New program helps Orthodox children with autism

The Donald Berman Yaldei Development Centre provides a full range of services to children with intellectual or physical challenges.

A new program for children in the Orthodox Jewish community who are on the autism spectrum or who have developmental delays has been established by the Donald Berman Yaldei Developmental Centre.

BeYachad Academy, which is under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, is located in the Belz Community School and has received financial support from the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal (JCF).

This satellite classroom serves elementary-age children with autism, severe language delay or intellectual challenges. It is also able to accommodate those with attention deficit or hyperactivity disorders and other behavioural issues.

“Children across Quebec and Canada, including those in religious communities, are being diagnosed in increasing numbers with autism and learning challenges,” said Risa Plotnick, director of Yaldei’s school and rehabilitation services. “Our program, which is permitted by the Ministry of Education, provides children access to Yaldei’s wide range of professional services and specialized education.

“More precisely, children with special needs are benefitting from specialized pedagogical and professional support in their local school while participating and socializing with their friends and being an active member of their community school.”

Yaldei’s support from the JCF came through its new Nova Grants program awarded annually.

JCF executive director Kathy Assayag explained, “We established Nova Grants … to encourage agencies, synagogues and community organizations to experiment, to test new or innovative approaches to meeting critical or emerging needs.

“BeYachad Academy epitomizes our raison d’être. Through this initiative we are reaching out to the most vulnerable of our population, children with special needs, while allowing them to be proud of their cultural heritage and socially participate within the community as full members.”

An additional feature of BeYachad Academy (Hebrew for together) is on-site training, coaching and professional development for the staff. They are learning how best to tailor learning based on each child’s individual needs, while integrating the students within the regular classroom setting and school activities.

Concurrently, the Orthodox communities are being made aware that these specialized services are available to all children who need them. BeYachad’s approach is family focused and community participation involvement is key to its success, Plotnick said.

“When children with special needs are displaced from their religious community schools and sent to schools outside of their community, it stigmatizes the students and their families and in the end hinders the child’s learning and progress,” she added.

“Removed from their community and culture and uncomfortable in an unfamiliar environment, the child becomes socially isolated from their peers, which affects their personal growth long-term and impacts their families.”

Founded in 1997, Yaldei offers a range of clinical, educational, and recreational programs and services to help children and youth of all abilities reach their full potential. It serves newborns through to young adults of 21 who have emotional, intellectual and/or physical disabilities, and is especially noted for its early intervention techniques.

Its main facility is on Van Horne Avenue, in the former Jewish People’s and Peretz Schools building.

A limited number of JCF Nova Grants, ranging from $25,000 to $50,000, are allocated on an annual basis for either one-time funding or up to a maximum of three years per program.