Monday, November 19, 2012

Re: Supreme Court ruling in favour of dyslexic student  Jeff Moore,  regarding access to services...

"Adequate special education is not a dispensable luxury," Justice Rosalie Abella wrote in the unanimous decision. "For those with severe learning disabilities, it is the ramp that provides access to the statutory commitment to education made to all children in British Columbia."

I found myself saying "REALLY?"  Did it really take 15 years for this decision to come down? What was there to think about... perhaps there was a prolonged debate on the merits of learning to read.... "is it all it's cracked up to be, and will he really miss not being literate anyway?" Or, perhaps there was discussion around whose responsibility it was to teach children enrolled in schools...hmmm-

I have mixed feelings about this... on one hand I say  good- we needed the courts to back the families- but on the other hand... this is not really indicative of the real issue. Schools don't make a habit of turning kids away with a shrug of their shoulders.  Most schools would not  say they don't have the resources to work with a learner...and I don't know a single teacher who would not try to help a kid like Jeff-  but the truth is they may not have the type of resource needed, nor the know-how,  and certainly not the time needed to produce results. In most cases the parents are not aware of this, and don't know enough about treatment to be able to judge the efficacy of what is being offered. Sadly, in many cases I don't think the teachers are either.

What this court case did was prove to us that there are methods that work- and there are teachers (granted, not many) who know how to use them... and so, this should be the standard in every classroom. I hope this goes a long way to suppressing the tendency to blame the victim. Instead of saying "I'm sorry Jeff, you have a very severe learning disability, and you are not teachable." It's more accurate to say, "I'm sorry Jeff, we don't have the skills and time to teach you. We need to find someone else to help you." The roadblock is in finding people with the experience and training.

What we need are faculties of education that support regular classroom teachers in developing these skills. If proven research-based methods are engaged from Kindergarten to grade 3 for every student, we would see a huge reduction in the number of kids labeled as dyslexic. We would go from 20% to a manageable 5 %- and then special ed teachers would be able to do what was needed on a smaller and more intensive scale.

It makes so much sense....

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Nigerian Adventure

I really hope Kyle's family is ok. This coming year will be difficult, with all the "firsts" they will have to experience without Kyle. I think of them often.

And now for something completely different...I think it's time to move away from discussing learning challenges for a little while. My experiences in Nigeria made me realize how little we really have to complain about here in Canada. (Oddly, I still manage to find things!) I'll recount some of my adventures for a change of pace.

In 2002 I worked in Nigeria on a project called the Literary Enhancement Assistance Project, with the Education Development Center based in Washington DC. I was there in the capital city of Abuja for 5 weeks. The LEAP project was a pilot project paid for by USAID, to develop learner focused teaching modules in 3 states in Nigeria. If this was successful, it would adopted nation wide.
My job was to write a teacher's manual and also to develop a Resource Kit that would be placed in schools across three states during this pilot project.
I wrote reading and math programs into a teachers’ guide that not only taught children, but modeled how to use the student-centered learning strategies. I retreated to an apartment shared by my boss in the project, and good friend Sandy. She was from BC, and it was our previous working relationship that got me the job in the first place. It was in this apartment that I would write a guide that would help fill in some holes in the Nigerian education system. The guide had to start from the position that the teachers had only basic English and the children virtually none. I had to write lessons that had no paper or pencil requirements, as not every school had them. I found that very difficult at first, and then very freeing. I had the students writing in the air, on each other’s backs, and in the dirt with sticks. I wrote little controlled vocabulary stories in the manual for the teacher to write on the board for reading practice, and where possible directed teachers to make one copy of each story to keep for children to read for practice. I had a basic reading program that I use in my private work, one that is based on the Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing Program, so I adapted and modified it. I had to tie in the materials in the kit to every lesson, to ensure that the materials would actually be used. I interviewed people from the three main ethnic areas to find out what stories they were familiar with, what common names were, and what issues were important to children. I used this information to write stories. I had to be mindful of the Qur’anic schools, (separate schools for Muslims), as they would be receiving the kits as well. I had to ask many sensitive questions so as not to offend.

After a few lessons were written, I spent an afternoon with a Nigerian teacher who helped me teach a lesson so I could test its effectiveness. I rewrote using his suggestions. The drive to the school was in a word, terrifying. The vehicles in Nigeria are all imported and very expensive, this coupled with the fact that most people are very poor results in poorly, (ok, not) maintained vehicles. Some of the taxis I rode in had the back seats propped up with rope and twine, and most had the side view mirrors broken off. I know why!

We hired a fellow, a friend of friend, to drive us there in a car that had working lights and four good tires. (Bonanza!) Alex, the driver loved to drive and didn't have a car of his own. For 22 dollars a day he agreed to drive us, spend the night in a motel, and drive us back the next day. This money would go along way to feeding his new baby girl. The first thing I noticed was the lack of seatbelts. (I still had my Canadian perspective about safety) When I mentioned this Alex just laughed. Sandy, who was coming with me just patted my knee and told me not to worry about it.

We left the city perimeter at 120 kms an hour and peaked at 140 for the duration of the trip. I was terrified by the speed, but that was amplified by the fact that most Nigerians drive on the road lines, not between them. This means that a road with lines for two lanes in Canada would have 4 lanes in Nigeria, with very little space between the cars! At 140 kms an hour this is a remedy for constipation, let me tell you. Alex was weaving in and out of traffic with inches of space between us and the car we were passing. I finally stopped asking Alex to slow down (he suddenly didn't seem to understand English) and quivered in the back seat corner. At one point Alex did slow down and I sat up and looked out the window. Bad decision. He slowed to get around a mini bus that had flipped several times and lay burned out at the side of the road. I slouched back down and closed my eyes. Sandy, who had been in the country for several months already, thought my discomfort was hilarious.

A short time later we slowed again and I peeked above the seat. My stomach did flip flops. We were being stopped at a road check by four big Nigerian soldiers carrying guns. I asked Sandy, "What do we do? I didn't bring my passport!" I had seen too many movies apparently. Sandy told me to relax and just to let her do the talking, which was just fine with me. I knew that the Nigerians had had much civil strife and that there had been a series of military coups. Two of the soldiers came up to each side of the car and peered in. Alex rolled down his window and answered some questions in Yoruba. When the fellow at the driver's side saw Sandy and he stuck his head in. In English he said,
"Good morning ladies. What have you got for me today?" I looked at Sandy- thinking he meant papers. She said, "I have this." and she handed him a bottle of peanuts that we took everywhere for snacks as fast food was hard to find in Nigeria. The soldier frowned and shook his head. Sandy sighed and then dug in her purse. The soldier brightened, but then Sandy produced four hard boiled eggs. I gasped, thinking she was doing a good job of making this guy angry and probably getting us killed. To my surprise he motioned for the peanuts, and gave the bottle to one of his comrads.He then took the eggs, looked at them as if weighing the value, then said, "Very good. Thank-you maam." He motioned for Alex to go ahead. Sandy explained that this was quite common. Everyone is hungry in Nigeria. Food is a legitimate bribe. I started giggling, and so did Sandy. Can you imagine that in an American movie? The bad guy holds a gun on a bank manager, and says,"Hand it over". The Bank mangager says,
"All I have is this sandwich. Take it." The robber says, "Hey, pastrami! My favourite".

The rest of the trip was uneventful, I think. I had my eyes closed.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sad Good-bye

I have had the privilege of working with an amazing family for the past three years. Their second son was my student, Kyle, and I have been enriched by the experience of having known him. Sadly, he passed away on Monday, May 23, after having celebrated his 10th birthday in April. It was sudden, and unexpected, and completely and utterly devastating for all who knew him. I attended a service for him and the love for Kyle and his family was palpable and solid; an immense presence in the room.

The death of a child is unspeakable, and grief is magnified. So, it was amazing to me that so many people found the strength to stand up and talk about Kyle, not just to share their memories, but to share how much their lives were enriched for having known him.

Kyle had multiple special needs, and was not able to move much, or speak. However, he could speak volumes with his expressive brown eyes and his amazing smile that lit the world. He accomplished much in his too few years, in bringing together hundreds of people and gracing them with his love and spirit. I am not the same person I was before meeting him. None of us who had the pleasure will be.

Kyle taught everyone who met him that a person with special needs is a person first. He had limitations in what he could do, but there were no limitations on how he could interact with people and bring out the best in them. There is no single person with eyes and a heart who could receive one of Kyle's smiles and not feel lighter and happier because of it. There is no person who has met Kyle, who didn't want to do better, be better.

I have to thank his mother, profoundly, and from the bottom of my heart. I did not have much experience with a child with such needs before, but I learned through her that he was capable of learning and growing like any other child. The changes were smaller and harder to see, but if you knew how to look, they were there in an amazing array. We cheered when he first swam across the pool on his back, and marveled at his strength and determination when he decided to reach up and grab on to the gymnastic rings for the first time. We laughed at his mischievous nature when he dropped things off his tray just to watch someone have to pick it up. We respected his bravery during recover from major surgery, and loved his unabashed and noisy exuberance during bumpy joyrides in his wheelchair.

Kyle is now free to run, climb, laugh and talk, in a pain-free spirit body. Thank-you Kyle; your brief life on Earth has left it a better place.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Finally... back in!

I moved a couple of years ago and changed email providers.... in all of that, I forgot my password and which email account I had used to set this blog up. I have not been able to get back in! I finally found a note I sent to my work place and had hidden away for safe keeping... sheesh.... a little too safe, I'd say!

I have been working with SelfDesign for 6 years now, and LOVING it.... it's a great fit and I have met some amazing learners and their families. However, another very interesting piece for me has been my work with soldiers returning from Afghanistan.

The neuropsychologist for this garrison has been a long time supporter of the Comprehension program that I do, a beefed up version of Visualizing and Verbalizing, and has been prescribing it therapeutically for years. I have a started applying it in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder situations with these brave men and women. Needless to say, these young soldiers see and do some things that most of us never have to think about. I can't imagine putting my head down on the pillow at night to fall into a deep and restful sleep, having experienced what these people have experienced. War takes a toll, that's a given. Some handle it better than others. From what I have seen and been told by these soldiers, the ones who ask for help and receive it are by far, more successful in their recovery.

The pre and post test results are amazing. It's not unusual to see improvement of an average of two standard deviations in all areas tested. I am going to be testing this program on learners with other neurological impairments that affect learning. I am thinking there are huge implications for FASD, as well as ADHD and PTSD.
Exciting times!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

What about Central Auditory Processing Deficits?

Hi There!
I am seeing quite a few learners with the diagnosis of CAPD- and they are all prescribed a lengthy program of individual sessions with a speech therapist or audiologist to work on auditory processing skills. I don't know much about it-and after 25 years of teaching kids with learning disabilities, I haven't run into it as a diagnosis that stands on it's own. There was some work being done on this in the early 80s- around the time that the vision therapy was making it's first rounds- but for the most part auditory processing has been seen, in my experience, as part of the bigger picture- dyslexia. I am wondering why now auditory processing seems to be "extracted" from language as a whole and focused on as a discrete skill set?
I would love some discussion around this- it's a fairly expensive treatment, and I have listened to a CD program that one of my learners was "prescribed", and it seemed like very basic Rosner auditory discrimination-type exercises. Does anyone out there know anything about this? Are there any SLPs or Audiologists out there who can comment?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Time for a career change?

I have been considering a career change these past few months... after working with occupational therapists the last few years, I have become interested in this work. While helping my daughter research this as a career, I realized that I only need two years at UBC to get my Masters degree in occupational therapy. There is a real shortage of them in our area. Hmmm.
I love working with kids with reading problems- I have to say it's amazingly rewarding- and I love my work with SelfDesign... but every once in awhile I wonder what it would be like to work in another field not education-related! I get overwhelmed sometimes by the enormity of the systemic problem and at how difficult it is to effect real change.
Maybe I could to do both...

Video Tutorials

Well, the interface didn't materialize in time for me to use it for my tutorials, but I am making video clips with my Mac computer then posting them privately on YouTube. After viewing a clip the parents comment and post in a conference and we have a conversation that way... it seems to be working fairly well. This way they can all view them in their own time and can watch them more than once. It has actually been fun, but a bit of a challenge to keep my wordiness down to 10 minutes or less!