A New Look at Life

By Heli Ben Elisha, Kindergarten Teacher at Eliya and the mother of a daughter with visual impairment

When our daughter Shira, now aged 13, sits in the classroom she cannot read from the board even if she sits in the front row. She has difficulty seeing small details and from a distance of more than 2 meters, she can barely see anything. When outdoors she has difficulty judging differences in height and depth. She wears glasses that protect her eyes but do not help with her vision. Shira has involuntary, darting side-to-side movements of the eyes and has great difficulty focusing.

When she was born everything seemed to be completely normal and none of the routine check-ups pointed to anything unusual. At 3 months Shira developed a high fever and had a swollen fontanel? and suspected meningitis.  Our pediatrician referred us to the Emergency Room.   Following a series of examinations, the doctors noticed that Shira could not focus at all and made no eye contact. When the doctor approached us and said that he wanted to talk to us, we naturally suspected that we were going to receive very bad news. It was then that we heard for the first time the word Coloboma – a congenital defect (impairment) in the development of the eye. At some stage during the pregnancy the natural development of the eye stopped. In Shira’s case the defect disability is in the retina, which simply did not develop fully. As a result she has limited vision in the central area. It was explained to us that the Coloboma affects both of Shira’s eyes. The doctor went on to explain that although our daughter might have traces of sight, it was impossible to know for certain what the long-term situation would be. Shira would be issued with a Certificate for the Blind and would most likely be officially recognized as having 100% disability.

The time following this diagnosis was extremely difficult. These were days of great emotional distress; my husband and I myself – we did not know how we were going to face the future. We cried together and supported each other. One of the things that worked in our favour is that we are both very practical people, and we immediately focused on finding the best people to talk to. On the very night that we were given Shira’s diagnosis by the doctors, my husband could not sleep and spent time searching on the internet for information about Coloboma and finding other parents who were struggling with the same problem.

While still in the hospital we learnt about the Eliya’s specialized Day Care Centers, suited for children with vision impairments and blindness. Thanks to with the help of Eliya’s Social Worker we managed very quickly to register Shira. So, at the age of just 5 months Shira joined the “babies group” at Eliya, and she later continued there to their kindergarten.

The kindergarten teachers at Eliya are trained in the field of special education and perform what I can only call “holy work”. They are totally dedicated to both – the parents and the children. With endless patience they do everything possible to advance each child’s development. Eliya is not only an educational institution but also a a Rehabilitation Day Centre. The kindergarten children are attended by professionals in many areas specializing in vision impairments, such as occupational, vision, and speech therapists. In addition, the children receive physiotherapy and hydrotherapy treatments. Since Visual impairments can also cause delay in the early developmental stages, Eliya places emphasis on treating motor skills and on improving basic daily skills such as mobility and space orientation.

As a result of all these tools that Shira received in the kindergarten, she began to overcome her impairment. Her vivacious personality and her desire to become independent undoubtedly helped as well. We became acquainted with other parents whose children had various forms of visual impairment, and we became good friends. Through this support group we learnt a lot more about the disabilities of our children and how to accept this reality. As a result of joining that support we decided that we would give Shira every chance to develop (as much far as possible) like other children. She entered first grade at a regular school accompanied by a Support Teacher, and today she is already studying in the seventh grade.

Prior to Shira’s birth I was not involved in the field of education. However, as she entered our lives, I came to understand that I, too, needed to change something in my life. I soon realized that my dream was to change professions and to undergo  get the appropriate training in order to join Eliya and work there.. I started my new job as Administrator? Assistant? for the Special Education kindergarten, working with the children with cerebral-palsy, and when Shira was five-years old, I began studying for a degree in Education. After three years, I continued my studies to in the field of special education and completed a Teacher’s Diploma. During this period, I opened a pre-nursery playgroup at my home in Tsur Yitshak and gained experience in the field.

Once I finished  my studies, I applied to Eliya for a position in one of their centres with the aim of finally “closing the circle”. I was welcomed with open arms and following an interview was accepted as a kindergarten teacher at Eliya. I have now been working there for two years.  I realize that since I have been through similar experiences with my daughter, I am able to ease parents’ tension and give them the confidence to continue working hard with their children. Helping other parents in this way has now become my life’s mission.

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