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Dec. 14th, 2014

How to fix Learning Disabilities

The simple layperson’s definition of learning disabilities is this: if a kid is reasonably intelligent or even quite bright and yet has trouble learning in school (and probably has issues in other parts of their life if you’re honest); then it’s probable that they have a learning disability.
Example: A class is learning to print letters and the teacher is instructing them. (STOP HERE) Some kids have trouble looking up at the board and down at their paper and keeping track of where they are in both places. The teacher is talking. (STOP HERE) Some kids can copy but every time the teacher talks; it distracts them and they lose focus. (STOP HERE) Finally; some kids have difficulty holding a pencil or processing the shape of the letters from the board to their brain to the paper.
Suggestions: Figure out what is going on and find appropriate therapies to help. Warning:This may be trial and error; don't be afraid to change or stop a program that isn't working.
The brain is plastic and can be changed. It’s what they do for people who have strokes and it works. But it’s hard work and takes someone to direct it who knows what they’re doing. And it can be expensive because in general; there are few publicly funded brain plasticity programs.
Simply putting a child on an IEP or sticking them in a resource room where they can work slowly on grade one math for the next three years; repeating the same work over and over because it just isn’t sticking (because they have poor visual/auditory memory); is not the solution. And yet special Ed teachers are not trained in any other methods. There is no urgency to fix the problem! Special Ed should be: Get them in, get them fixed and get them back in the mainstream class and do it like it’s a race against time; because it is.
The other thing is that intervention should be intense. People spend thousands on programs like Lindamood Bell and Fastforword and they work. But part of the reason they work is that they’re intense. Fastforword is an hour a day of an intense computer program for auditory processing issues. Lindamood Bell has three different streams for AP/Dyslexia and Concept Imagery. (Something I’d never heard of before I had my child tested by them but they were bang on) And with LMB; the minimum time suggested is 2 hours a day 5 days a week to get results. Plenty of kids do their summer program of 4 hours a day (with mini breaks) or parents even take their kids out of school for the morning and send them there for several months at a time. Extreme? Yes but it works. Next topic: Nobody had any of this ADD when the nuns were teaching.

Dec. 12th, 2014

Kids and Learning

I could write a lot about kids and learning. My two youngest kids had issues that prevented them from just going to the local school and picking up whatever was being taught in whatever sloppy style was the fashion at the time.
Because most kids can do that. It doesn't really matter if there are 30 kids in the class or if many of those kids don't speak much English or even if the teacher is a bit brain dead. The kids will learn. Maybe it won't be ideal but it will work.
Statistics say that about 60% of kids learn just fine regardless of the teaching style or content. It's the other 40% who struggle.
Of that 40%; at least half could catch up if they were in a good structured program that might resemble Miss O'Grady's class in St.Clare's in the fall of 1936. (which was when my aunt started school) Desks in rows, quiet class, lots of repetition and drill work and phonics instruction. Cheap and easy to deliver. (and I think Miss O'Grady had grade 13 plus a year of teacher's college in total)
31 years later I was in the same building in first grade being taught by Sister Mary Alfred. The old bolted to the floor rows of desks had been removed that summer, we had tables and groups and brand new books. The kids were mainly Italian and some didn't speak any English but Sister knew how to teach. Quiet classroom; lots of repetition and drill work) (and most learned just fine)
I'll add a disclaimer at this point: If your child was autistic or a slow learner (or what was termed Mentally Retarded in those days); they just weren't in a mainstream class. No exceptions. It was a big deal that my aunt's cousin Bernice went to grade 8 in the local school as she had Cerebral Palsy. And this was wrong of course.
But today; we have a situation of noisy unstructured classrooms, tons of kids who come in either not speaking English or from homes that don't, maybe this is their 6th school because they've had to move a lot or have lived in a shelter for a time, kids with various diagnosed and undiagnosed conditions as well as the garden variety learning disabilities and the previous half of the 40% who just need a quiet structured classroom to catch up. Um yeah sorry but they're just not going to get that. Unless their parents fork over $15,000+ to send them to a private school. For a quiet classroom and direct instruction. $15,000+. For quiet and structure. Yeah that's so difficult to achieve in a public school.
And I'm not blaming the teachers because they are forced to teach in a certain style, taught to teach this way and are then given this mixed bag of kids and told to produce results with very little support for the kids who can't learn in this environment.
This piece is a first in a series. It's not really about difficult hard to place kids, it's not about kids with autism or other behavioural issues, or even hard core learning disabilities; it's about the first layer; the easy fixes who are falling between the cracks because the system today is one big experiment. You might see a few of these kids in a behaviour class or getting a lot of calls home because they're not taking in the work and are bored or revved up by all the action and noise. And eventually through extra tutoring $$$$ or a teacher who takes an interest or just maturity; many of them do catch up; but there's a lot of misery along that road to the finish line.
Next topic: Learning Disabilities and how to fix them

Aug. 24th, 2013

The Real Catholicism

Last night I went to a meeting with some women who were Catholic homeschooling moms. They have a meeting for the moms and for planning once a month plus daytime social events for the kids both for fun and faith.
This was my second meeting; it's a bit of a drive for me; along a busy highway to a bedroom community outside Toronto; and I took myself this time because last time; the mom who took me didn't want to leave until midnight which is way past my bedtime.
The meeting started with the Rosary. An ancient repetitive prayer done with beads. Many cultures have prayer beads and use them but over 50 years ago; the Rosary started to be looked at as passé. As did many Catholic devotions. These were seen as unnecessary to being Catholic and not as important as things like social justice. (which is important but not less or more so)
As my aunt would say; "it's amazing how many things can be lost in a generation". When she was a teenager; she and a friend used to go over to a church daily in Lent and do the Stations of the Cross. Adoration. Benediction. Regular Confession. (not Reconciliation mind you; Confession) When I was growing up. In Catholic schools. All of this was absent. Who knew that Mass was a Holy Sacrifice and that the priest; while saying it; was not the center of it all but Jesus was? I thought Gregorian Chant was something done my monks in monasteries and didn't know that compositions from Handel; were often played at Mass.

I'm not saying the past was the best. There were a lot of wrongs that had to be righted. Among them; people going into religious life who shouldn't have but also people staying in abusive marriages that they should have left. And people who took a lot of time with devotions and daily Mass but on the inside were nasty people.

This is a bit long winded; but last night; praying the Rosary; four of the decades led by four of the hostesses children (like professionals) was sort of amazing. These women who have large families; some with jobs outside the home; who make it out to 8am daily Mass. Who choose to educate their children at home and give them more of a sense of Catholicism than most of our publicly funded Catholic schools do. In part because many of our Catholic teachers are Catholic in name only and in part because politics dictate that giving an honest Catholic education isn't "pastoral" (or in other words; too harsh as a priest east of Toronto found out)

My mom was a convert; presumably burning with convert fervor at one point; but she converted around 10 years before Vatican II and the things she converted for; what made being a Catholic compelling versus being an Anglican or whatever; largely disappeared around that time and so did much of her fervor. So I grew up with very little Catholic practice and although we did have religious symbols in the home; they were so modern that it took a while to recognize them for what they were. Statues of Mary and The Holy Family. (In abstract. In teak)

I probably won't homeschool more than a year; long enough for Talitha to catch up academically. But during this time I'll take the opportunity to expose her to a rare way of life; people who actually practice their faith daily rather than just on Sunday; and hopefully some of it will seep into our daily life too.

Jan. 6th, 2013

Christmas 2012 Hits and Misses


Had a good time with Joel who stayed over Christmas eve and day.IMG_0055

Got Talitha working independently on story starters. Hope it sticks for school.
Also got Myke reading her a nightly story and her enjoying it. (Encyclopedia Brown) (not related! LOL)
Finally also got her silently reading a story a day from 365 Bedtime Stories (1950)

Got Marya working on her math, and art.

Got the license plates updated. (not optional unless I love being pulled over by cops)

Finally attended an adoption get together over the holidays after a few misses over the past year.


It's been almost two years since I've seen Elliot in person and a ton of Christmases as well. :(
Never did go to Bed, Bath and Beyond with Marya to look for a new duvet cover. (maybe they'll be a strike day we can go on! LOL)

The weather was pretty messy and I never got out for any walks.

Never switched bedrooms for Marya and it's not gonna happen probably until after exams now.

Myke never finished the final financial info for the homestudy update. He's really busy at work but if we get a match; I don't want to lose out cause we're not ready.

Things I can feel ok about.

The house is relatively clean thanks to a marathon session this afternoon.

I am almost ready to start my two courses at Humber and Algonquin; respectively.

No large dumps of snow in the upcoming weeks forecast.

Kids bags are both in the front hall ready to go for tomorrow and lunch materials are prepared and ready to be dropped in bags in the early morning darkness. (I hate early January for that)

On the plus side; it's staying lighter for a few minutes longer every day....

Feb. 10th, 2012

Label Soup

I don't understand this increasing trend to label people with Aspergers. Sometimes it's even used as an "upgrade" from Autism as if the two didn't use completely different criteria.
Sometimes even someone with ADD is later given an Aspergers add on.
Aspergers presents from birth with (among other things) normal speech development (that may not be completely functional) and issues with fine motor.
If a person doesn't have these two issues (even if they have others); they don't have Aspergers. They may have issues/problems/etc but they don't have Aspergers.

Yes there are people with Aspergers but they present with a specific set of symptoms and behaviours. Among them:

(IV) There is no clinically significant general delay in language (E.G. single words used by age 2 years, communicative phrases used by age 3 years)

People will say; "well it's on a continuum and they've expanded the continuum." Look out people; if it expands any further; we'll all be on some kind of continuum. (hey wait a minute; could that be like a broad range of NORMAL??)
The fact is that some people who have learning/developmental difficulties have problems that DO NOT HAVE AN EXISTING LABEL/DIAGNOSIS.
Other people have a really difficult early childhood development and somehow without a lot of expensive intensive therapy GET BETTER AS THEY GET OLDER.

Labels are useful if they can point the way to services that are covered by the government or private plans but it's been my experience that happens only in about 30% of cases. (I"m probably being generous)

The other interesting thing about labels (which I am using interchangably with diagnosis or dx) is that you have to be a doctor or psychologist (PHD) to formally make this assessment.
But does that stop your average person from offering a snap diagnosis? Not on your life! They are only too happy to tell you what's wrong with your child. (or how you're mistaken or in denial even if you have a DOCTOR'S assessment proving otherwise).

Also fascinating is that these armchair "experts" (and unfortunately many doctors) never mention something like Central Auditory Processing Disorder; a fairly unknown but relatively common disorder that has a great impact on speech and general development. I guess there haven't been any movies about that one.

Probably good that teachers out there don't read my blog. They would so not want me at their meetings.

Aug. 28th, 2011

Notes from a traveller to a foreign country

Reflections on my recent trip to the US after a 5 year absence:

Your customs guys are more scary than ours; really.

Yes I know that taking my tea with milk is strange and that being a Canadian explains a lot.

Cheap Gas!!! (well a lot cheaper than ours!)

Washington DC drivers are way more aggressive about not letting you in than Toronto ones; yes really and Toronto drivers can be pretty aggressive!

In the US; potato chips are a vegetable; and strangely at one restaurant; macaroni and cheese was too!

You guys really love your $1 bills and have this thing against $2 currency. Which means tons of $1 bills. American dollar coins seem to get rejected by machines a lot too. I wonder if Americans got toonies if they'd try to punch the gold centres out like we did at first?

The Washington Metro subway rides were interesting although they really have a complicated (to me) system of fare paying by distance and if you stray into rush hour; you have to pay extra to exit. Also they are uplit in a futuristic way sorta like the Star Trek Next Generation when they were in battle mode; dark and spooky. The explanation was fewer lights made less heat.

Your history is way more fun than ours; or at least you guys work at making it that way. Laura Secord and her cow just don't have the cachet of Daniel Boone/Paul Revere/etc!

Some folks in small towns sure don't seem to like Walmart (or why else would they lie and say they didn't have one so we had to go to a crappy local store and then see (a Walmart) in blazing lights as we left town by a different route)

Starbucks is the same in both countries and thank God for that!!

As much as people rave about cheaper prices in clothing; I didn't see a huge difference although we didn't really get a lot of time to shop.

Less political correctness in radio ads which was actually refreshing at times. Quote: (and if you're calling us folks; Yes We Speak English) I'm still looking for that ad; it was for a solar powered heating and cooling in Virginia and it was hillarious!

Way more religious stations on the radio.

Beer and wine in 7-11!! And gas stations! (in many states and scary liquor stores in Pennsylvania) LCBO I missed your provincial respectibility!

Most schools seem to start before Labour Day!

Jack Layton died and we only knew because we brought a laptop and read the Globe and Mail!!!

If you rent a motel room and there's a level crossing; try to get a room not on the same side as the train which runs through every hour and a half 24/7 tooting it's whistle! Not so picturesque at 3am!

I have no idea how people survive that bad air in the coal/steel towns of Pennsylvania.

Cigarettes in plain sight in gas stations, corner stores etc rather than behind the metal cupboards.


And while our customs guys are less scary to me; I still think that when asked if we bought anything; Myke shouldn't have said $300 worth of books! (we did buy a few t shirts too and the guy did give him a hard stare) Luckily; our crossing (Peace Bridge) was 15 minutes and no forms to fill out.

RIP Cardinal Ambrozic; also learned this online.

I am now the proud owner of a t shirt with the Declaration of Independence on it. (from Colonial Williamsburg; one of my fave haunts) It is a stirring document.

Bye bye US; hope to see you soon.

Jan. 25th, 2011

Cauliflower Lasagne

This amount makes 2 9x13 pans.

1 1/2 heads of cauliflower or one big one
1 1/2 cans of 680ml sized tomato/pasta sauce. (I like the no name No Frills yellow label kind as it has real olive oil in it)
1 onion
1 tablespoon of garlic
1 pound each of ground beef and pork
2 500g blocks of mozzarella cheese (I used regular fat kind)
1 tub of ricotta cheese low fat
Italiano spice (use your own judgement in spicing) Also powdered onion, parsley, oregano, chili powder
4-5 eggs
parmesan cheese

1 1/2 heads of cauliflower (or one really big one) chop in chunks and boil for 15 mins until tender then chop finely/mash Drain and put in tea towel and squeeze out excess liquid until fairly dry.

Chop 1 onion and put in fry pan with one tablespoon of chopped fresh/jarred garlic. Fry with 1 pound each of beef and pork.

Fry onion with the meat for about 10 mins; you can add a bit of water if you like but drain it after it's cooked.

2 blocks of mozzarella cheese grated. (500 gram each) set aside.

1 500g tub of ricotta cheese (i used the low fat kind)
4 eggs

Beat the eggs with the ricotta and mix in 1/4 cup parmesan cheese and some dried parsley.

Italiano spice or oregano/parsley/chili powder/onion powder

Assembling the lasagne:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Line pans with foil.

Put 2/3 of chopped cauliflower on bottom

Spread meat mix over it.

Tomato sauce (save some for top)

Put the ricotta mix over that.

Then put 1/2 grated mozzarella over that.

Put remaining cauliflower over mozzarella.

Put more tomato sauce/ some mozzarella like 1/2 cup and some parmesan and then it's ready to bake.

Bake for about 45 minutes and then let sit for 15 to set

1 1/2 cans of tomato sauce (the cans are 680ml or about 20oz each)

Nov. 30th, 2010

Fun and Games at School

My older girl Marya has an IEP (or individual education plan). It's supposed to support a student with various learning issues by giving extra support or challenges depending on their label. Marya's is Gifted/Learning Disabled. She also had auditory processing issues so the school supplies an FM receiver for her with a mike for the teacher. If she needs it she gets extra time for tests or to do them in a smaller room. She never exercises that option.
Over the years we've had countless meetings where the "team of professionals" (I put this in quotation marks partly because I'm not the least bit intimidated by them being a teacher myself and because some of them were pretty darn uncreative in their thinking) was supposed to offer us extra support for Marya. The problem was that as usual in most schools; they offer one set of supports like a laptop for writing, extra time for tests, the FM system etc but getting someone to give her a course in note taking or social skills development was just met with blank stares. So whatever.
The other thing about an IEP is that some teachers take that the mean that the student is a bit slow on the uptake and headed for a vocational program (even if my dd does have an IQ of nearly 150)so that's the downside.
So after all these years I've never really asked for much except for the FM device... until now.
Marya had a bit of a set back this year as she had her tonsils out in the last week of September and lost almost two weeks of school. She is catching up but when it came to science she was struggling. I asked to see her text so we could sit down together and work through the course material and that's where the trouble started.
There was no text and the teacher relied heavily on the students being prodigious note takers (not one of dd's strengths)
We contacted the teacher to be told "there is not textbook" No textbook? For Chemistry???
We went back and forth with the teacher even offering her PDF notes for Marya to use and finally after a few calls to various departments it was admitted that yes; there was actually a textbook but there was only a set for the class and she was welcome to borrow it during the day but she couldn't take it home. (budget cuts you know) A lot of good that does at 9pm when we really need it. It was even suggested that we could (gasp) buy one. (at a public school supported by our tax dollars?? I don't think so!
A few more calls including one to the Ministry of Education who informed me that yes there were budget cuts but only because Toronto's school board is losing students due to lower birth rates and migration to the 905 areas.
She was finally offered an out of date text (picture the teacher going in to a cupboard, getting one and blowing off the dust) for her use.
This is when I went to guidance and said "well she has an IEP so lets use it to ensure that she is always given her own text even if the school has to buy one for her personally.
It was good that I had this conversation because yesterday Marya informed me that they're studying biology now and the text she was given isn't very helpful.
One irate phone message later (at 8am) and followed up and 9:30 wherein I was informed that Marya was on her way to guidance to pick up the right book for her own personal use! Yaaay!
It only took a a month and a half.

Oct. 21st, 2010

Life in the City

8:10am Leave house to drop Talitha off at school.
8:30am Exit drop off lane and head for QEW to work my way up to Seneca College in King City to buy textbooks for next week.
9:00am Finally on the 400 going north and I notice a band of dark clouds at the edge of the horizon that look like...snowstorm clouds???
Listen to traffic and hear announcer reporting snowshowers at King Sideroad which is of course where I'm headed! LOL
Keep travelling north and watch temp gauge in car drop from 8 degrees down to 2 as sky progressively darkens and pavement becomes wet. I won't say it was snow but it did make a funny sound hitting the windshield.
9:45am Arrive at college and have 5 minute arguement with bookstore clerk about the availability of my books (which I had been promised were in stock with plenty of copies) Find books and pay for them and leave college stopping to admire rainbow against the steely sky.
Driving south on the 400 I hear the traffic announcer report that traffic is basically stopped after Sheppard and if anyone is planning to take the 401 west (which I was) they can just forget it as even if they manage to make it there; there's a collision in the collector lanes just west of the on ramps.
Take Black Creek Drive south to Eglinton (you know there is no really efficient way of getting downtown in this city from the west end. Thank you town planners of the past for not thinking ahead)
Crawl along Eglinton and down Oakwood/Ossington (thankfully I do know a few decent routes) to Dundas and along Dundas to Gore Vale; go south on Gore Vale to just before Queen where I find... A PARKING SPOT!!! An easy to park/no skill in shoehorning required parking spot that is all mine and free as long as I return within an hour. The temps down here are 9 degrees and sunny.
10:50am Walk down to Queen and am immediately assaulted by the whine of a fire truck complete with the barking sound to clear traffic and the purr of the streetcars. I love Queen St. Walk the three or so blocks and arrive at my second destination: Romni Wools. The most comprehensive wool store I've ever seen. You want it they got it and you can touch it (which beats online if you're fairly new to choosing wool) Spend 30 mins in store and reluctantly tear myself away bearing my prizes.
Hit Starbucks (downtown it seems like there's one on every corner) and walk back the the car with some trepidation to find it still there and unticketed.
Crawl along Queen for a few blocks until I can go south to the Gardiner; which thankfully is moving well (at least westbound)
12:00pm. Arrive home.
I love Toronto.

Jul. 28th, 2010

This could work

Dinner for kids (AKA Childrenfood)

I box of Presidents Choice White Macaroni and Cheese (which was sitting on the shelf a long time cause the kids prefer regular KD)

1/2 pound of cooked frozen ground beef (well it doesn't have to be either but I found it in the freezer)

1/2 onion (because any more would cause a revolt) and a dash of Canola oil.

I can tomato soup concentrated)

Dash Worcestershire sauce (to kill the taste of the slightly scorched onions (ok so I should have been watching them)

Step 1: Cook macaroni as directed on box and drain.

Step 2: Saute onion in oil and try not to screw this up like I did

Step 3: In a large pot; combine onion, ground beef, cooked macaroni and tomato soup (and worcestershire sauce if you're so inclined)
Then in a last minute consultation with older dd; decide that you can also add the cheese powder (which she says makes anything taste better) and a splash of milk.

Heat through and serve to kids while you eat something more appealing.

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