Photo Credit: Arugot
One-on-one Art Therapy

All parents want the best for their children. They look at their little one, swaddled in a soft blanket, and think, “Someday, this child will reach the stars.” Yet there is a plethora of issues that we may encounter as parents, and we don’t always know where to find help. Thus, with every new school year comes anticipation and apprehension.

Every great project begins with one person’s dream, and the capacity to inspire others. That is how Arugot was started. The name is Hebrew for “flower beds,” and in the last 30 years Arugot has planted seeds for the success of more than 4,000 children.

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Its founder, Dr. Jeremiah Lubasch, is a pediatrician from Argentina, where his parents had fled from Nazi Germany in 1939. He made aliyah with his family in 1977 and they settled in Haifa, where he discovered, through his work, that there were problems going untreated, especially among the haredi population, who were unwilling to send their children to secular preschools or therapy centers.

“One day, in 1989,” he recalls, “Mrs. Pnina Berkowitz visited my clinic with her children.” She had special education qualifications, and became the pedagogic director of Arugot. The organization was initially founded to cater to the needs of Orthodox children, but today serves all children who need its services. Seventy-seven percent of its preschool graduates continue on to regular classes. Projects are established as the needs of the community change.

 

A Range of Methods

At the Therapeutic Kitchen

Arugot’s focus is on children with learning disabilities, developmental delays, and emotional problems. Children with ADD/ADHD or learning disabilities can be among the most creative, funny, and colorful children, but they need a combination of support and understanding from the home and therapies from top professionals who genuinely love their patients. Arugot therapists give guidance to parents and closely involve them in their child’s therapy.

Arugot offers a range of paramedical therapies (speech and occupational) and emotional therapies (music, art, drama, animal-assisted, sand tray, and therapeutic kitchen). It also offers Dyad Therapy (in which parents or siblings are treated together with the child), CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) coaching and DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) by a clinical social worker who specializes in women and adolescent girls who have suffered abuse.

Arugot is also, according to its directors, one of the first centers in Israel to employ a ground-breaking invention – a concept imported from Holland called a “Snoezelen Room,” which is a multi-sensory environment conducive to helping patients open up emotionally and feel calm. The room is white and padded with soft furnishings. As part of Arugot’s outreach to the community, the Snoezelen Room also helps provide therapy to abused wives, and following the Second Lebanon War, in 2006, it served children and adults suffering from PTSD.

 

Bridging Many Cultures

From 2004-07, Arugot operated an after-school program for female Russian pupils, which included hot meals, homework help, and activities. It ceased when the local Russian student population was successfully integrated into the Israeli population.

Arugot sent a remedial teacher to a school in Haifa to tutor Ethiopian pupils, and psychotherapists to address the children’s trauma and help with social skills. The children were then integrated with Israelis, and Arugot was sent to four more schools, but each year its operation depends on available funding. Ruth Kaniel, director of resource development, says, “Principals are clamoring to join the program and school counselors are begging for more hours.”

 

Partnering for Greatest Impact

Arugot works in partnership with Haifa University, Rambam Hospital, and several Bais Yaakov teacher-training seminaries, and is funded by the Ministries of Education, Economy and Industry, Labor, Social Services, and Justice; it also works with the Haifa municipality, all the health funds, and Bituach Leumi.

Arugot works with a shelter for battered women in Haifa called “Women to Women.” The project aims to provide professional assessments to children in the shelters, who are the hidden victims who have had to flee their homes. Their behavior can be very problematic. The assessment provided by Arugot helps ascertain if the children are suffering from learning disabilities or if their behavior is a result of their family situation. This enables teachers and counselors to understand them and carry on the process of helping them thrive.

In 2019, Arugot sent a therapist who is a haredi woman from a hasidic background to one of these shelters. Many of the women with whom she worked were Arabs. The shelter asked her to continue as the women loved her.

The Arugot website (www.arugot.org) reaches beyond the borders of Haifa, Afula, and even Israel. It includes valuable tips and strategies for both teachers and parents of children with ADD/ADHD.

 

Building On Success

  • Arugot has been repeatedly recognized for its activities. It received the Midot Seal of Effectiveness in 2017 and again in 2018. In December 2008, Arugot’s reading expert received a prize for Excellence in Education from the Israel Teachers’ Union for “Musima,” a method developed at Arugot which uses musical notes as cues to help dyslexic pupils learn to read. In April 2001, Arugot was awarded the prestigious William Trump Recognition Award for over a decade of “outstanding commitment to children with developmental disabilities.”
  • During the last month of the school year, 20 art exhibitions took place in the art therapy department.
  • A child who was considered autistic greatly improved after his hearing problems were addressed, and he received multiple therapies in Arugot.
  • Sensory diet uses a range of interventions to enhance sensory integration. In one preschool, children start off the day imitating animals: crawling like cats, sliding like snakes, jumping like frogs – all this contributes to their sense of self, helps them organize their bodies, and calms them down.
  • Plans for the future include increasing the volume of treatments, a therapeutic garden on the roof for horticultural therapy, expanding the project “Jumpstarting Children in Regular Preschools,” and expanding the scope of therapies in the Afula branch to include paramedical therapies.

 

Where Are They Today?

Arugot has been treating children for 30 years. The organization catches them when they are young – when treatment is most effective – and the goal is that many of the various therapies will subsequently no longer be necessary.

Many of those children are now in regular elementary and high schools and colleges throughout the country, and in the army or doing national service. Adult Arugot graduates are working in a variety of professions, some as company managers, and some have founded their own businesses.

 

Real Life Stories

(Names have been changed)

Dudu is a bright child who always comes to the center hungry, in more ways than one. He lives with his divorced father, and his home life is irregular. He is behind in his schoolwork and he gets up late. At Arugot he receives remedial didactic tutoring in reading comprehension and math. An emotional therapist is helping him to overcome his confusion, distress, and lack of stability. A social worker has made progress in meetings with his father. At Arugot, he receives warmth and is respected and loved.

Yonat, a girl of six, came to Arugot for occupational therapy. At home, she would suck her pacifier all the time and had other problems. Yonat’s parents lacked basic awareness about child development and sensory motor integration. She was never exposed to play dough, paints, or glue, and her parents didn’t take her outside for nature and outdoor activities.

Orit, Arugot’s expert in sensory motor development, worked with Yonat for an hour a week, and met monthly with her parents, guiding them in how to stimulate and develop her language. They introduced books, toys, and outside activities. Yonat began to enjoy sensory experiences, such as stroking animals and creating works of art – painting, drawing, and sculpting with clay. She slowly weaned herself off her pacifier, attached it to a helium balloon, and sent it up into the sky, gone forever.

Shlomit is a child who came for OT two months before the end of the school year because her pencil grip was in the wrong direction; she held it backwards and had no control over it. Yet she was a clever child who had acquired reading and basic numeracy at a young age. Orit discovered that Shlomit had organizational problems. After Orit taught her how to organize her personal belongings and her school supplies, Shlomit finally learned how to write.

Asoubalo, born in Israel, is 7 years old and in first grade. When his parents came on aliyah, his father was 80 years old, and his mother, 22. In Ethiopia, polygamy is allowed. His father left behind two wives with their children. Asoubalo’s mother supports the family through menial work. Asoubalo is confused and frustrated by the cultural differences between his home and those of his Israeli friends. He gets into fights with friends who tease him about his father. Emotional therapy in a group setting helps Asoubalo improve his self-confidence and make friends in a non-threatening environment.

For more information about Arugot, email info@arugot.org or visit www.arugot.org.

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Toby Klein Greenwald is the artistic director of Raise Your Spirits Theatre and editor-in-chief of WholeFamily.com.