The first Galilee conference of “Autism Israel” at Ziv Medical Center


It has been said in the past that peace between doctors, researchers and industrialists often precedes a political peace. This week representatives from the Center for Medical Rehabilitation of the Handicapped, "LIFEGATE", in Beit Jala on the West Bank, participated in the first conference of “Autism Israel” in the Galilee, held in Ziv medical Center, in conjunction with the Faculty of Medicine in the Galilee, Bar Ilan University. Jihan Jumaya, a speech therapist and Burghard Schunkert director of “LIFEGATE” rehabilitation center, an N.G.O. funded mainly by European donations and whose employees include both Germans and Palestinians, were invited to the conference by Mrs. Sigal Dweck, Founder and Chairperson of "Autism Israel". The event was held in the auditorium of the new Children’s Hospital of the Ziv Medical Center. The delegates participated in discussions on diagnostic frameworks, both medical and educational, for children on the autism spectrum (PDD or ASD).

Schunkert, a German national who has been living in Beit Jala for a number of years, said: “Medical problems traverse borders, rank and politics. We are all dealing with finding cures and solutions for autism sufferers. I have been working in this field now for 28 years and find the cooperation with doctors, therapists and Israeli institutions very heartening. It is important to keep abreast of the latest updates and information in the field and that is why we are here today.” "LIFEGATE", located in Beit Jala on the West Bank serves more than 200 adults and children with physical, developmental and emotional disabilities and any cooperative efforts to help them are of utmost importance, explains Schukert.

Says Jihan: There is no statutory social services setup in the Palestinian Authority and so there are few institutions dealing with rehabilitation and with helping the handicapped and those with special needs to integrate into society. Our center in Beit Jala works on an out-patient basis, with no room and board. Our aim is not distancing but rather integration into society.

The Center for Child Development in Ziv incorporates various therapeutic approaches that deal with the diverse social and functional challenges facing the autist and his family. Amongst the different approaches used is the American “Play Project”, a first time pilot project of its type in Israel. The rational is to develop contact and communication through play, imparting the tools for intensive intervention to the parents of autistic children and to furnish them with the tools for meaningful interaction in the home and in daily life.
More than 500 professionals from the fields of medicine, education, nursing and research participated in the 2 day "Autism Israel" conference. Dr. Morshid Farhat, Deputy Director of Ziv Medical Center welcomed the participants and thanked Dr. Yael Merenz, Vice President Paramedical, Teva Pharmaceuticals, sponsors of the conference, Dr. Owen Elliot, Mrs. Sigal Dweck, Founder and Chairperson of “Autism Israel” and initiator of the two-day conference.

Amongst the different lectures presented at the conference: Dr. Owen Elliot from Bar Ilan University, Faculty of Medicine, Zefat, on the challenging parenting- therapeutic trilogy in families with a high-risk baby; Connie Putterman, founder of the Canada – Israel Fund for research on autism and cooperation on parenting, autism and activism; Dr. Julie Carmel, Director, “Biobank” project on autism, Bar Ilan University, on the connection between scientific research and social skills and daily functioning, and many more.