Dr. Itai Berger, Director of Hadassah’s Pediatric Neuro-Cognitive Center, and his team have created a model for early diagnosis and intervention with children who suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Learning Disabilities (LD,) which is being piloted in the Jerusalem school system.
Acting out in school and underachieving are often indications that children have cognitive problems, explains Dr. Berger. “If the underlying issues are not addressed,” he says, “these children become vulnerable to a cycle of frustration and failure that may interfere with their healthy development and impair their functional capacity in the future.” Children with LD and ADHD are, for example, more prone to road accidents and substance abuse later in life. Early diagnosis and treatment, he says, helps prevent problems with the children’s self-image, social skills, academic performance, and behavior.
Cognitive problems, Dr. Berger relates, affect 10 to 15 percent of Israeli children. Acutely aware that even under the best of circumstances he and his staff would be unable to cope with the number of children involved, he turned to the Jerusalem school system for help in screening the young population. Outsourcing this essential first step, Dr. Berger noted, could significantly shorten the waiting list at the Neuro-Cognitive Center, which is now up to one year.
First Dr. Berger and his team created a set of guidelines to identify children in need. Working with the Jerusalem’s Department of Education, they prepared a course for the Educational/Psychology Service. Then, 70 psychologists from throughout the city participated in a special course conducted with the Hebrew University to help them understand the problems children with cognitive disabilities face and to ensure that children with challenges don’t fall through the cracks.
The model program for preliminary screening is now being tested in one Jerusalem school district. It consists of a structured personal interview with the child to detect medical and psychological issues and a special questionnaire for the child’s teachers and parents. “After the first 100 children are seen, we will evaluate the program and the results, correlating them with the opinions of the parents and the teachers,” Dr. Berger explains.
Ultimately, Dr. Berger would like to see the model adopted throughout Israel. “We are saving children who could get lost in the shuffle,” he comments. “We are giving them hope.”