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Featured Staff Member - Esti Kushelevsky

BEGINNING WITH THE WORD: SUPER SPEECH THERAPIST OPENS NEW WORLDS

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.

“The hardest cases—which include most of Meshi’s children—are those where a child has multiple disabilities. We have children who are completely paralyzed, plus they have vision problems and are unable to speak at all. Others may have hearing and language impairments, compounded by weak muscle tone. For every child, we use a myriad of methods to enable them to communicate as clearly as possible. And for some children, it’s a miraculous breakthrough.”  

Ten-year-old Eden, a beautiful girl who suffers from the severest level of cerebral palsy, is nearly 100% paralyzed and her vision is impaired. When she arrived at Meshi three years ago, she could barely speak or express her emotions to the “outside world.” Esti and her speech therapy team—in tandem with Meshi’s occupational and physical therapists—have worked tirelessly with Eden, seeking new ways to free the child from her bounds of silence. Today Eden is able to communicate with her teachers and  friends via a “talking” computer that she operates by painstakingly turning her head to touch switches. Each switch helps her scan a special communication board displayed on the screen till she finds the pictures that convey the message she seeks. From saying “I’m hungry for hamburgers” to solving her second-grade math problems, Eden has come alive, thanks to her special computer. “It’s been a struggle to find the proper devices to meet Eden’s very complex needs and to organize a communication board that she could easily maneuver, but we’re rewarded by seeing the ingenuity, real effort and sheer delight that she uses to communicate.”  

By second grade, every Meshi student has his or her own computer. But, says Esti, the main focus of the speech therapist with those children who can speak is the meticulous work of helping them speak more clearly, organize their thoughts and listen to others. “This may sound no different from what any child needs, yet disabled kids generally lack experience in talking to people and interacting. They realize how crucial it is to be understood, but this task demands enormous practice and patience.

VENTURING OUT INTO THE REAL WORLD

“At Meshi, we give a tremendous amount of private attention to the children, but our policy is to integrate speech therapy within the classroom, rather than pull kids out frequently for private therapy. One of our most ambitious projects to improve speech and communication is to take the students out into the real world beyond Meshi’s gates. An outing to a nearby grocery store or shop begins as we plan the trip with the children, develop the thinking process and practice future conversations with the shopkeeper. The actual outing demands great physical exertion from the kids and intricate logistics by our staff to maneuver wheelchairs across busy streets and inclines, but the experience is always an adventure. Afterwards, students are encouraged to talk about where they were and what they said and did—and prepare for the next fieldtrip. These first steps in speaking and interacting in real life situations lay the groundwork for our children to become part of society.”  

A major goal of the speech therapy team is also to help teachers prepare the children to read. “It’s much harder for a child who doesn’t speak to learn to read, and it can take many years. Yet after they read, this leads to their ability to write. And then they can soar, gaining independence to study on their own, discover the world, and communicate by e-mail. If they have the potential, they can someday pursue distance-learning and an occupation.”

This year, her ninth at Meshi, Esti Kushelevsky is working primarily with first and second graders. “I try to get each and every child—from those who can’t speak at all to those who are very difficult to understand—to acquire the ability to communicate as best as possible. Without hurting their pride, I work to help them speak more clearly or to substitute different words when they can’t make themselves understood. It’s all about confidence building, two of the most important words in my own vocabulary!”

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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