If you are living in Israel or are considering moving here with a child with autism, you must learn how education for autism works here in order to make the correct choice for your child.
Education for Autism in Israel
So you received a summons date for the Eligibility and Characterization Committee. How do you prepare for the committee? What is goes on in these type of committees? Should you choose a communication kindergarten or integrate in a regular framework? Are there other options?
Every year around January a certain pressure begins. Especially for parents who have to choose placement for their autistic child for the first time.
As parents to several autistic children, we have gone through several eligibility and characterization committees. We want to share some tips. Hopefully this will help parents who are about to go through their first committee. Make sure you read our how to exhaust benefits guide.
Choices in the Education System for a Child with Autism in Israel
When we don’t know the system, it’s very stressful. Where will they put the child? Will the framework he gets meet his needs?
In this article we will discuss the different education options for autism in Israel divided by different age groups.
If you speak Hebrew you may watch our video on the topic. You may want to connect to our Facebook or WhatsApp groups to make sure you don’t miss live events for English speakers. You can also contact us for one-on-one guidance.
The Eligibility and Characterization Committee
Submit your diagnosis papers and any other relevant documents (such as medical reports) to the Eligibility and Characterization Committee. This committee will gather up physically or via Zoom, to discuss your child’s case, and help you decide what options would suit them best.
The Eligibility and Characterization Committee is comprised of professional staff such as a social worker and a psychologist, as well as a parent’s council representative.
The committee will listen to you, review any documents you’ve sent, and give you their advice on what options are best, based on your child’s function level. Keep in mind that whatever advice you receive from the committee, you are still the one to choose what type of educational framework to place your child.
If you are considering integration, the committee will decide how many assistance points your child will receive.
Up to Age Three – Homeschooling, Rehabilitative Daycare or Integration
Children who were diagnosed with autism at a relatively early age may be eligible for placement at a communication-rehabilitative daycare center. You must register at the local Ministry of Welfare office to try to enter a rehabilitative daycare.
Communication-rehabilitative daycare is an educational-therapeutic framework. It will house some children on the autistic spectrum, but also other conditions. What they have in common is communication problems.
If you are given the opportunity, I strongly recommend choosing rehabilitative daycare. At this age, the brain is most flexible and the most benefit will come from intensive work and rehabilitation.
The alternatives are integration into a regular daycare center or homeschooling. You can usually get some of the paramedical treatments through the HMO. Take advantage of these. Find out through the Ministry of Welfare if you are eligible for a personal teacher’s aid for your child.
Make sure you also get an education for yourself regardless of the type of framework you choose.
Ages Four to Six – Homeschooling, Communication Kindergarten, Speech Kindergarten or Integration
From age 3-4, children enter the Compulsory Education Law. The Ministry of Education regulates frameworks from age three and up. Excluding homeschooling, this means free basic education.
Here are the different options:
Staff is the largest in communication kindergarten. They also undergo unique training for the care of children with autism.
There will be up to 8 children in a communication kindergarten. (In 2022, up to 10 due to a severe shortage of staff)
His hours are between 7:30-16:45 (usually). It operates during most of the holidays and summer vacation until August 15. The staff will not all be the same during these holiday work hours.
The children will receive individual, paired, and group classes, and a hot meal at noon. Parents will receive parenting guidance from the emotional therapist who accompanies their child all year round.
Children who attend a communication kindergarten are eligible to receive transportation.
Communication Kindergarten with an Extra Treatment Subsidy
This is the framework with the most treatment hours. However, Not all Communication Kindergartens have this option. And it comes with an added cost.
Treatment subsidy before any discounts is 700-800 NIS per month (as of 2020). There are some conditions that can help you lower this cost.
Even at full cost, it is still cheap compared to private treatment. In Israel treatments like speech or occupational therapy sessions, average around 300 NIS for 45 minutes.
This option is not usually offered. However, in some situations you might fit into it.
Most Autistic children who attend speech kindergarten will be there in two situations:
- They were first diagnosed with a speech delay, placed in a speech kindergarten. Later they were diagnosed with autism. After diagnosis some parent will insist to leave the child where he is.
- Some parents request placement in a communication kindergarten. However, due to low budgets or lack of staff, the child will be placed in a speech kindergarten as the next best alternative.
You will find up to 12 children in a speech kindergarten.
There should be at least a speech therapist in kindergarten. In kindergarten there will be children with speech difficulties of all kinds but without a communication problem.
Speech kindergarten staff includes a special education kindergarten teacher and an assistant. Kindergarten hours are similar to regular kindergarten – until two o’clock. The school year is extended similarly to the communication kindergarten.
Homeschooling Education for Autism in Israel
Homeschooling is an option exists for anyone who thinks they are capable. It is open to any parent.
The process involves declaring the child will receive homeschooling according to the rules set by the Ministry of Education on the subject.
Many parents don’t homeschool because it is very expensive in Israel! You can get three hours a week of therapy from the HMO.
However, this is usually not enough for raising autistic children.
Parents will learn to take care of the child themselves and in all areas. Alternatively, you can finance such treatments out of your own pocket.
As a result, at least one parent changes how they earn an income. Many parents give up working altogether.
You can request assistance from the Ministry of Welfare. Under certain conditions, you will receive housekeeper hours.
The Benefits of Homeschooling
Many parents report that their children advanced the most under homeschooling.
The advantage of homeschooling comes mainly from a parent acting as full-time educator.
Parents get to know their child’s learning style more intimately than any teacher.
In homeschooling, the “parent/caregiver’s” attention is divided according to the number of their children. While in other settings a teacher will care for 8-35 children for up to 6 years. Kindergarten teachers will only care for the children for up to 3 years.
The parent-caregiver is the most consistent figure in a child’s life. Professional caregivers commit for a year and sometimes also retire in the middle, but the parent stays there in almost any situation.
For example, during maternity leave mothers still continue to care for their other children.
Homeschooling in the Reiner Family Home
We considered homeschooling quite a few times. But we never fully committed to it. We didn’t think we could afford it financially for long periods of time.
However, when Dolev and Dov were little it was harder put them in daycare. Their violent and uncontrollable epilepsy made it impractical.
Dolev recieved stem cell therapy in March 2019. In October 2022, Dov received umbilical cord blood treatment. So far, they are both seizure free since their first treatment. And if the situation continues, Dov will enter an educational framework in the next school year.
In the meantime, we are having a good experience homeschooling Dov.
Integration in a Regular Kindergarten
In this option you may be able to choose a specific kindergarten. Rules change between municipalities regarding choice in personal teacher’s aid. You may not be able to choose an assistant at all, or you may have to interview assistants personally.
Also, the municipality does not guarantee who the staff will be at the kindergarten. There are several variables that are not in your control and may affect your child’s ability to integrate into kindergarten.
Beyond that, consider the physical characteristics of the building. For example, the acoustics in Nevo’s kindergarten were terrible. So, he often uses noise canceling headphones when he’s too overwhelmed by the noise.
In addition, you should prepare the children in kindergarten and take into account their inclusive abilities. When Nevo was integrated in a regular kindergarten, his friends greatly strengthened him.
You also need to take into account the attitude of the other parents. Did you or did you not come out of the closet in front of them?
The Integration Scoring System [as of 2021]
Apart from that, of course, there is the integration scoring system.
There used to be a uniform basket of treatment hours to which all autistic children were entitled. Since 2021, integrated children receives assistance according to your division of the points that were determained in the Committee for the Eligibility and Profiling of Special Education Services. The lower the child’s abilities, the more points he will be entitled to. There can be a maximum of 9 points. Each point is equal to 3.2 assistant hours or 45 minutes of paramedical treatment (speech, occupational or emotional therapy) per week.
Do the math. It’s often not really enough for many children.
Staff Members in the Integrated Education
The integrator/personal assistant
If you are lucky, you will come across a good and experienced integrator. Hopefully one that at least understands how to work with autistic children.
However, she (or he) can also be a discharged soldier. Remember – most municipalities choose for you!
The Kindergarten Teacher
Regular education kindergarten teachers do not receive basic training in special education.
Nevo had an amazing kindergarten teacher when he was integrated. She set about to studying the field when Nevo was diagnosed. That was not required by the Ministry of Education and was done completely voluntarily. I wish everyone such luck (Orna if you are reading – thank you).
Keep in mind that your child will be assigned to a kindergarten, and the teacher will not be asked.
Talk to the kindergarten teacher about your children, as early as possible, to match expectations. Ask them what is acceptable to them and what is not.
I must point out that Orna was very cooperative. In the end, because we did not receive enough points in the eligibility and profiling committee, we chose not to continue with integration on the next year.
The Main and Supplementary Assistants
The assistants are also an important part of the kindergarten. They don’t receive training in the field of special education (or at all sometimes) either in regular kindergartens. You should include them when you tell the staff about the child and manage expectations.
Nevo’s main assitant practically adopted our son in class hours. I was definitely more relaxed on days when she was in the kindergarten. However, I know that the presence of our son, who was not fully potty trained at the beginning of the year, and who makes “problems” with food, really did not ease her workload.
Training the Staff
The kindergarten staff did not receive proper training. This sometimes led to situations where they did not know what to do.
For example, the staff did not know how to recognize if the child was in distress due to lack of sensory regulation, and that this was a good opportunity, for example, to give him headphones* to filter out the noise. We provided the kindergarten with headphones and instructed when to let him use them.
For complex and life-threatening health conditions, we encountered even more failures in the system. Even the special education system is not prepared to deal with such children.
When Dolev was diagnosed with drug-resistant epilepsy, we had to train the staff in seizure detection. Ensure that all staff members have first aid training. Teach them to recognize an epileptic attack, and what to do.
I created a tutorial, which I pass on to the education teams once or twice a year. Less lately, since Dolev’s seizures stopped, but in the beginning the need was very great. The education staff had a hard time understanding the severity of the danger.
After being diagnosed with EOE, the staff had to be trained to deal with an allergic child.
Dealing with the Parents and Other Children in Integration
We have small gaps in the ages of our three older children.
Abigail and Nevo shared one year together in kindergarten. We already knew some of the parents from the year before. Some of them also knew Nevo. So when Nevo was diagnosed with autism during the year, it was relatively easy for us to share. We started with the staff, then told the parents, and finaly told the other kindergarten children.
I arrived at kindergarten and read them a story about autism. We told them that Nevo also has autism and that sometimes he needs some help.
When she arrived, we introduced the assistant. We showed them the noise-filtering headphones*, and also let them feel and try them on.
Throughout the year I initiated activities in the kindergarten. For example, I often came in to read books. Our children became very popular.
All of this contributed to the children’s perception of autism. It illuminated autism positively for the children, and hopefully for the parents who heard positive experiences from their children.
Xenophobia – Social Rejection for Fear of the Unfamiliar
Despite our efforts, there were quite a few parents who still had a hard time accepting the change. Some felt less comfortable with the presence of a different child in the kindergarten. They rejected invitations to meet outside of the kindergarten.
Unfortunately, this is a normal reaction to the unfamiliar.
It’s also normal to feel insulted or angry when you experience rejection.
But if we want the kindergarten children and their parents to accept difference, and invite the child to the meeting, displaying openness and “business as usual” should ultimately lead to the positive goal.
As they get to know you more and see the brighter sides, concerns will decrease.
Best practice for integration – be involved and pleasant parents. Go to the playgrounds where the most children from the kindergarten meet. Their parents will see that their child enjoys playing with yours, and that he is not so scary.
Where Does Your Child Belong?
This is a very complex question. Admittedly, we were also very confused.
Since 2020, parents in Israel decide on what type of educational framework.
I think there is something problematic about it.
I was angry.
I considered appealing and so he can get integration instead. In retrospect I realized that it was not suitable for his abilities. I later realized that my lack of experience, and my need to protect the child, did not allow me to see him as he is. Only after a period of learning and internalizing the diagnosis, I saw the real situation.
The lower the child’s function, the less suitable integration will be for him. For non-verbal children, it is better to avoid integration and place them in a communication kindergarten. If the child has better verbal abilities or at least communicates well with AAC, the option of integration in a regular kindergarten can be considered.
Gradual Integration from Within a Communication Kindergarten
In communication kindergartens, there is the possibility of gradual integration. Children will be taken out for scheduled integration hours in an adjacent regular kindergarten. They will be accompanied by a staff member from the communication kindergarten.
In fact, one of the requirements in the law for opening a special education kindergarten is proximity to a regular kindergarten, for this purpose.
If you think your child is capable of gradual integration, discuss it with the kindergarten teacher.
Think about whether your child is able to perform routine actions independently. For example, are they potty trained? Do they shower or dress themselves? The more such actions there are, the more suitable a combination is for him.
Think about yourselves parents :
Are you able to provide the child with therapy outside of kindergarten hours? Do you need extensive parental guidance by someone who works with the child? Do you need a wide support system?
The less support you require, the better the chance integration could suit you.
Education for Autism in Israel – Primary to Highschool Options
What are the education options for children with autism going into primary school and onwards in Israel?
Special Education Schools
You may be able to choose between a few different schools in your area. To get the best education for a child with autism in Israel, you might even want to choose a school that is farther away. Make sure you have transportation from the system.
Special Education Schools are the direct continuation of communication kindergartens. The conditions are quite similar except that they usually extend for more years. Some schools will even educate your child up to the age of 21 in adjacent complexes.
Kitat Tikshoret – the Communication Class Within a Regular School
The communication class (Kitat Tikshoret) is another education option for children with autism in Israel. It is a small class of up to 8 children, which is integrated in a regular school.
This option is probably more suitable for children who communicate verbally (at least partially). Sometimes children will integrate well if they can communicate well via AAC.
The Communication classes can be found in some of the regular schools in your area. However, here you will not have a choice. The Ministry of Education decides which schools will open a communication class during the next school year. Your child will be placed in a school where available. You can try to appeal if necessary.
By a miracle, we were able to integrate Dolev into a communication class. The decision was very complex, but towards the end of first grade, it became clear that the developmental leap he experienced following the biological treatments made it possible for him.
For a long time, we weren’t sure that Kitat Tikshoret was the right place for Dolev. If we saw that it didn’t work out, probably with all the difficulty, we would ask to move to a special education school.
Full integration in a regular school
In the 2022-23 school year, we placed Nevo in a Kitat Tikshoret for first grade. Nevo is much more verbal than Dolev, and we also had a complex decision with him. Full integration might have suited him.
We needed to think what would work best for him. After consulting the Kindergarten staff and the Eligibility and Characterization Committee, we decided to start first grade in a communication class.
However, during this year he gradually started integration into a regular class.
Integration in a regular class with or without an assistant is similar to the Kindergarten method and depends on the child’s function and the scoring method. A lower-functioning child will get more points. However, the academic demands and the conditions of the 20-40 child classroom make this support less feasible on its own.
You will probably also want to distribute some of the points to therapy hours. It is up to you to choose how to distribute the assistance points you received. Ask your staff members to help you with the distribution.
In this article, we mentioned the different types of frameworks that can be chosen for special education children. Every child is different, so the decision is not always easy. We also mentioned the considerations we took on making our personal decisions.
Sit down with your spouse (or anyone who takes part together with you in raising the child), and think. Listen to the members of the Eligibility and Characterization Committee, but the final decision is yours.
In preparation for the transition between frameworks, autistic children can be emotionally prepared with the help of adapted tools, such as social stories.
Good luck and easy decision for everyone.
As usual, you are invited to comment or ask anything.
It takes a village to raise a child
I recommend looking for support groups with experienced special needs parents. For this purpose, we have opened another Facebook group for parenting skills. This is in addition to our Stem cell therapy support group for families looking for information about the treatment based on umbilical cord blood or stem cells. Both of these groups are mainly for Hebrew speakers but you are welcome to join if you think it can benefit you.
For those who are not active on Facebook, join our silent WhatsApp group, where you will receive notifications about events we organize. Again most of these will be in Hebrew, but you can catch the odd English lectures. You can find recordings of these on our youtube channel.
The Autism Essentials Israel blog is written by Hagai and Shira Reiner, two parents of children with special needs – autism, epilepsy, and more. We focus on the essentials of raising special needs children in Israel, but much of our content will be relevant globally
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