and their assistants give the children one-on-one sessions, augmented by group sessions as well. Assistants-or "shadows"-join the child in the classroom, using the computer to translate what the teacher says. From kindergarten on, there are several children in each Meshi class whose sole means of communication is through their computer, enabling them to participate in class and "speak" to their classmates. For those with particularly severe motor impairment, the computer is adapted for their limited abilities: Eight-year-old Fayge, who is quadriplegic, can only move her head. Her computer is operated by two switches at either side of a special headgear, connected to her wheelchair. "We had no idea who she was. This child was completely trapped in her body," recalls Fayge's teacher. "Now she shares funny stories with us, painstakingly shaking her head to select the pictures and actions to 'speak' through her computer."

"At Meshi we're quite cognizant of the fact that even the finest therapy that can make a disabled child walk has little value if we don't know how the child feels," Keren notes. "Towards that end, there are 10 speech and communications therapists in our kindergarten alone working with very young children. This early intervention is a major component in Meshi's success. Add to that our use of the latest technology and the best equipment, and you have strong tools with which to work. But Meshi's true success comes from the most powerful tool of all: a multi-disciplinary team that is 100% dedicated to giving every single child the very best we can offer."

Previous Staff Members
Esti Kushelevsky
For severely disabled schoolchildren, the ability to speak can be a powerful boon. Yet giving these children the gift of communication is a grueling mission that demands skill, ingenuity, and infinite patience. For veteran Meshi Center speech therapist Esti Kushelevsky, the job is her passion and joy.
Rochy Pfeffer
Rochy Pfeffer watches miracles unfold before her eyes each day. And to do her part to keep them happening, she carries a special screwdriver and toolkit through the corridors of Meshi. Poised & ready for action, the young physical therapy aide - & very deft "handyman" - is responsible for maintaining Meshi's 25 "Hart Walkers.
Talia Farber
Talia Farber, who heads the Meshi School’s Assistive Technology department, pioneered this field in Israel, harnessing technology to “substitute” for impaired functions of the body. Under her guidance, Meshi has become one of the most technology-oriented rehabilitative schools in the entire nation.
Chana Zolberg & Michal Yitzchaki
The women behind the organization and maintenance of Meshi kindergarten’s hundreds of pieces of specialized equipment are two young physical therapists, Chana Zolberg and Michal Yitzchaki, who take the daunting task in stride.
 
Keren Grant
By profession, Keren Grant frees children from prison. Not your average jail breaker, Keren's mission is to break through to disabled children who are completely unable to speak, and give them a means to communicate with the outside world.
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