Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Shalva - Akiva's Afternoon Program for kids with special needs

It's 4:28pm. Ordinarily, I'd be scurrying around the house dealing with Akiva - wiping noses, changing music/dvd's, mopping pee, running laundry, making snacks...waiting for Melina to come and whisk him away to an afternoon activity.

Not since Akiva started Shalva. Shalva runs an afterschool program for kids with special needs - like Akiva - with developmental delay mostly;  Down Syndrome, MR, ADD, ADHD and ASD, etc, who come from school on their school buses to enjoy a few hours in the hands of young, caring staff in an absolutely lovely environment overlooking the Jerusalem forest.

So far, so good. Akiva goes happily, asks for Shalva on non-Shalva days and even better, the staff there seems to be enjoying him despite an initial settling in period that has included some hitting and scratching and no small amount of toileting adventures.

As a parent - how to ford the beginning of a new program? What to 'tell' and what to let them 'find out on their own?' How much to badger the staff so that you feel that you 'know' what's going on?

Best practices require that you share the good with the bad. What will be hard in the transition to the new space/program, how to interact with your child and how to make his/her experience great for everyone. As for maintaining regular contact with the staff - sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

Still that's easier said than done. We keep a notebook that's passed back and forth between Akiva's teachers at school. We instituted the notebook right away with Shalva but it took a few weeks for the counselors to readily write in it and moreover to cover what needed to know the most - did he eat dinner and how did toileting go (did he go or not).

Even with the notebook, it's hard to know what he's really doing each day. Akiva gets off the bus with a smile but he rarely shares any of his days' adventures making it challenging to follow up with him at the end of a long day. He may give you a word from an event of 3 months ago or from the day before. Rarely does he share in 'real time.'

Most importantly, how does your child seem? We take our cues from his stress level - is he grinding his teeth or chewing on his fingers excessively? Is he responding - in his way - to questions in a pleasant manner? Does he seem tidy and well cared for? Focusing on the basics will help you over that initial period of worry and 'is my child being taken care of properly.'

Thankfully, Akiva appears to be settling in well and Ira and I are thrilled - for ourselves, for the big boys and for Akiva, who now has social opportunities beyond the school day and Shutaf.