At 12 months, Aviv Milstein was a typical Israeli toddler from Hod Hasharon, until he was not. He stopped speaking the words he had already been saying, started being afraid of everything and everybody, and began to eat very little.
Soon after, doctors diagnosed him with autism. His mother, Rotem, then began a new routine of constant therapies for Aviv. She took him to a private speech therapist twice a week and an occupational therapist three times a week. With all the time the therapies drew from her day, she found herself missing a lot of work. Despite the astronomical costs of private therapies, she and her husband decided it would be best for the family and especially Aviv if she quit work to focus on Aviv’s special needs.
When Chimes opened the Gefen Hod Hasharon Early Childhood Center in September 2022, Rotem placed Aviv, then age one year and nine months, in its first class. Aviv’s inability to separate from Rotem was severe. For three months, he refused to set foot in the classroom, and cried intermittently in the hallway while the emotional therapist and teachers sat there with him, one-on-one. The emotional therapist, Tal, directed the teachers and aides on how to talk to him and validate his emotions. “The team members took turns in the hallway hugging and playing games with him.” said Lishai Arnonof, Director of the Gefen Early Childhood Center. “We took the therapy out of the classroom to the place where he was.”
He slowly warmed up to his classroom, which has only nine children, one early childhood educator/ASD specialist, and three to four aides. He began Gefen’s daily routine of learning, playing, eating, and resting like that of any other preschool, plus an additional educational-therapeutic element. In addition, Aviv’s individualized habilitation plan that details his therapist-recommended physical, emotional, developmental, and speech goals for the year, accompanied him throughout the day to ensure that he was always on track.
Liel, the speech therapist worked intensely with him on his words and sentences, as well as feeding due to his weak jaw muscles. Shelley, the occupational therapist, taught Aviv to eat with a spoon, drink from straw, put together puzzles, identify colors and shapes, count, touch different types of materials, and many other things that he couldn’t do before. “She and the rest of the staff put a ton of effort and love into helping Aviv, said Rotem. “We have endless appreciation for the energy, patience and love they gave to Aviv.”
Under Hila the dietician, Aviv had an eating plan for the entire professional team and parents to follow. They helped him progress from a diet of colorless mushy foods (pancakes and ptitim/Israeli pasta couscous) to more solid and colorful food. “There were many days that he didn’t eat at the Center,” said Arnonof. “For each piece of pasta with red sauce that he finally did eat, we had a party,” Rotem too, got emotional when she got the phone call that had eaten beyond his limited repertoire. Now Aviv eats a variety of things and counting.
According to his almost five-year-old big sister, Yarden, Gefen was a wonder for Aviv! Today, he is three years and eight months and almost not afraid of anything. He is talking with full sentences, just as much as other children his age, having playdates, and enjoying dolls, toys and puzzles. When he comes home from the Center, he tells his mother everything that happened there. Aviv will finish at Gefen next month and go on to a city-run kindergarten that helps children with speech and communication.
“Aviv’s now happy to come here, he feels that he owns the place,” said Arnonof. “Most importantly, he is full of confidence, aware of his abilities, and has the emotional tools to make better adjustments to new situations.”