MONTREAL — Many families in Quebec who have children with developmental delays wait months and often years for early intensive therapy, but a private, not-for-profit centre is getting kids into treatment a few weeks after assessment.
The Donald Berman Yaldei Development Centre (Yaldei is Hebrew for children) was founded in 1997 by Menachem Leifer, who had to two children with developmental disabilities and was frustrated by the lack of services.
Yaldei began very modestly in Leifer’s chassidic Tasher community in Boisbriand, but from the beginning, it employed the latest approach to improving the children’s behaviour and ability to communicate and learn, known as ABA.
Yaldei has grown tremendously over the years, and now serves about 170 clients out of its premises in the Queen Elizabeth Health Complex, where Leifer continues as executive director. It changed its name a few years ago after receiving a major donation from the Donald Berman Foundation.
Yaldei is attempting to make itself more widely known at an evening Nov. 4, featuring Jewish motivational speaker Esther Jungreis.
Yaldei relies entirely on private donations, much of it coming from Orthodox communities; it receives no government funding. A significant proportion of its clients are subsidized, because the cost of treatment, which is often several hours a day, every day, can be very high.
Services are offered on a non-sectarian basis, and 30 to 40 per cent of the children they see today are not Jewish, said administrative director David Hamaoui. He is well acquainted with Yaldei and a firm believer in what it can achieve because his six-year-old daughter, Leah, has been attending for five years.
Yaldei accepts children as young as 18 months with autism, Down syndrome, attention deficit and hyperactivity and other cognitive disorders, as well as those with physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy.
Using a holistic, multidisciplinary approach, Yaldei’s staff formulates an individual program for each child, incorporating any number of therapies available on-site.
The staff are all accredited clinicians (headed by clinical director Ben Baer), therapists or early-childhood educators, who provide one-on-one attention or lead small groups. Yaldei is continually adopting innovative proven methods.
Yaldei has received a ringing written endorsement from Eric Fombonne, who is the Canada Research Chair in Child Psychiatry at the McGill University Health Centre.
He believes Yaldei provides a model that should be replicated throughout the province.
“Since its inception, Yaldei has been at the forefront of early intervention in Quebec,” he writes. “Over the years, the programs and facilities offered by Yaldei have been meeting the needs of highly vulnerable children who otherwise were not receiving services.”
Fombonne is especially impressed by how the program extends into the home and, if applicable, the school the child attends. Parents become part of the team and are trained in how to continue the treatment at home.
“Yaldei staff provides a warm and caring environment for the children, and because they spend so many hours with them, they are able to develop very close relationships,” Fombonne writes.
He regrets the lack of public funding for Yaldei.
Hamaoui said Yaldei could be helping many more children if it had the money.
Yaldei’s main fundraiser is an annual dinner, which last winter attracted 1,300 guests.
The speaker who captured the hearts of everyone was eight-year-old Maor Neim, who is autistic. He attended Yaldei from ages three to seven.
He spoke eloquently about his transformation from a boy who spent most of his time throwing tantrums to one who is currently attending a regular school unassisted and is at the top of his class.
“I received speech therapy and occupational therapy and I learned to communicate through pictures,” said Maor. “All these therapies gave me the tools and the knowledge to become who I am today.”
David Sebag, whose daughter Rikki has Down syndrome, gave an emotional testimony about the life-changing impact that Yaldei has had on her and the family.
When she was born, her parents were told at a CLSC that there was nothing to be done for her at the time. Maybe by when she was three or four years old, she could start getting therapy once or twice a week.
Yaldei, however, accepted her, and Sebag is grateful that she now has a chance to live a normal life.
The Celebration of Hope benefiting Yaldei will be held Nov. 4 at 7:30 p.m. at Les Salons Chagall, 6501 Kildare Rd., Côte St. Luc. The guest speaker is Esther Jungreis, a survivor of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and the founder of Hineini, who speaks around the world to keep the Jewish spirit alive. The host will be radio personality Tommy Schnurmacher.
The evening includes a dessert reception and silent auction, for a minimum donation of $36. Those giving $500 are invited to a private dinner with Jungreis. For tickets, go to www.celebratehope.ca.