A True Friend of the Little Souls

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She understands their little worlds, and their challenges, anxieties, hopes, fears and dreams therein. Meet Aleksandra Jelonek-Turk, a psychologist consultant specializing in assessments who takes a clinical and compassionate peek into the minds and hearts of little children and adolescents who are differently abled to assess and understand them better.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born and raised in Poland. I arrived in Bahrain in the ‘90s, met my husband here, and lived in Bahrain ever since.

Tell us briefly about your educational qualification and professional background.

Originally, I trained to be a music teacher. During this study I was introduced to Psychology, and this is when my interest in this area started. I only had a chance to continue study in this subject from 2004. Consequently, I obtained BSc in Psychology in 2009, Postgraduate Certificate in Education in 2010 and MSc in Psychology in 2011. In the mean time, I also obtained qualifications in psychometric  assessment and access arrangement in the UK. Two years ago, I started a PsyD programme in clinical psychology. I hope to complete it in the next two years.

When and how did you start up your enterprise-Affinity Consultancy?

I started Affinity Consultancy in 2011 to provide assessment services within  the education sector. These services add to medical and other specialist expertise to provide psychological profile in order to adequately diagnose children and adolescents with difficulties. With this in mind I work closely with medical doctors, therapists and educators in order to improve children’s functioning in educational and social context.

Tell us in brief about the various services offered by  Affinity Consultancies

I was trained to assess ability, achievement, personality, psychopathology as well as aspects of functioning within an occupational setting. However, as there is a huge need in Bahrain to work with children with difficulties, most of my work evolves around school-aged children who need support in accommodating their physical and mental challenges. I do not provide therapy as such, but concentrate on testing and evaluation in order to prepare action plans.

What have been the various challenges that you have encountered since the inception of your consultancy? How did you overcome the challenges?

The most difficult part, was and in fact remains, is to find well-educated, experienced and ethical specialists that I can refer the students to, following the assessment. There are many centers that opened in Bahrain with the aim to help children with various difficulties. However, the quality of services varies greatly. Also, it still is a challenge to overcome the social taboo of accepting members of society, who are different than what we consider as average. On the other hand, Bahrain is taking steps to raise the awareness by organizing events (such as those organized by Alia, Al Jawhara center and Bahrain Society for Children with Behavioral & Communication Difficulties, for example) so we are making slow progress in the right direction.

How does addressing various disabilities in young children help to cure them?

The most important part is to find out what the problem is, or at least narrow down the possibilities. Only then, the plan can be prepared and the difficulties/weaknesses targeted with appropriate intervention, such as therapy, medical treatment or target oriented tutoring. It is often impossible to completely cure the child, but their functioning within educational and social setting can be greatly improved.

What has been your achievements so far?

I have developed a good network of specialists who work with children and help them to function better. I hope that I have helped to raise awareness within the circle of parents and specialists that I worked with, of ethical and competent practice, and the importance of team approach in working with children.

Does technology serve as a boon or a curse for children today?

There are no easy answers to this question. Technology can be of great help when addressing difficulties, such as dyslexia for example. Developments such as: text-to-speech apps, dictation software, word prediction programs, electronic graphic organizers, and numerous tools that support note taking and study skills can be of tremendous value to students with Specific Learning Difficulties. On the other hand, excessive use of phones and iPads by very young children could potentially lead to slowed development of physical and communication skills, for example. Moderation and informed use of technology is the key, I believe.

Has there been an evolution in the general attitude towards differently abled/dyslexic children by society, schools, parents and teachers? How?

You used the right word – evolution – which means progress, however at a very slow rate. Some schools and institutions started to embrace the idea of inclusive learning, but without sufficient resources and trained staff there is little they can do to help the children. As mentioned earlier there are efforts on part of various institutions to bring the attention of society to those who need support, but there is still a lot that can be done in this area.

What is your message to parents of differently abled children?

It is always challenging to try to help your child who is differently abled. It becomes a greater challenge when little help is available. However, there are some great therapists and specialists available here in Bahrain. Acknowledging that there is a challenge, readiness to help your child and then taking consistent action is the way to ensure that you are doing your best in order to support your child to function to their best ability.