Thank you to Ziva Shapiro, occupational therapist, for her professional contributions to this article.

Gan Safa, Vaadat Hasama, Kita Mikademet – hearing all of these technical terms in Hebrew, you may feel like you have just landed on a new planet. You may be wondering, “What are these names and what do they have to do with my child?” In truth, the process of placing a child in a special education program can be stressful, and sometimes scary, no matter which country you’re living in. Combining these factors with the unknowns of a new language and culture, makes the challenge more significant.

If you are concerned about your child’s early development and are wondering if he or she needs to be in a special Gan, or if your third grader still can’t read fluently and the school suggests moving him or her to a special class, you may need help or guidance in order to understand the system.

If you are in the planning stages of your Aliyah and know that your child needs special needs services, make sure to bring current evaluations with you (less than a year old). If you suspect (but aren’t sure) that your child may need special needs services, it is recommended to have your child evaluated before you come. You will need to have the evaluations translated, once you obtain them. Note that non-citizen students do not receive any special education services.

If you’ve already made Aliyah, the first step in the placement process involves obtaining a psychological evaluation within your community. If your child is under age 5, a developmental psychologist can assess him or her through your Kupat Cholim (health plan). School age children – including Gan Chova (kindergarten) – are assessed through the school psychology services (Sherut Psychologi Chinuchi) run by the Iriya (municipality) or Moetza. Often times, parents turn to private assessments because of long waiting lists. After the evaluation, the psychologist will help you understand your child’s learning style and needs and give you an indication of what type of program is best suited for him or her.

At this point in the process, it is helpful to look at the various options that might be appropriate for your child. Does he or she need a Gan Safa (language-oriented pre-school), Gan Tikshoret (communications pre-school) or just a Ganenet Siach (educational aid) within a typical Gan setting? Is a Kita Mikademet (self-contained special education class, within a typical school) an option, or does the child need a school that is specific for special education? As you research these options, an important question to ask is how much Shiluv (inclusion) is available and how much of the time are the children in a separate program. It is also important to clarify the therapies and adjunct activities provided, as they may vary.

A Vaadat Hasama (placement board) determines whether a child needs to be placed in a special education program. The Vaada is comprised of professionals from Misrad Hachinuch (Ministry of Education) and the local municipality whose job it is to analyze your reports and evaluations, listen to the parents and/or advocate, and understand the needs of your child. It is recommended to bring the child’s teacher, ganenet or other professional working with the child to your meeting with the Vaada, in order to help the members of the Vaada get a better “feel” for your child. Since you have already done some research, you may be able to tell the Vaada which program you think is most appropriate for your child’s needs and why. At the end of the meeting, a recommendation is given, but the final placement is usually determined closer to the start of the school year. The Vaadat Hasama only meets in the spring months (February through May). Please note that your paperwork must be evaluated prior to your Aliyah, to ensure proper placement for September.

Often, parents are concerned that placement in a special education pre-school program will keep their children in special schools for their entire school careers. While this is sometimes true (when necessary), it is certainly not the rule. The goal of special education is to help children become integrated as much as possible into the regular school system. This is often seen when children who have spent several years in Gan Safa are integrated into a regular first grade class. There is also often the concern of a stigma, and of a child feeling like he or she is different. However, in the long run, keeping children out of special education just because of the stigma, may not really be helping them.

Although this process may seem difficult – especially for parents who don’t speak much Hebrew – remember that everyone is concerned about your child’s interests. Hopefully, placement in the right program will allow children to learn in the way that is most suited for their needs and to reach their potential.

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