Granny Smith Apples

Granny Smith Apples

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Report Cards and the Parent-Teacher Interview

In the week's leading up to my son's first kindergarten report, I felt myself having more anxiety.  My anxiety stemmed from the unknown and the fact this would be his first formal academic evaluation.  I didn't have a reason to worry but you just never know.  Since I didn't know what to expect I told myself to not have any expectations.  As soon as he got home on report card day, I opened the envelope quickly.  After a look at the grades, my mind was blurting out "WHAT?!?  How on earth could he get 2 C's?!?".  My Asian mind was flabbergasted at how a child of mine could even get a "C".  Once I calmed down, I took a step back and came away with four important lessons.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Happy 21st Birthday! Now What?

There are few words in our language that will automatically solicit a smile from the majority of people.  Birthdays are memorable and joyous occassions full of celebration with loved ones.  It is a day to honour the past, enjoy the present and dream about the future.  Birthdays help mark significant milestones.  The first birthday celebrates the successful survival of the parents who have managed multiple night wakings, endless feedings, first smiles and first steps.  The fifth birthday sees a toddler becoming a young boy or girl with growing independence especially as they get ready to head off to school.  The 21st birthday is another milestone.  For the parents of a special needs child, this milestone contains much joy but it also brings to the forefront questions about the future.  At 21, the public education of the special needs child is finished.  Thus, the following questions arise.  What will my special needs child do with their time now that their schooling is finished?  Will my special needs child be able to find a job?  Will my special needs child be able to live on his or her own?  What kinds of resources, public or private, are available for  my special needs chid?

Hopefully, as a special needs parent, these questions are not being asked for the first time at the 21st birthday.  Like all special needs programs, public or private, there are long waiting lists and one wants to be sure find the best fit for their child.  Moreover, it is important to dream of the possibilities when your child is younger so your child can work towards the dream.  So as a special needs parent what do I need to know about the services offered after 21 years of age and what should I consider as I begin planning?

Sunday, 10 November 2013

I am Disabled. You are Disabled. We are all Disabled.

There, I said it.  It's a bold statement and I know it is so before the battle cries begin please hear me out.

I am disabled because I do not have one shred of artistic talent.  I can see art.  I can appreciate art.  I want to create art.   But I can't.  There is a disconnect between the visions in my head and my hands that have to do the  creating.  This disability causes me difficulty when I am asked to draw a picture.  Even now, I revert to stick men and very little detail.  In elementary school we were asked to draw a picture of our favourite season.  I drew autumn because I had perfected drawing a tree and bare branches.  This disability can paralyze me.  It took me almost a month of hemming and hawing to get this website started because I couldn't imagine an original design and then actually produce it.  I am disabled.  In my disability, I have been able to show strength as I have approached the challenges.  I chose to become a teacher where I could use my artistic skills minimally.  When I need to create a bulletin board or prepare an art lesson, I have learned to ask for and accept help.  Asking for and accepting help are hard things to do and they are humbling.  In my disability, I have learned coping skills to help me minimize my weakness and maximize my strengths.  

I need to stop here and address something before I continue.  In no way does my lack of artistic talents compare to the very real and frustrating challenges faced by a person with autism, Down's Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy or any other recognized disability.  I know the challenges my "disability" present me with are incomparable to the the challenges of these other disabilities.  Please do keep reading to hear my point. 

Special Education Students and the High School Classroom

What is teaching high school science to special education students like?  For me, teaching science to special education students has meant hearing phrases such as:

"You know the day you lost me was when you said, "Hi, my name is Ms. Lau."
"I'm only in Grade 9 math.  I can't do this." (from a Grade 10 student said with arms crossed and while putting down the pencil) 
"SHUT UP!  Let's just take our notes and then we can have our free time.""What's the point of this? 
 It's not like I'm ever going to use this." 
"Are we going to the lab today?" (said in the hopes of being able to do something besides writing notes and completing worksheets)

Teaching high school science to special education students has meant seeing students place headphones over their ears in the hopes of having some distraction from the drone of science talk.  It has meant taking up to half of a 75 minute period waiting for the students to be quiet so that a lesson can be taught.  It has mean standing over individual students prodding them to focus at the assignment at hand even when the rest of the class is in chaos.  It has meant knowing that although notes are being copied and texts are being read but there is no connection or stimulation of the mind going on.  My personal experience of teaching high school science to special education students often seems bleak.  It is hard to fathom that actual learning could take place amidst the resistance to the science material.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Weekend Links

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Sticker Charts that Stick

I was losing it.  Little things were exploding into big things.  My sleep deprived brain was taking away the patience I desperately needed.  I needed to take control of the situation rather than constantly react.  My brain went into teacher mode and as I ran through the strategies I settled on the sticker chart.  Now it was time to put theory into practice.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Independent Living Skills or Academics?

 © Copyright Toby and licensed for reuse under thisCreative Commons Licence

  • Would you rather your child be able to follow directions or able to count from 1-10?
  • Would you rather your child be able to independently get ready for school in the morning or would you rather them be able to read?
  • Would you rather your child be able to communicate effectively using visuals or communicate with difficulty verbally?
  • Would you rather your child be able to live on their own or would you rather them have a high school leaving diploma?

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Weekend Links

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Tutoring. To Do or Not To Do?

If your child is having any difficulty in school what is the first resource you think of?  Most parents will begin to look at tutoring for their child.  It seems like a simple answer but it's not.  How do you find a tutor and what concrete expectations can you have?  Do you want the tutor to work on your child's homework or do you want the tutor to work on supplemental teaching material?  How many hours of tutoring do you need?  What qualifications does your tutor need?  Most of all, how do you know tutoring will be effective in helping your child see more success academically?

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Weekend Links

Friday, 4 October 2013

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Every new school year brings new expectations of and hopes for new achievements.  My oldest started kindergarten this year and by the end of the year I am expecting him to have an excellent grasp of the letters of the alphabet and the sounds they make.  I also expect him to be able to write, identify and count his numbers up to at least 20.  These are reasonable expectations for his developemental level.  By the end of the year, I hope he will be reading.  My hope is a possibility but it is not for certain.

Expectations and hopes for schooling change when you have a special needs child.  You can't expect the same achievements in the same timeline.  It is more difficult to hope because your hope often remains just that.  Allowing yourself to compare your special needs child with neurotypical peers is not a fruitful exercise.  A seeming lack of progress can cause you to miss the achievements that are there.  At times, it seems like moving one step forward only results in two steps backwards in another area.  

Today's piece is written for the parent of a special needs child in need of encouragement.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Culture Influences Disability Perspectives

Starting from what the person sees and not what you see.
My Kindergarten Class
Division 20.  Mrs. Kuhn's classroom.  Roll Call.

Gloria Andrews                         Janet Atchison                   Karen Basi                  
Michael Brenner                       Nikki Crowder                     Harjit Dhesi                        
Biance Fillion                            Christy Fontaine                Sunny Jaura
Stephen Ford                           Gordie Giroux                    Kevin Hubbard          
Mark Kavanagh                        Gamoon Lau                      
Lubin Liou                  
Sandra Misceo                         Nancy Seto                        Elayne Sun                
Charity Zaparita                       Melissa May                       Josip Valesic

62% of the kindergarten class was of European descent

My Graduating Class

Magee Secondary School.  Graduating Class of 1996.  215 graduates.  
32% of the graduating class was of European descent

Friday, 31 May 2013

I'm Not The Expert. You, The Parents, Know Your Child Best!

It's confession time on this blog.  I don't purposely mean to do this but every school year I just fall into it.  Each school year, I start off not knowing much about each student in my classroom.  But then I spend 8 hours a day with each student and each day I learn what they like, what they don't like, how they learn and how they react to a variety of situations.  I can anticipate reactions as the school year progresses.  By Christmas, there is very little that will surprise me regarding a student.  I mean by Christmas I have spent over 500 hours with each student and there is more to come.  So parents please forgive me my indiscretion. 

Saturday, 25 May 2013

What Happens in the Inclusive Class? A Writing Lesson

What really happens in the inclusive classroom? Can the needs of all students be met adequately? Is the teacher prepared for addressing the special needs that arise?  As parents you only have what your child tells you.  For some parents, your child gives little to no response either because his/her verbal skills are limited and other times because he/she chooses to share very little.  Other times, your child gives non-stop information.  You hear all about lunch, who got in trouble and snippets about the work completed but you still don't hear how a lesson was taught and if they really learned it.  Today you're getting the insider look into a 40 minute writing lesson taught to a group of 25 Grade 4 students in an inclusive classroom.  You'll see how the lesson is differentiated to include different learning styles and levels.  You'll see the multiple opportunities students have to absorb and practice the lesson.  You'll see how the process of writing actually has many parts for students to practice and  how it needs to be broken down in order to produce a successful writing piece.  You'll see how the effective teaching in an inclusive classroom is more than just about how and what is being taught.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The I.E.P....Not Just Another Piece of Paper

The Individualized Education Plan (I.E.P.) is a key document in a special needs child's education.  It is mandated by law to ensure a child is receiving the accomodations he/she needs in order to reach his/her full educational potential.  It provides a comprehensive overview of the child's strengths and weaknesses, accomodations needed and applicable teaching strategies.  The document is reviewed and modified as needed annually by the school team and parents.  The school team usually consists of but is not limited to an administrator, resource teacher, classroom teacher and therapy providers.  The timeline for the creation and format of an I.E.P varies depending on the school or district.

This document sounds like it will set the tone and foundation for a special needs child trying to succeed in a formal education setting.   Yet the realities of the I.E.P process can be fraught with difficulty.  It is difficult to write and implement an I.E.P. that has real meaning for the everyday classroom.  Here are some of the difficulties I have experienced as a teacher.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Summer and the Special Needs Student

"No more school.  No more books.  No more teacher's dirty looks!"
This chant and ones like it will soon be sung in classrooms across the country.  For some special needs parents the end of the school year will bring relief from nagging about homework and berating their child for not listening in class.  Their child can use up all their energy running in the sun and exploring the city.  For other special needs parents the end of the school year brings trepidation as they are unsure how they will entertain their child for two whole months.  Their child needs constant supervision and a very specific person to take care of their needs.  Either way I have a reminder for both sets of parents from a teacher's perspective.  

Summer is just a season.  It's not a break from learning.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Choosing a School for your Special Needs Child: A Day in an Enclosed Classroom

Choosing the right school for your child can be a daunting task.  School tours and speaking with other parents with children attending the school are two great ways to see if the school would be a good fit.  Another great way is a teacher perspective on what generally happens in the classroom each day.  Today we'll be looking at a day in the enclosed classroom.

The above picture is NOT what my enclosed classroom looked like.  In my first year teaching at a private school for kids with intellectual disabilities, pervasive developmental disorders or psychopathological disorders, I taught a class of 10 students between the ages of 4-6 years old.  The students were diagnosed with low functioning autism, were non-verbal and timed toilet trained.  I was working with students at a developmental level of about 18 months old.  I had one full time aide and a second aide during meal and toileting times.  What did I do with this group all day long? 

Monday, 8 April 2013


Today I was able to take the time to attend this parent conference sponsored by the Lester B. Pearson school board's Central Parents' Committee.  Of course, I attended the workshops related to special needs and I came away encouraged and with added resources in hand.

The first workshop I attended was on IPads and Social Stories for special needs students.  I learned about some really cool apps but the two best take aways from this workshop were...

1)  Learning about the Endeavour program.  The Endeavour program is held at the Place Cartier Adult Education Centre and provides a training and social integration program for special needs adults (persons over 16 years).  As it is under the Lester B. Pearson school board it is free tuition.  It is a growing program and led by a wonderful team of teachers!

2)  Learning about Misunderstood Minds.  The website is based on a documentary called Misunderstood Minds and is a great compilation of information.  The best part of this website is it lets you EXPERIENCE a disability.  If you click on any one of their categories (Attention, Reading, Writing or Mathematics), you will see close to the top a bar labelled "Experience Firsthand".  There are a number of activities you can can try and it definitely gave me a new perspective.

The second workshop I attended was "Dyslexia Does Not Spell Disability/School Success with Disabilities".  I went to this workshop because I had taught Christopher Simeone, one of the speakers, Secondary 4 Science and was excited to hear his story.  I grew prouder and prouder as I listened to Chris speak.  He is resilient, perseverant and has not let his disability define him.  Rather he has come to understand his disability thereby learning coping skills and has risen to maximize his strengths.  It was so rewarding to know I played a small part in this child's life.  Check out Christopher's story here.

Monday, 1 April 2013

The Key to an Inclusive Classroom

Do you wholeheartedly support inclusion or do you teach in an inclusive classroom with reservations?  Regardless of what you believe, the inclusive classroom is the reality for the majority of teachers.  Each day we are faced with 25 or more students and within each group of students we have at least one, if not more, students who have a special needs code.  Moreover, within our non-coded students we have a variety of abilities and learning affinities.  If we are lucky we have a teacher's aide for our special needs student either part time or full time.  Perhaps we even have a resource teacher scheduled throughout the week.  In the midst of this we are charged with the challenge of helping our students succeed academically and socially.  Their success is our success.  What is the key to a successful inclusive classroom?

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The List - Stephanie's Story

On Facebook the other day I came across a list:  35 Phrases That Encourage Positive Cooperation Between Child and Parent.  My son has Autism, and I tend to avoid “typical” parenting websites because there is little that is typical about our family, and I find myself feeling frustrated as opposed to empowered – but this time I thought, “what the heck?”

By number three I was frowning; by number 23 I think I may have started to twitch.  As a teacher – maybe even just as a compassionate adult? – obviously I can see the benefit of working through difficulties with children in ways that encourage mutual, positive idea-exchange. As a parent of two kids – our youngest is neuro-typical – I notice a vast difference between what is effective (or futile) when interacting with a neuro-typical child as opposed to interacting with a child with certain needs.

So I thought I would compile a similar list, but one of phrases that are relevant to Autism.  Trouble is, once I got going, I realised the list would be miles long – and even then, parents who don’t live in our house with our kids will sit  reading my list and find themselves frowning and twitching.  Finally, I switched gears and decided to put together something that families struggling with special needs can use for plain old, self-indulgent comfort.  Et voilà:

Monday, 25 March 2013

Information Overload?!? Where Do I Even Start

The other day I wanted to research ways to teach the alphabet to my preschool aged son.  I started with Google, typed in "teaching alphabet to preschoolers" and got 476,000 results.  I scrolled through the first 2 pages or so and tried to bookmark some of them based on the initial descriptions but I got overwhelmed.  I stopped.  

Isn't this similar to what happens when we, as parents, search for special needs resources?  We have so much information at hand yet we often end up with so little.  Sometimes we read and read but have no idea how to adapt the information to our needs or how to incorporate it into our lifestyle.  Other times we think it is what we need and invest so much time into it only to realize the results were minimal.  There are times when our research pays off but usually those times are a result of hours and hours spent plowing through articles and organizing them by relevance.  As vested partners in the lives of a special needs child, there is limited time to engage in this kind of thorough research.  So, how do we get the best resources for our special needs children without spending ridiculous amounts of time to find the relevant information?

Friday, 22 March 2013

The Faces of Our Special Needs Community

Do you ever wonder about the faces of our special needs community?  I never thought about or realized the many faces of disability until after university when I worked in a group home for adults with disabilities.  I might not recognize a person with special needs as I walk the streets, buy my groceries or pick up the kids from school but persons with special needs are very much present.  We just have to open our eyes to see.  Thanks to the blogosphere it has become even easier for us to get a glimpse of the real lives of those with special needs and their caregivers.  Thank you to the following bloggers for openly and honestly sharing your stories in order to build this powerful special needs community.       

Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder (Our Micropreemie Twins)

Spina Bifida (The Great Umbrella Heist)

Autism (Joy in the Valley)

Undiagnosed disability (Undiagnosed but Okay)

Cerebral Palsy (Transcending CP)

Down Syndrome (The Bates Motel)

Developmental Delay (I Can Say Mama)

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Eye-Opening - Alexandra's Story

During my second internship as part of my Bachelor of Education, I decided to try my hand at teaching children with special needs.  I had the amazing opportunity to student teach in a high school class at the MacKay Centre, a school primarily for students with disabilities.  In order for the students to feel like they could have a real high school experience, their main classroom was held at Westmount High School, a mainstream high school.

The six students in this segregated classroom had varied disabilities.  Most were multi-handicapped meaning both physical and intellectual disabilities were present.  As a student teacher I did not have access to their personal files and therefore I could only guess what their specific disabilities were. 

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Special Education Teachers are the Best Teachers?

Are your eyebrows raised?  Mine were.  I heard this during my first year of teaching in a school where many students had significant gaps in their learning.  Some of these learning gaps were due to behaviour and motivational issues but many of the learning gaps stemmed from learning disabilities, intellectual deficits and ADD/ADHD.  In order to help all the students in the general classroom, special needs or not, to reach their full educational potential, there was a focus on increasing reading skills throughout all areas of the curriculum using strategies seen to have worked in the special education classroom.   

Friday, 1 March 2013

First Day Jitters - Pamela's Story

It was a warm morning at the end of August- my boy’s first day of Kindergarten. Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder when he was 3, we had done all we could for him. We had used the government help available through our CRDI (Centre de Réadaptation en Défficience Intellectuelle), he followed intense behaviour therapy at home and had learned to communicate one word at a time. By the time Kindergarten rolled around, he could make himself understood and understood others if they spoke slowly and directly to him. I had mixed feelings. I knew he could be integrated into a regular stream Kindergarten classroom and knowing how far he’d come, my mommy heart felt so proud of him. The flip side was that I was being asked to trust the school implicitly. I had no information about how his day would go, whether or not he would have someone with him during the day or whether any of the accommodations I had asked for were in place. Everything seemed to be a secret.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Challenging Our Perspectives of Disability

An honest discussion of disability must begin with an examination of our personal beliefs and perceptions regarding disability.  As a teacher, I can be trained in various teaching strategies and given an abundance of resources but unless I believe in the core value of them I won’t apply them in my classroom.  

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Witnessing A Father's Journey - Tanya W.'s Story

When I was working in a daycare, I remember registering 2 sisters who were both on the autism spectrum.  However, this was not what caught my attention.  It was their father.  He was an engineer but had quit his job to provide care and research resources for his daughters.  I was amazed and bewildered because I assumed that both the government and our health care system would provide most of the care and resources.  Although he had a social worker who provided information, he still had to filter all the information regarding schools, therapists, workshops and so on.  Despite all this, he also did not get services immediately because there were long waiting lists.  So what did he do while he was waiting?  He stayed home to care for his girls.  It wasn’t as simple as watching them.  He researched and learned how to teach and stimulate them.  This information was not handed to him.  This seems to me the most daunting part since he went out on his own to find help while he waited for help and he didn’t have a background in education.  It looked like there were many obstacles and bureaucracy before this man when all he needed was a guiding light.  

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Disability Knows No Borders

During the summer of 2000, I had the opportunity to work in an orphanage for children with disabilities in China through an organization callled International China Concern. Up to this point, I had yet to be touched personally by disability.  This experience caused me to interact with disability on a daily basis for 6 weeks and resulted in my definitions of disability being challenged.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Weekend Links


  • School Psychologist Files (information regaridng a variety of disabilities; includes ADHD, autism, sensory processing disorders, learning disabilities and more)

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? - Alexandra

In second grade when we were asked “what we wanted to be when we grew up?” all the other girls answered veterinarians. I didn’t want to be like them, but I did want to work with animals so I answered “A farmer”!  That marked the beginning of my ever changing journey to my choice of careers.

By the end of elementary school, I decided that my new career would be a marine biologist, because I wanted to work, swim and save the whales.  I was obsessed, making posters and researching all the different types of whales.  Deciding how I was going to save them from the harm that humans being were causing them.  This obsession lasted only about a year and a half.

A doctor!  That’s what I answered when I was asked what I wanted to be at the end of high school. I looked through anatomy books and was the most attentive student in chemistry and biology class. I applied and got accepted into health sciences in CEGEP. When I got there though, I hit a brick wall.  Higher education was nothing like elementary and high school.  You actually had to study! I did finish my diploma, but was no longer sure about what I wanted to be.  When applying to university I figured I would apply to four different programs figuring I wouldn’t be accepted into all. To my surprise, I had to choose between, a forensic scientist, pre-med, a kineseologist, and a teacher. Ugh!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Implementing a Visual Schedule
Most teachers have made use of the visual schedule in their classroom but too often we don't think about how we can make simple adaptations so the visual schedule becomes more effective for our special needs students.  As we think about implementing visual schedules for our special needs students here are some things to keep in mind.  

Thursday, 7 February 2013

A Warrior in the Making - Tanya's Story

It’s funny how life goes…it sometimes takes you somewhere you never thought you’d want to be, yet once you arrive, it’s home. I remember sitting on a park bench on the grounds of Dawson College flipping through the pages of McGill University’s Course and Program Guide wondering what I wanted to study. I really had no idea. I settled on Education because it seemed to be a safe bet. Nope. I was not that child that dreamed of being a teacher one day. I chose Elementary Education but the university had other plans for me and placed me in Secondary.

And away I went…right to the end…and landed a job in a large, inner city high school teaching my subject specialization and learning the ins and outs of how a school/classroom is managed safely and effectively, like every other new teacher. It was in that very first year that I quickly learned that the best way to reach a student is to create a bond. I taught 10 different groups with an average of 25 students in each. Do the Math….I taught about 250 students that year. 

Talk about a variety of challenges! Drugs, truancy, major attitudes, delinquency, et cetera, et cetera…It was a lot. However, that one student, who sat at the back of the class, who said nothing during class discussions, who was the last one to leave the classroom after a test and who left behind an enormous amount of pulled-straight-from-the-root hair on his desk as a symbol of his frustration …it was that student who grabbed my specific attention. His writing was almost illegible and his spelling was completely phonetic. At a glance it could be dismissed as nonsense but I was determined to break the code. And I did. With the help of another, we read it out loud just sounding out the words and there it was…all of the answers to my test questions were there! I’d like to say that others shared my excitement but I would be lying. This one child, out of a roster of 250, would require a lot of extra time and attention to access and assess his learning. 

I had never taken a course on special needs or gifted students. I took it upon myself to begin reading up on learning disabilities and the following year I voluntarily began teaching the special needs classes. With each passing year I attended conferences and learned so much about my students, about their needs and how to reach them. I found a patience within myself I never thought I had and I found a warrior too, one who would fight on their behalf for resources, modified curricula, and against discrimination. 

I am currently teaching in a special needs high school, working with students aged 18-22 in a work-oriented program teaching functional Math, English and French as well as job skills and life skills. I love my job. I am greeted with twenty genuine, eager smiles every school day. That girl who sat on a park bench on the grounds of Dawson College, flipping through McGill University’s Course and Program Guide, wondering what on earth she was meant to do…has found her niche.