Editor's Note: We are sharing Chen Amira's beautiful blog in two parts. Click here to read part one.
I thought to myself that the place where Neta feels most comfortable and safe is the swimming pool. For two and a half years now, Neta has been having hydrotherapy treatments at the pool at Beit Issie Shapiro and her progress there has been enormous. I thought how fantastic it would be if we were to expose Neta's cousins to her strengths and abilities: that they could see that she is not a baby who doesn't speak and is dependent on her parents; that they could see for themselves how independent she is in the water; how she swings with complete confidence on the rope in the pool and how, with flippers and a floatation belt, she can swim and move forward on her own.
When I told Liraz, her speech therapist, about the idea that, until then, I had just fantasized about, she was immediately enthusiastic. With her encouragement, we got to work. It was clear to me that to make this celebration happen, we had to create the same environment for Neta, and to that end, we approached Hagar, her wonderful hydrotherapist, and got her involved. Hagar has a serenity about her and a calming presence that instills in Neta great confidence in the water. Liraz, who besides being an outstanding speech therapist is also a born hydrotherapist, would "officiate" the celebration.
In order for our adorable nephews to have a unique experience, one of not just enjoyment but of exposure and learning, we asked our siblings to conduct a preparatory activity at home. In this activity, the children would experience the difficulty of living without language and with limited communication. Following this, we asked the parents to discuss as openly as possible Neta's difficulties and what makes her different, as well as how they can help her within the family to be better understood. Each child was asked to select a greeting that they wanted to wish Neta on her birthday; with these greetings, we created a communication board full of pictures and symbols.
The excitement mounted as we waited expectantly … and then the day arrived.
Wow!!! What an amazing day it was! Everyone arrived, very excited, and there was a real feeling of celebration. Each child got into the pool with a parent, and we celebrated Neta's party with wonderful familial intimacy. The activity was familiar to Neta and allowed her to lead and even demonstrate to the other children what to do.
The children were very excited and cooperated fully, while the parents played an active part, too. In the end, we made a circle in the water and each child presented Neta with a greeting and good wishes. It was clear to me that Neta understood. There is no doubt that she understood that the celebration was in her honor. Liraz taught the children and the parents birthday songs in sign language, and the children cooperated and, in addition to the party, received a lesson in accepting those who are different to themselves.
Neta was the star. She was happy the whole day and constantly smiled at everyone.
We returned home tired but happy. Our Neta was one year older. We had experienced with her a year of progress and development. Neta learns more with each passing day and surprises both us and the staff that treat her. When we blew out the candles on her cake, I made the same wish as always, and will continue until the wish comes true. Until then, we will continue to make every effort to understand you, Neta, even without words, and we will give you every opportunity to express yourself in any way you choose.
A very big "thank you" to Hagar and Liraz, who helped me fulfill the dream to celebrate the most wonderful birthday for Neta. And an enormous "thank you" to our special family, whose absolute acceptance of and closeness to Neta enabled such an intimate, yet powerful, experience to take place. And to my Netush – I wish for you to continue to develop and grow at your own pace.
Based in Israel, Chen and her husband Dudi are parents to their gorgeous and unique daughter, Neta, who is diagnosed with autism and extensive developmental delays. After completing two wonderful years at Beit Issie Shapiro's Early Intervention Center, Neta is now in a Special Education Pre-School. Neta loves to swim in the pool, enjoys singing – and above all, loves swinging in the playground.