One question Friday

Thanks Anchel -- for submitting this question: "What are some easy things we can do at home to encourage speech?"

I'm working on a tips sheet with our speech folks and will post in the next two weeks. I'll make sure I message you when it's up. Thanks! Louise

Christmas Flashmob Choir

This is one flashmob choir I wish I would have experienced first hand. In the midst of our materialistic culture, and malls full of people buying stuff, we are reminded of why this season is important...for all of us.


Imagine...a doll with pink hearing aids!

A fuscia pink wheelchair and hearing aids are part of a new American Girl line of accessories that includes purple sunglasses, earrings in the shape of pets and a flower-power purse.


But after noting that these items allow kids with disabilities to see themselves in their toys, and help normalize differences for all children, Jezebel writer Dodai Stewart questions whether the company isn't focusing too much on "ultra-customization" -- instead of allowing girls to imagine themselves in a different time and culture.

"Does it put too much emphasis on the individual?" Stewart writes. "Is it all connected to this new selfishness, the kind of parenting that insists every child is a special snowflake, worthy of praise just for existing?

Huh?!! wrote Ellen at Love That Max this morning, which is where I heard about the story.

Stewart continues: "It seems like, with the original history-oriented American Girl Dolls, the doll was a time-machine friend, the book taught a lesson, and you didn't have to be black to learn from Addy, the girl who escapes slavery during the Civil War."

Yup, that makes sense.

But Stewart then questions whether the custom dolls mean "there's less interest in exploring different cultures."


News flash: Disability is a culture, an identity, a minority group that is devalued. Why does Stewart assume that only a girl who wears hearing aids or uses a wheelchair is going to purchase these accessories?

What about the girl who hears fine but want to imagine, through her doll, what it's like to wear pink hearing aids and speak with her hands and her mouth?

Isn't that the same as pretending you're the girl escaping slavery in the Civil War?

How is it any different?

For the first time millions of little girls (and boys) are going to be able to use their play in a way that opens up their minds to greater diversity.

Every child is a snowflake, and the more we encourage kids to create stories and play about all variations of those intricately-patterned crystals, the better. There isn't anything selfish about that.

A Boy and His Penguin Should Not be Parted

When Joseph was less than a year old, his godmother sent him a stuffed dragon. Dubbed Puff the Magic Night-Night Dragon, Puff sang and lit up. Joseph lugged the toy everywhere (along with Blankie and a UW Badger) giving his grandmother and myself grief over how filthy it was becoming. You couldn't really wash it since it had electronics inside! Still, we all loved Puff and we still do. In fact, Puff still leaves the bedroom if Joseph is upset, scared or wants to snuggle.

Camille doesn't really have a lovey she needs to snuggle with. Until this last week, neither did George. Sure, he would lug Perry around sometimes but he wasn't super attached to it, not like Joseph is attached to Puff.

The Saturday before his birthday, we took the kids to Fritz's, a restaurant where they bring you your food on a toy train. Afterwards we went to the mall to burn energy off the kids and walk around. We stopped by Build a Bear to see their new stuffed Grinch and let the kids wish.

At one point, George ran up to Adam and shoved an unstuffed penguin in his face. "PENGUIN!" We let him play with it for a few minutes before Adam told him it was time to go and he needed to put it back. George met him with a, "NOOOOO! ME PENGUIN!" Adam tried again to tell him that the penguin lived at the store but he wouldn't hear of it.

We had never, ever seen him act like that to a toy. Ever. Apparently, he and the penguin had bonded and he was not going to let that toy go. We looked at each other and silently agreed to buy it for him. We had Penguin stuffed lightly (he doesn't like them firmly stuffed, for some reason) and took him home.

George hasn't put him down since. In fact, he's started talking more. "Poppa Penguin?" (Grandpa see penguin?) "Penguin EAT! Penguin night!" He's been rocking it like a baby, feeding it and having Penguin play. If Penguin is not right there in the morning, we hear "PENGUIN?" until he's located.

The best part of this is what happened the next day. George has not wanted to go to CCD. He fights it tooth and nail and cries the whole time. CCD has been going on since September and he has participated once. Well, Sunday he asked to bring Penguin to CCD. Normally we say no but I shrugged and said, "Why not? It makes him feel secure and he's so attached to it already." That day, he walked happily in and showed everyone his penguin. The other kids thought it was cool and George happily sang songs and colored with Penguin by his side.

I think I love Penguin.

In a world that is so overwhelming to my son, I am glad he has a warm, snugly, stuffed friend to keep him happy and grounded. I hope he and Penguin have many, many adventures together!

The Good Elf

AsThere seems to be alot of controversy over the Elf on the Shelf. He is (dare I say it) North Pole-erizing! (Get it? Get it?) Yet we have one and Tom the Elf has been a positive influence on the kids, without the threats of coal or no presents.

(Okay, I admit it, we do joke about putting Cole in their stockings...)

Anyway, I'm over at NPN again talking about how to make your Elf GOOD!

I think we are going to kick up the 2012 Christmas Season a bit with Mr. Tom E. Elf this year. It took too many brains cells to think of the fun places to put him last year. This year, Tom is going to bring a couple things each week for the kids. It's going to be as simple as a note telling them that today is the day to bake cookies or as fancy as a couple of dollar bin crafts. Stay tuned because next week I will be posting my list of Elf Activities.... just in time for Tom's arrival on St. Nicholas Day!

Teacher of ACC Student - Question #1

Alexandra Berube, the former Kindergarten teacher, who taught a student with Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum (and who also tutors the student - who is currently in 3rd grade), has written several guest blog articles here about her teaching experiences.

She also generously answered questions (that I had). Plus, Alexandra informed me that she welcomes questions from you--if you might have a question.

With that being said, I received a question for Alexandra from an aide who is working with a student who has ACC.

With permission I am able to share the aide's question here:


Thank you SO SO much for your articles. They have been such a blessing! I just started working as an aide to a 5 year old girl with Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum. She is in a mainstream Kindergarten classroom but we also do lots of one-on-one sessions with other Special Service therapists. She is a very joyful little girl and a social butterfly. She loves people!

Kindergarten is a full day. Most days she is very, very compliant but lately, we've had a lot of discipline issues in the afternoon. We have a 'Star System' (you receive a star for good behavior or we take away a star for bad behavior) but this doesn't entice her either way. Do you have any suggestions on what you did for discipline with Max?

The afternoons are the hardest because she's so tired. And when she gets tired, she gets frustrated. I'm trying to be proactive by thinking of things that entice her so she'll want to do her work.

Thanks for any info you can provide! I've really appreciated your insights this far" :)

GUEST BLOG POST - Reply to Question

Motivation, Positive Reinforcement, and Reward Systems (and When they Don’t Work)
by Alexandra Berube,

When *Max was in Kindergarten, our classroom had a sticker chart, and you would receive a sticker for each academic block that you conducted to the best of your abilities. There were four academic blocks each day, with a maximum of four stickers that you could receive per day. I would not remove a sticker for poor behavior, because I do not believe in negative reinforcement. You would either receive a sticker for positive behavior, or not receive a sticker at all. Once you received 30 stickers, you got a prize from the prize bag (filled with items I purchased from the dollar store).

The sticker chart worked really well for most of the students, especially those for whom positive reinforcement made a huge difference. They would gather around the sticker chart eagerly to see how many stickers they had received that day, and it even became a math activity where they would count up to see how many stickers they still needed to get to 30 (this utilizes both addition and subtraction concepts).

For Max, the sticker chart worked sometimes. It worked when he was slightly struggling with an academic task that I knew he was capable of doing, and this extra motivation could propel him towards finishing the goal of completing that task. But it did not do much for behavior modification. If Max found the task too challenging or too boring, a sticker on his chart was not enough compensation for him to want to work on the task at hand. He would roll off his chair onto the ground, toss his pencil, or find any other way to avoid physically doing the task.

I still found the sticker chart worthwhile, because for those skills that I knew he was at the cusp of mastering, it just took a bit more incentive to keep him motivated. But there was always that tipping point where he just wasn't motivated enough by a sticker to actually work.

In cases where the sticker didn't work, it became a game of how much can I change the activity so that it still meets its goal while framing it in a more approachable way for Max? Could I change the topic so that it was still testing the same skill but using a topic that he loved?

Now when we work on triple-digit addition and subtraction, multiplication, geometry, etc., I always frame the activity around a topic that he enjoys. If there are two chicken houses, and three chickens in each chicken house, how many chickens are there? When we were doing story problems for addition and subtraction, where he had to write his own story problems, the problem became about bear attacks: "If three people are attacked by bears, and then four more people are attacked by bears, how many people are attacked by bears altogether?"

When we focused on geometry, addition, and multiplication recently and worked with a floor plan of a home, I mentioned how Max was drawing doors on all of the rooms, and how that would be so great if there were zombies attacking, because there would be so many ways to escape. He started drawing doors all over the place and I asked him each time he drew a door what the measurements would be, and then what the area of that door would be, and then what the perimeter would be. This way he could enter his own world of the interests and topics that excite him, integrating the skills at hand almost so that he does not notice he is learning. He said the doors were 2 feet by 2 feet (small enough that we could escape through them but the zombies would be too tall and wouldn’t know to duck down), and then said, the area is 4! He just multiplied it spontaneously without my asking. The learning became part of the creativity.

Behavior modification in the form of shaping your lessons around the topics that interest your child is usually the most motivating way to keep them on task. Of course, this means altering your curriculum when you're in a larger classroom. But you're just not going to be able to keep a kid on task if they have no connection to the material. Stickers will not be enough to entice them. You can try rewards at the end of the lesson, such as, once you finish this worksheet we will...(Fill in the blank), but this level of forethought is going to be challenging for younger students. They're not going to be able to keep that goal in mind long enough to keep going on the immediate task. The intense frustration around working on a concept that they do not enjoy will overpower that forethought.

As children get older, they will be able to push through this frustration more and more, but for very young children where the behavior modification strategies of sticker charts and positive reinforcement don't do enough, it's best to try to mask an activity by wrapping a favorable interest around it. These children want to learn, and they are so excited when they get to focus on something they are interested in, that with that added effort on the part of the teacher or tutor, they will be able to tackle tasks that should be more challenging than they would normally be able to do. They will push through their frustration in a surprising way and surge forward in their capacity to develop these skills.

*Name has been changed.

About Alexandra Berube

Alexandra is the Managing Director of Boston Tutoring Services, a tutoring company that offers one-to-one in-home tutoring in Massachusetts. She is also a former Kindergarten teacher who also tutors students in grades
K-8, in all subject areas, including test preparation.

--click below for printable version of this article--

Motivation, Positive Reinforcement, and Reward Systems (and When they Don’t Work) - printable version

Watch for an upcoming guest blog post here soon from Teacher/Tutor, Alexandra Berube.

As a teacher and professional tutor, Alexandra plans to share more future guest blog posts here--where she will reveal additional insight into her student who has Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum and how it affects the student's education, and she will also be sharing teaching strategies that have helped her student.**

Do you have a QUESTION for Alexandra?

If while reading Alexandra's articles, about teaching and tutoring her student with Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum, you have a question -- she welcomes you to ask her a question.

**Note: Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum has a very wide range of effects--ranging anywhere from no symptoms--or mild learning disabilities--to severe mental and/or physical challenges. It can sometimes also be seen with other medical conditions, genetic syndromes, chromosomal anomalies and more. Every person with ACC can present differently in terms of their development, cognitive abilities and educational needs.

Each child who has ACC is a unique individual with their own abilities, weaknesses, challenges, motivations, strengths, as well as their own style of learning.

Christmas Wish Lists

For the past four or five years, my husband's family has exchange Christmas Wish Lists. (Before that, it was a free for all which involved alot of stupid gag gifts and coffee mugs and cat ornaments...) We always put something crazy on there (I routinely ask for a House Elf) but they are mostly filled with solid, practical suggestions that are inexpensive to buy but something we could all use.

Hot on my list this year is:
The Walden Pond Shirt from Out of Print Clothing. I wouldn't mind The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Little Women... or Animal Farm, 1984 or Fahrenheit 451 either. Yes, yes I am the type of mother who would wear an Animal Farm shirt to the kids elementary school when I go up to volunteer. Or Brave New World. I am overly fond of quoting those books anyway. I like distopian/utopian novels BEFORE it was cool to like them!

An under the cabniet mount for the iPad.

I also want the iPad screen fixed but, you know, details, details.


Lego Sopwith Camel. In other words, a billion little pieces on which to impale my feet in the middle of the night.

I'm also going to make him a pocket reading pillow and fill it with books. He loves the "I Survived . . ." series and is getting into graphic novels.

A simple model kit and art supplies, like a big pad of paper. I ordered some fun, eco-friendly art supplies from Stubby Pencil Studio.

The Princess was a little harder this year. Coupled with a birthday after Christmas, I need gift ideas for both holidays. She loves to draw and create so I think she is going to get mostly art supplies and craft kits. She has asked to learn how to sew, so I found a couple simple beginning sewing and beginning crochet kits. I also found a no-sew tie blanket kit. She will probably get some LEGO Friends and a few books... maybe some Barbies. I am also making her some 18 inch doll clothes.

George and Cole:
One of the challenges of having two kids the same gender and only 15 months apart is the shopping. They are into the same things at the same time but we don't always need two of the same things. I found Cole a baseball set that pitches balls to you. (I know it is winter but we have been having a warm winter, so he could play with it outside.) A friend suggested some lacing beads, so I think Cole will get those too. George is likely getting a Jake and the Neverland Pirates pirate ship. They both love Monster Trucks so I think they might like giant monster trucks. I am making both boys Hobby Horses and some stuffed farm animals.

Adam is sooo hard to shop for! However, I put together a scrap book of our time in DC and picked up a few items for him.

Our two nephews are getting puzzles. I think I am getting our niece (age 5) a rag doll I am making and some puzzles or art supplies.

What are the loved ones in your life asking for this holiday season?

A sibling night with Melanie and Tommy

Hear about how one creative family sought to educate school peers about their daughter's genetic syndrome -- and help her brother cope with sadness that his sister was being teased -- by writing a children's book.

Call for questions

Post questions related to child disability and parenting in the comments below and we will answer one next Friday by going to an expert at Holland Bloorview -- professional or parent.

Note: We can't answer questions about your child's care at Holland Bloorview in this forum. All feedback related to your child's care here is welcome by calling Kimberley Siu-Chong, client and family relations facilitator, at 416-753-6084. Kimberley responds to concerns, compliments and suggestions so that we can continue to improve care and safety, and enhance your experience at Holland Bloorview.

Post new questions about child disability and parenting here!

One question Friday

It's our first day to respond to a BLOOM question (actually, we're doing two today).

Q1. How do healthcare professionals feel when they meet a family that has waited for months to meet them? Do healthcare professionals feel there are adequate resources to appropriately assist all the children they assess?

BLOOM asked Dr. Golda Milo-Manson (photo inset), a developmental pediatrician and vice-president of medical and academic affairs at Holland Bloorview, to respond.

Dr. Golda Milo-Manson: All health professionals wish that they could see children and families as soon as they receive the referral but in order to be fair and meet the demands of all children waiting for service it isn’t always possible.

The great news is that we’ve made a lot of changes at Holland Bloorview to improve our access to services. For example, the wait for assessment of children with complex medical problems or developmental disorders, like autism, is now under three months.

In terms of your second question, it’s difficult for me to speak on behalf of all health professionals. As a developmental pediatrician, I can tell you that we run the largest training program for this specialty in Canada, but our capacity to train is not meeting the demand that is growing. And the demand is not just in Canada – there are vacancies for developmental pediatricians internationally.

Q2. What is the appropriate way to handle a child with special needs who doesn't understand the "rules" of the playroom and throws toys without picking them up? By tagging behind the child constantly telling them not to throw toys, I worry the child is internalizing that everything they do is wrong (always getting in trouble no matter what they do). It is the disability that is preventing the understanding and the sensory issues that are causing the exploratory behaviour. Holland Bloorview is supposed to respect special needs, not reprimand constantly although I understand there are also rules to follow.

BLOOM asked Laura Williams, director of client and family integrated care, to respond.

Laura Williams: Thank you for bringing your concerns forward to us. Your feedback about your experience in the playroom is very important to us, but it's difficult to respond properly to your question without more information. The best way for you to have your ideas and feedback heard and addressed is through our client and family relations process. Kimberley Siu-Chong responds to concerns, compliments and suggestions from our clients and families so that we can continue to improve client care and safety, and enhance your experience at Holland Bloorview. Please contact Kimberley directly at 416-753-6084 to share your thoughts. The playroom team and Kimberley are happy to work together with you to address the issues you’ve raised. Thanks again!

9 Days that Changed our Lives: Thanks and Giving

Every year since 2008 Adam and I have coordinated a team of volunteers to bring Thanksgiving dinner to parents who currently have babies in the NICU. Adam cooks the turkey, I get the volunteers together and we all come together Thanksgiving Day to feed the families who are where we were years ago.

This is our fifth time bringing Thanksgiving to the NICU and we had 3 TV stations filming the event. All three covered the story from different angels. Adam and I were interviewed by KMBC.

Many of the parents who help out are parents of micro-preemies. They spent months at the bedside of their child while we were there for only 9 days. It was only 9 days but it was 9 life changing days. It changes everything about us- how we parents, how we view life, the causes we are passionate about. Because of those 9 days, we have the NICU Thanksgiving.

Adam started it. He told me he had "nervous energy" and need to do something. In 2008, while George was still in the NICU, he brought dinner to everyone by himself. In 2009, we had a small group of volunteers. Now we have the NICU Foundations, Circle of Hope, helping us and I feel that this year was our biggest and most successful yet!

People ask why we do this. In his clip, Adam said "guilt" but that's not really the case. We came to love and care for the other parents we met in the NICU and really wanted to do something for them. It's our way of offering love and support to the people who are where we were four years ago.
Some say that the short amount of time late term preemies spend in the NICU doesn't matter. Some say they aren't real preemies or real graduates or that the long term problems they have are nothing. But remember- that late term preemie of mine, those short 9 days.... they are the reason for this. They are why we give thanks and give back every year.
Those 9 days.... they mean everything.

One humanity, one voice

Being different is isolating, but if we join with others who are perceived as undesirable we find community and a powerful voice for social change, says Andrew Solomon, author of Far From The Tree, at a talk at the Toronto Reference Library yesterday.

"It's important to establish the commonality of difference," Solomon says, speaking of his new book that explores families of children who appear "alien" to their parents because they have conditions like Down syndrome, dwarfism, deafness and schizophrenia, or are transgender, child prodigies or conceived in rape.

"It's all one battle," Solomon says. "If you take every [person] who experiences themselves as somehow different from the mainstream, that's more people than in the mainstream. All of us should be addressing the questions and advocating together for a more just world."

Solomon is referring to the way minority groups have historically split off from each other in their advocacy efforts. People with physical disabilities don't want to be identified with those with intellectual disabilities, or people with mental illness object to being compared to those with autism, or someone who's transgender doesn't see any common experience with a person with dwarfism. As he notes in his book, the parents of child prodigies didn't want to be included in a book with families of severely-disabled children, people with autism insisted that those with Down syndrome had lower intelligence than them, and deaf people didn't want to be associated with people with schizophrenia.

I think Solomon has nailed the problem of discrimination within the disability community -- and how it fractures all of our attempts to achieve equality as humans.

"Being blind and being gay are different, but having a selfhood that others perceive as undesirable is identical," Solomon writes in Far From The Tree.

Solomon admits that before writing the book he was "somewhat afraid or uncomfortable" with the groups of people he'd be interviewing. "Then I got to know people and hear the stories of people and I felt a glowing humanity...The experience of habit makes these syndromes different from how one imagines them from the outside."

Solomon first became interested in writing about parents whose children appear to be unlovable when he wrote Defiantly Deaf for the New York Times Magazine. In researching the piece, he realized that his experience growing up gay with straight parents had parallels to what it felt like to be a deaf youth living with hearing parents. "I saw people who were deaf didn't experience it as 'lacking hearing' but as having membership in a good and valid culture" centred around sign language, Solomon said. "I became interested in the tension between the ideas of illness and identity.

Solomon contrasts how being gay in the 1970s was perceived as an illness and criminal act while his life today as a husband with children is seen as an identity. "I thought if people can make that switch from illness to identity, then where else is [that change] possible?"

Solomon's book focuses on what he calls horizontal identities -- "when a child is a member of a culture with which the parents have no previous experience and needs to learn identity from a new peer group." In contrast, vertical identities are traits that are passed down generationally, like race and language.

Horizontal identities are central to a person, Solomon says. "They are inherent to someone's whole personality and you can't cordon them off," as some parents attempt to do -- refusing to allow a deaf person to sign, for example, trying to turn a gay child straight, or insisting that a child with dwarfism have their arm and leg bones broken in a dozen places, and stretched in a painful, even "barbaric" he says, procedure.

"When parents say 'I wish my child didn't have autism,' what they're really saying is 'I wish the autistic child I have did not exist, and I had a different, (non-autistic) child instead," is how a man with autism describes it to Solomon. "...This is what we hear when you pray for a cure...that one day we will cease to be, and strangers you can love will move in behind our faces."

Solomon notes that at a time when life for people with Down syndrome is better than it's ever been -- "they live longer, have more intellectual accomplishments, function better and have greater education opportunities" they are at risk of being eradicated through prenatal testing and termination. He doesn't argue against prenatal testing but believes "a lot of the decisions are made from a standpoint of ignorance." He admits that his decisions on such matters would have been different before his indepth exposure to people with disabilities.

He stresses that cultural perceptions about what's a disability and what's an identity are fluid. "These things change. What seems today to be a disability 10 years from now might not be seen as a disability."

Social progress in how we view difference is as important as medical progress, he says. With the advent of "designer children" he hopes that "social mores will also progress, so that when we're given more choice, we won't all make the same choice." He calls for an "opening or expanding of our idea of normality."

Solomon says institutional and home care should be options for families and we have to recognize that while some families are suited to heavy caregiving, others are "barely holding on."

Typically the interests of non-disabled siblings are put first in decisions about where the disabled child lives. For many years, he says, it was standard practice to send disabled children to a home "in order to ensure siblings didn't have attention taken away from them." Now standard practice is that it's better for siblings to keep the disabled child at home so they don't later in life blame themselves for being the cause of the child's abandonment. But in either case "the focus is on the siblings and their mental health" Solomon says, rather than on the child with disability.

Parents with a lot of privilege in life tend to be perfectionistic and it was in these families where he saw the strongest attempts to "fix" the child, he says. In contrast, in families that didn't have the means to invest in intensive rehab programs, parents were more accepting of the child's differences.

He notes that while the siblings he met sometimes experienced their brother's or sister's care as draining, or felt parents were preoccupied with it, they loved their sibling deeply and did not wish that the child didn't exist. He came to the conclusion that the disability experience made siblings "more humane and kinder."

He encourages people to describe those with differences in a way that respects, rather than denigrates, while noting that we often become ludicrously rigid about language and intention is most important.

Solomon says that human diversity is what makes the world rich and is as important as diversity in animals or flora.

"Even when everything went wrong, people find meaning in the experience of being parents," he says. "This is not a Hallmark card and I'm not suggesting we go around saying 'What a shame that child isn't disabled.' But, as in looking at depression, it's possible to look deep into difficulty to find meaning and it's possible to grow. These are challenging and shocking experiences that call on people to undergo a profound transformation."

Andrew Solomon won a national book award for The Noonday Demon, An Atlas of Depression in 2001.

overheard: twinkies

Me: Adam, you may NOT E-bay Twinkies!

Happy birthday to my George.

Happy birthday to my (not so little!) preemie, my child who changed how I view the world, the baby that I fought for, the kid who made me realize the miracle of a healthy child, who made me realize my own gifts, who taught me to never take a single breath or word for granted, who made us a family of five, who makes us laugh every day, a wonderful big brother, a fantastic little brother . . .

Happy birthday Georgie Pordgie PuddinPie! We love you!

Negative capability

Students in black academic gowns stream down the wide wood staircase. Chatter chatter chatter. Laughter. Gowns come off. White coffee cups on saucers. The sound of a piano.

My disabled son will never come here, never know this.

Do you know where the Round Room is?

Two girls direct me through the stone courtyard. It's dark and still, except for the running water -- little waterfalls in a pond. I find the Round Room but there's a notice on the door to go to the Upper Library. Back I go across the courtyard. The Upper Library is furnished in dark wood. Chairs with cushions have been set on a Persian rug of blood red and navy and royal blues. In front is an elevated platform with a long wooden table set with wine glasses, a silver carafe of water and a display of poetry books. Behind it sit the three speakers. The walls are lined with bookcases. I can only make out coloured volumes of something called Punch. Middle-aged women with spectacles and notebooks. Latecomers are students with backpacks. The smell of cologne. It's quiet, anticipation, lights somewhat dimmed. Jovial voices waft into the room from what I can only imagine is the Lower Library. Everyone has expensive footwear. Chestnut leather boots with laces. Funky Mary Janes with ankle ties. It feels civilized, well mannered. A door closes as a pianist begins to play outside.

We are here at Massey College, a graduate student residence at the University of Toronto, to discuss something called Negative Capability. The romantic poet John Keats called it "capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” In health care, "it's a reflective capacity that allows you to step back and not be carried away by answers and actions," says Dr. Allan Peterkin, a psychiatrist and head of the Health, Arts and Humanities Program at the University of Toronto.

Ronna Bloom, a psychotherapist and poet in residence at Mount Sinai Hospital, describes negative capability as a strange, open, shaky place that feels unbearable when clinicians think they should be "doing something. If I'm certain that I know what's happening with a patient then I'm going to lose what's happening."

This openness to not knowing, to ambiguity, allows professionals to "see the person in front of you and the language they're using and their metaphors," Bloom says. She suggests the clinician's role is as a "friendly listener to the patient story."

It's a challenging one because it runs counter to the "perfectionism and stoicism that gets instilled in medical education," Dr.Peterkin says.

So an important element of negative capability is having "compassion for oneself when not knowing," Dr. Peterkin says. "It's not possible to have compassion for the person in front of you if you're being hard on yourself," Bloom notes. Humility is the outgrowth.

Reading literature is a way of enhancing empathy, studies show, "because of the capacity to imagine someone different from yourself," Dr. Peterkin says.

"It allows you to enter lives from the inside in a way you never have clinically," says John Donlan, a poetry editor with Brick Books and a reference librarian at the Vancouver Public Library.

Similarly, asking a brilliant surgeon to write a poem levels the playing field because it puts him or her in unfamiliar territory.  

Bloom says that in poetry workshops, medical students at first judge their writing to be "hokey and cliché" because letting their thoughts flow is foreign to their linear, intellectual education. But they soon come to see that their discomfort has a positive outcome: They begin to feel greater compassion for themselves.  

A psychiatry student asks: "What do you make of the fact that negative capability tends to speak of truth" -- perhaps more than conventional ways of knowing?

And it strikes me that disability is all about sitting with uncertainty -- with adapting to the fact that as humans, we don't control our lives. People with disabilities can't pretend they're perfect, invulnerable. They don't have the luxury of living in illusion.

Oddly, my son Ben, whose intellectual disability bars him from ever sitting in a hall of higher learning like this, may be closer to negative capability than those who study it. If only he could relax into the uncertainty, I think, instead of struggling, like the rest of us, against it.

To ponder

"There is no contradiction between loving someone and feeling burdened by that person; indeed, love tends to magnify the burden. These parents need space for their ambivalence, whether they can allow it for themselves or not. For those who love, there should be no shame in being exhausted..."
Andrew Solomon, Far From The Tree

Menu Plan Monday: Thanksgiving

About a week before Thanksgiving, I make sure the family empties out the fridge so we have room to defrost two turkeys. This leads to some interesting meals around here!

Our Thanksgiving dinner doesn't look like the traditional Thanksgiving dinner portrayed on TV. For one, we hate green bean casserole. My husband doesn't like mashed potatoes, so he makes twice baked potatoes. We are all lukewarm on stuffing and I am the only one who eats pumpkin pie, so I make pumpkin snickerdoodle cookies instead!

Saturday: cornflake chicken
Sunday: pancakes and eggs
Monday: pizza
Tuesday: George's birthday so we are having spaghetti!
Wends: leftovers/cereal
grilled turkey
twice baked potatoes
sweet potatoes (mashed, I think. The kids and Adam aren't huge sweet potato fans so I make just one or two for myself)
Rolls (I have a special recipe that I make for Christmas and Thanksgiving. The original recipe is from my aunt's mother-in-law and I HAVE to have them!)
bacon and brown sugar green beans. (We hate the casserole!)
oatmeal and white chocolate pumpkin cookies
apple crisp
pumpkin snickerdoodles

What is on the menu at your house?

Teacher of ACC Student - Literacy & Communication


Literacy and Communication Skills in Kindergarten (Back to the Beginning)
by Alexandra Berube,

Max worked very hard in the first few months of Kindergarten to make strides in his ability to communicate verbally. As I mentioned previously, Max’s ability to communicate his needs was an area in which we put in a great deal of work. At times, when he got overwhelmed, he would shut down and choose not to listen to teachers who are trying to help him. When upset, *Max would become inconsolable, and have trouble recovering from setbacks. Especially in social situations, such as if someone broke a building of his, he retreated into self-consoling behaviors such as crying and rocking. He would growl or snarl at a peer if he or she upset Max in this way.

I think this is why some behaviors of Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum may be confused with Autism. It looks like the student can’t express themselves, as they regress to either younger behaviors or more ‘primitive’ behaviors like snarling. But they can learn behaviors that will serve them better in social and academic situations, and it’s often up to them to decide if they want to respond or not. As I wrote before, Max would act out, or refuse to communicate or do activities, but he could do them. They were not beyond his capacity. I certainly wouldn’t want to put any blame on a child by saying they ‘choose’ not to respond, but by that I mean, they do have the capacity, it just takes time and a strong sense of trust and comfort level to make them want to do so (as well as emotional maturity, of course). I can only use my experience to state my opinions on this matter, of course--I would not want to generalize onto any students with more limited capacities. I just think that students need time to see what they can do, and it shouldn’t be assumed that something is beyond their ability. This goes for all students.

Moving onto literacy, we practiced a great deal with rhymes, because Max had difficulty recognizing rhymes aurally and generating rhymes orally. He performed much better when asked to match pictures of rhyming objects, because the visual cue allowed him to better process the information. I had small phonics objects, and would use them to give him a visual clue (a cat and a hat, a ship and a clip, etc). This helped quite a bit, and when we did word family activities with pictures of objects (match everything in the ‘at’ family, match everything in the ‘um’ family), he was able to do much better than with just the aural clues. I wanted him to continue to improve in his ability to aurally recognize rhymes, as I had thought that this skill would help him in his reading. But it didn’t work that way.

I had been taught in Graduate School that you needed phonological and phonemic awareness to be able to read. I was concerned his lack of rhyming ability would hold him back. But it didn’t, at all. His reading improved much faster than his aural rhyming skills. Max came into Kindergarten knowing all of his letters and letter sounds, with a solid foundation of how to sound out and decode words. He knew that he had to break down a word and sound out each part in order to read the word. So his reading skills improved rapidly. In turn, the more he learned word families, the more he ‘knew’ what rhymed. His ability to aurally detect rhyme only increased as he learned word families through visual clues and from reading words. He could rhyme once he could read.

In writing skills, with the work Max had been regularly doing with his OT [Occupational Therapist], along with much practice, Max gained the ability to express himself with words and pictures. In September, when asked to write any letter, Max said he could not do it, and did not try. I would have him trace my letters or make lines from one dot to the next in order to form letters. A large part of this was that it is physically challenging for him to use a writing tool, and therefore it is understandable that he would resist the work. By December of Kindergarten, Max was forming letters on his own in order to write words. Similarly, when we began Kindergarten I could not get him to draw any representational figures. He would draw squiggles and circles all over the page, saying he could not draw anything. By December he regularly created representational images on his work. This huge leap shows in some ways that he had the ability all along, and just needed a way to get it out of him. Once he got that from the OT, it was like breaking open a shell so that we could see what had been inside him all along.

*Name has been changed.

About Alexandra Berube

Alexandra is the Managing Director of Boston Tutoring Services, a tutoring company that offers one-to-one in-home tutoring in Massachusetts. She is also a former Kindergarten teacher who also tutors students in grades
K-8, in all subject areas, including test preparation.

Note: "aural"/"aurally" means: relating to the ear or to the sense of hearing.

Would you like to print a copy of this article?

Alexandra has given me permission to convert her article to a pdf format for printing, at the link below:

Literacy and Communication Skills in Kindergarten (Back to the Beginning) - printable version

Watch for an upcoming guest blog post here soon from Teacher/Tutor, Alexandra Berube.

As a teacher and professional tutor, Alexandra plans to share more future guest blog posts here--where she will reveal additional insight into her student who has Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum and how it affects the student's education, and she will also be sharing teaching strategies that have helped her student.**

please be advised: some children who have Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum are also diagnosed with Autism, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).


Making a Rhyming Basket - Montessori video:

Rhyming Pictures Printable Game
Note: to download free full-size printable version:
1. click on link above,
2. then on left-hand top of page, click on "File"
3. and then click on "Download"
courtesy of the First Grade a la carte blog.

Or try this printable game with real photograph pictures:
Rhyming Words/Photographs Printable Game

Tip: check out Pinterest for more rhyming words ideas (and other educational ideas, too). You could truly get lost exploring the awesome ideas on Pinterest!

And for activities to Match Word Families with Pictures, consider exploring this idea:
Note: product appears to contain cards only and does not include the plastic pocket chart holder (as pictured).

In the ACC Reading and Comprehension document you can read about other children who have ACC. A few examples include:

Parent of 5 year old child writes:

"She does not get when we give her a list of words to pick out the one that rhymes, she will either pick the one with the same beginning sound or letter or pick a word at random that she knows. If we give her the word bat; a list of words such as cat, ball, dog, hand-she will pick ball because bat and ball go together."

Parent of 12 year old child writes:

"Lexie always struggled with reading. Our first sign of trouble was the fact that she never could rhyme. It was the strangest thing! But as school began I noticed she had such a hard time with those little books. Every single word was as if she had never seen it after page. The same few words would repeat but she would not recognize them. So with each page she struggled just as much as the page before. By first grade we bought Hooked on Phonics.

It interested Lexie so she did it. Loved it. But still she really could not make the jump from the program to real books. Word families meant nothing to her. RAT CAT SAT........Lexie would say HOUSE.....Really? HOUSE???? Again, the rhyming thing never worked for her and that is what word families are. Second grade more of the same. She was reading, I guess. At about a Kindergarten level. No AR yet of course. We did dyslexia programs through the district. She would do FINE according to her dyslexia teacher. By 3rd grade she had graduated out of the program. I kept saying "But she really can't read!" The state assessment finally showed everyone how much she struggled. Of course she failed the state assessment. Her reading comprehension was/is terrible. She is in 6th grade. Reads about on a 3rd grade reading level. She is in regular classes with accommodations. Making straight A's."

Kathyrn Schilmoeller, Ph.D., in her September, 1999 article titled, Educational Suggestions For Children With ACC: A Beginning, wrote:

"People with ACC tend to absorb far more information than they can demonstrate to others in an educational setting by writing or verbalizing. Teachers need to be creative in finding ways for the child to show what he or she has learned. For example, a five-year-old child with ACC was asked to draw a picture of a man. He took a crayon and scribbled across the page. The teacher came to the conclusion that the child had no concept of what a person looked like. However, shortly afterwards when the child was provided different shapes of paper and pieces of masking tape, without prompting from an adult, that same child produced a face complete with eyes, nose, and mouth, and announced, "This is me." The child clearly understood what a face looked like. He simply could not manipulate a crayon well enough to demonstrate his knowledge. Similarly a few years later, this same child "wrote" "I LOVE YOU" with blocks without being prompted. His parents were startled by his skill in "writing" this message because at that point no one realized he could spell that well."

**Note: Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum has a very wide range of effects--ranging anywhere from no symptoms--or mild learning disabilities--to severe mental and/or physical challenges. It can sometimes also be seen with other medical conditions, genetic syndromes, chromosomal anomalies and more. Every person with ACC can present differently in terms of their development, cognitive abilities and educational needs.

Each child who has ACC is a unique individual with their own abilities, weaknesses, challenges, motivations, strengths, as well as their own style of learning.

My son is 1 in 8.

Thank you to Life After the NICU for the purple and green banner on the left.College created with Picmonkey. Photos from Laura/WaldenMommy.

Today is World Prematurity Day. My son will turn four in a few days. Please take a moment to remember the struggles these little ones face and the heart ache their parents go through.

My son is 1 in 8 babies who was born before the end of 37 weeks. One year and one day later, his cousin was also born at 35 weeks. She is 1 in 8. Thanks to medical research and intensive care, both babies are living and thriving... but George has been left with large term effects of being born too soon.

Together, we can help babies grow strong and reach a full 40 weeks in the womb. After all . . .

Trying to stay afloat!

Wow! I look at this blog and realize how much I have neglected it! I have been doing okay with guest posts, but even some weeks I am really dropping the ball.

The truth is, I have too much going on!

Last summer I began to really push my writing as a freelancer, and I have had some pretty amazing jobs. One is on-going and I absolutely love writing about the things I went to school for (Psychology, and Christian Counseling). But if I have limited time, the job takes precedence over the blog. I have also been doing editing and it has been fun! I met a pretty remarkable woman that had a sister with down syndrome and her short memoir is fascinating! Editing a book takes up a lot of time!

I am also on the board for the International Down Syndrome Coalition for Life. The IDSC is doing great things in the Down syndrome community. It is an honor to be a part of this group. I have been dropping the ball here too, but thankfully our awesome leaders are understanding and they have not fired me yet. Thank you!

I attended a Writer's conference in October and an editor said she would take a look at my book proposal. I have been diligently working on it, and was going to send it in next week. Then I read a post by another agent who suggested to wait for those book proposals until the new year, since this is a really busy time for them. They have lots of projects to get caught up with and they need to finish things up by the end of the year. (The book is about emotions in adoption for the parents. Parents also go through a lot during adoption, it's tough, hard, and also wonderful. How does one handle the different emotions of adoption? I know of a woman that was diagnosed with PTSD after adoption. This is real, it's happening, and we need to start talking honestly about those feelings).

I am also teaching Zumba. I LOVE it! Just got hired by the YMCA and I will also be teaching dance again. If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know it has been a dream of mine to teach an adaptive dance class...I am getting closer to that dream!

In pursuing my writing professionally, I am working hard on my Writer website/blog. Please stop by if you have not had a chance to do so. When I only have a chance to do one blog post, that is where it is going.

I am still around, just trying to get organized and trying to juggle too many projects at once. Not to mention I have 3 little girls that need time and attention!

On the meantime, I would love to connect with you via facebook! I do stop by there everyday and share thoughts, photos, posts, and ask for recipes sometimes :)

Reading this over, it almost sounds like an excuse not to blog, but I have been feeling pretty overwhelmed lately, and that is the truth. Sometimes at night, I just want to sit with my husband and watch a show, or read a book.

But I am still here, and I will try to update as much as I can. Nina is doing amazing since taking the magic juice, we have seem improvement in a lot of areas, especially cognitive. Like not just little things, but WOW!

The rascal is also on a roll, and there is much to share about her development. She has Down syndrome and she is certainly not a typical child, but goodness is she amazing and is she a star! Speech is also coming along, and some days she even likes me almost as much as her daddy (some days).

Ellie wants to be an author. I realize how much she looks up to me, and I am humbled and reminded that I need to be the woman I want her to be. Oh the responsibility! Oh the pleasure and joy to be her mom!

And Andy, well, he is just amazing! Our 10th anniversary is coming up and I am madly in love with this man. And I swear he just gets better looking with time.

That's it! I thought this would be a short update, but I kept writing. So there you go. Life so far.

And would you pray the Loraines move to our town to do ministry with us? Thanks.

One question Friday

Post questions related to child disability and parenting in the comments below and we will answer one next Friday by going to an expert at Holland Bloorview -- professional or parent.

Fire away!

World Prematurity Day: Interview with Joy Lawn

In this video, Joy Lawn specifically talks about late preterm babies. While in the US and other developed nations, it is easy to save these babies, they do die in other countries. However, even without high tech care, they could be saved.

Sixth Grade History Fair: International Adoption

Well, here it is -- the culmination of a lot of work for the 6th Grade History Fair!  Zoe selected the topic herself:  International Adoption.  I'll walk you through the board a little, so you can get an idea of what all she learned and shared.  To the left is the historical timeline, showing the start of international adoption after World War II, proceeding through the Korean and Vietnam Wars (including Operation Babylift), the growth of international adoption after the fall of the Soviet Union, the increase as China came on line, the corruption scandals that closed Vietnam, Cambodia and Guatemala, the Hague Convention passage, etc.  To the right, is the part Zoe was most interested in, "Spotlight on China."  She talked about the one child policy, orphanages and foster care in China, and the adoption process.  In the center of the board, Zoe covered why children ended up available for international adoption, why parents adopted internationally, problems with international adoption, the passage of the Hague Convention, and the growth and then decline in international adoption.

It was a tough project for Zoe, for both academic and emotional reasons.  As an academic topic, international adoption is pretty challenging for 6th grade, especially since it's hard to find just a few sources that cover the breadth of the topic and are comprehensible to a 12-year-old (even a smart 12-year-old like mine!).  Synthesis of multiple sources was the hardest academic challenge for Zoe with this project.  If I knew at the beginning of the project what I know now, I probably would have tried to direct her to something more limited, like maybe focusing on the Vietnam Babylift or just on China adoption.  Oh well, in 8th grade, she has to do History Fair again -- so remind me in two years -- SMALLER, EASIER topic!

In terms of emotional content, there was a lot of hard stuff -- war, poverty, social upheaval -- in both the history and present time of international adoption.  Yes, many history topics are grounded in tragedy, and some 6th graders did handle these topics, but I think for Zoe it really hit closer to home because of her personal connection to international adoption. Even more difficult, this is the first time that Zoe has really confronted problems of trafficking and corruption in adoption. 

Still, I think it was overall a positive experience for her.  She was certainly pleased with herself, as you can tell  in the photo below (Maya had to be included in the picture because she also starred in the display board as we used some of our own pictures to illustrate topics on the board, and the red binder in front of the board included pages from each of their adoption-trip albums).

Is difference an illness, an identity, or both?

I'm ferociously reading Far From The Tree by Andrew Solomon. His insights on how parents find meaning in raising children with disabilities and other differences is fascinating. I've marked up the first chapter with lots of underlining and asterisks, but this passage really made me think.

"Anomolous bodies are usually more frightening to people who witness them than to people who have them, yet parents rush to normalize physical exceptionalism, often at great psychic cost to themselves and their children. Labeling a child's mind as diseased -- whether with autism, intellectual disabilities, or transgenderism -- may reflect the discomfort that mind gives parents more than any discomfort it causes their child. Much gets corrected that might better have been left alone.

..."We often use illness to disparage a way of being, and identity to validate that same way of being. This is a false dichotomy...Many conditions are both illness and identity, but we can see one only when we obscure the other. Identity politics refutes the idea of illness, while medicine shortchanges identity. Both are diminished by this narrowness.

"Physicists gain certain insights from understanding energy as a wave, and other insights from understanding it as a particle, and use quantum mechanics to reconcile the information they have gleaned. Similarly, we have to examine illness and identity, understand that observation will usually happen in one domain or the other, and come up with a syncretic mechanics. We need a vocabulary in which the two concepts are not opposites, but compatible aspects of a condition. The problem is to change how we assess the value of individuals and of lives, to reach for a more ecumenical take on healthy. Ludwig Wittgenstein said, 'All I know is what I have words for.' The absense of words is the absence of intimacy; these experiences are starved for language."

Louise here again -- I've often felt I don't have the words to describe my experience with a son who won't achieve conventional success, but who has a rich and valuable way of being and from whom I've learned the most about what matters. As Solomon says: "These experiences are starved for language." We don't have the vocabulary or imagination to articulate them because they fall outside mainstream thinking and language. We need new words -- new ways of defining beauty, wisdom, purpose, movement and strength that capture the diversity of how our children express these things.

Teacher of ACC Student - Multiplication

*Alexandra's article below reprinted with permission from Dr. Alicia Holland-Johnson, where it originally appeared as a guest blog posting on her Helping Tutors Become Their Best blog.

Introducing Multiplication to a Student with Different Learning Needs
by Alexandra Berube,

The basis of my math instruction is always to move from one concept that the student firmly understands and then apply that concept to the next level of mathematic reasoning. In working with my favorite third grade student, I found the opportunity to introduce multiplication to him. This student was born with Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum (a complete or partial absence of the corpus callosum, the band connecting the two hemispheres in the brain), and I wrote about him in a previous blog post. He learns concepts in a completely different order than most people would expect. He is still solidifying his addition and subtraction facts, and adds and subtracts any amount, including one plus one, on his fingers. And yet I know that he is often ready for more advanced concepts, and that these advanced concepts will actually help solidify previous concepts that he is still working on mastering.

In his third grade class, the student is working on geometry, including perimeter of squares. This was the perfect opportunity to introduce multiplication. In a square, all the sides are the same size. If he has a square with the side length of two, then he will do 2×4. I worked with him on this geometry concept for a while with different shapes such as pentagons, hexagons, and triangles: any shape that has sides of equal length. He quickly grasped this concept and then we moved on. I like to use a dry erase board in my instruction, because it's another form of media (‘media’ used loosely, I suppose) than pen and paper, and it allows the student to draw shapes and manipulate the written material in a new way. I had the student make shapes of his own, and we would see how many sides that shape had. We would give each side a length, and then see what the multiplication problem would be as a result.

We then worked on the worksheet I've included a link to here, which shows pictures of groups of objects (for example, four triangles with three stars in each triangle). It asks the students to write an addition problem (so, in this case, three stars four times, so 3+3+3+3) and then the multiplication problem (3×4). He picked this up very quickly, and so we moved on to the last game of the session.

Using a pair of dice, we played a game to visually show the amounts to be multiplied. First we rolled one die, and then drew the dots shown on the die on a piece of paper. We wrote the number value above the dots. Then we wrote a multiplication symbol, and then we rolled the other die, which would act as the 'multiplier.' The second die dictated how many times the first die would be multiplied by. So if the first die was a four, we drew four dots, put a four over it and then a multiplication symbol next to that. Then if the second die was a three, we wrote the number three next to the multiplication symbol, and then drew four dots two more times for a total of three sets of four dots. This way he could see why we were multiplying--we were adding the same number a multiple of times.

He then added all of the dots on the dice and found out that 4X3=12. Below all the dots we wrote 4+4+4 (the addition problem like on the worksheet I just described), to further enforce that multiplication is an extension of addition. He'd already mastered adding groups of numbers, so this was the next logical step. He smoothly transitioned into a student who understands the basis of multiplication. Of course, he's not going to be memorizing his multiplication tables in the near future, but he understands what multiplication is now, and he grasps that it is an extension of addition that applies in real life.

About Alexandra Berube

Alexandra is the Managing Director of Boston Tutoring Services, a tutoring company that offers one-to-one in-home tutoring in Massachusetts. She is also a former Kindergarten teacher who also tutors students in grades
K-8, in all subject areas, including test preparation.

Would you like to print a copy of this article?

Alexandra has given me permission to convert her article to a pdf format for printing, which you can access by clicking on the link below (to share with your child's teacher):

Introducing Multiplication to a Student with Different Learning Needs - printable version

Multiplication Worksheet

Watch for a new guest blog post here next week from Teacher/Tutor, Alexandra Berube.

As a teacher and professional tutor, Alexandra plans to share more future guest blog posts here--where she will reveal additional insight into her student who has Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum and how it affects the student's education, and she will also be sharing teaching strategies that have helped her student.**


1. "My son learned the [multiplication] tables through Touch Math songs. He still struggles but I see him sort of singing the songs when stuck.
Calculators are truly a kid's best friend!

Now about place value....."

Parent of child with ACC, 5th grade

Touch Math multiplication songs video - on Teacher Tube

2. "My son, 10 years old, PACC (and other things), has been learning his multiplication tables by making up songs to remember them by. He still struggles if it has been a while since he practiced, but the songs seem to help. He is in 4th grade, and is repeating the year mostly because he has struggled with the times tables, and other math, and logical thinking. We find that anything Kinetic that we can do to help him seems to help."

Note: Kinetic or Kinesthetic Learners - learn through a tactile [touch] hands on, feeling, touching, manipulating objects, moving, doing, experiencing things approach.

Parent of child with partial ACC, 4th grade

3. "Concerning the use of songs, using familiar tunes and following the pattern of repetition of the words seemed to work well. We used the tune of Frere Jacques to memorize the 9 times table and it worked great. Each part of the verse is repeated twice so you get the following (original song words appear beneath the multiplication version so you can see how they match up):

9 times 1, 9 times 1; 1 times 9, 1 times 9
(“Frere Jacques, Frere Jacques; dorme vou, dorme vou?”)

9 is the answer; 9 is the answer
(“Sonnez la matines; sonnez la matines”)

9 times 1; 1 times 9
(“Ding, ding, dong; ding, ding, dong”)

But once used for the 9s, we couldn’t use it for another multiplication table because the words for the 9s were already tied to this tune in my child's head. Trying to associate the same tune to another multiplication table likely would have resulted in incorrect remembrances. And believe me, we needed to be able to illustrate that it doesn’t matter in what order the numbers appear, the answer will still be the same.

8 X 2 is 16 and 2 X 8 is 16.

She learned the multiplication tables for 2, 5 and 10 fairly quickly. Most kids can count by twos, fives and tens. But she didn’t get the relationship that the answers in the 4 times tables were twice the answers in the 2 times table. So there was a slight disconnect there in terms of relating one set of multiples to another. She did eventually learn all of the multiplication tables (through 10 X 10), but it took a good deal of repetition...and I believe it was truly a rote learning experience. I think she would probably have to have to think pretty hard to explain that what is meant by 6 X 8 is 48 is that there are six groups which each contain 8 items and represent a total of 48 items. But she can pretty reliably give you the correct answer whenever you ask her “What is ‘this number’ times ‘that number’?”

Parent of child with ACC, (in 8th grade now)

4. "Multiplication and division are tricky. As they progress from learning the basic concept, it becomes necessary to memorize. Kids can "count on" on their fingers to do addition and subtraction, if need be, forever. Honestly, my child [who has partial ACC] was doing it still in algebra, but it was so subtle most people would not notice. It's quick and can be pretty efficient and accurate as well.

Not so for multiplication (and its inverse, division). Counting on becomes tedious, and is far more likely to be erroneous for these operations. It needs lots of "drill and kill" for some kids, and not just those with learning problems. I found several things that worked well in my classroom; I used them for all my students, not just the ones who I suspected would have trouble. In that way, all of them had the same background, and nobody who needed them longer was seen as having to use a crutch. Here are some things that worked for me.


Many programs that emphasize hands-on math use jewels. These are strings of plastic beads (they are attached to the strings) that can be cut apart into sets of ones, twos, threes, fours, and fives, each a different color. Kids can easily use them to visually represent multiples of each when beginning to multiply. strings of them are available at teacher stores and in math catalogs. The drawback to me is that there are only five colors, so you can only go to 5 X 5. This may be OK for first graders, and even some in second, but by third you need more.

I solved this problem with Christmas garlands of plastic colored beads. If you can find four more colors besides the ones from the store (gold, silver, pink, purple, perhaps), you are set up to 9 X 9. Kids do have some problems losing place when they count them, but they are physically there so a recount is possible. These jewels are cheap, easy to store, and they reinforce the concept of multiplication as repeated addition. They are great for division as well.

Using the margins

When kids get older, they are expected to do multi-digit multiplication before some of them have their facts memorized. This often results in very slow work, with repeated, excruciating counting on. And it doesn't seem to stick from one time to another. So I taught them to utilize the margins of their papers to write vertical lists of the multiple they are working on, like this:


Then, the next time they need a multiple of 7, it's either there, or they can easily extend the list to find it, not having to repeat the same feat again and again. There is usually enough room for 4 lists on each side of the page.

I learned this just by chance, trying to help kids who had a terrible time multiplying. One by one, I noticed over time that fewer and fewer kids needed this technique, as they were realizing it was easier to just memorize facts than go to the trouble of listing. But in the meantime, they were not spending all their class time counting on their fingers. It had the added benefit of showing me instantly when someone had made an error, so I could point it out and help that student get it right. Some people use multiplication charts, but I prefer that the student at least do the computation him/herself at least once, and it seems to stick better when they do. (They can even do it on state tests, when manipulatives are not available.)

Computer Software

This is one area where a computer can really help. There were games available, even some really inexpensive ones, that filled the bill of "drill and kill" without any pain. I'm sure there are many more now. Some will even adapt to a child's level as s/he plays--I highly recommend those. I have been out of it for several years, but look online for some. I'm sure other teachers and other parents are also good sources. If you have the chance to play it before buying, do try it out. You want to make sure that a child can't "game" the system, by using something other than knowledge of facts to succeed at the game--like guessing.

Math replacement units

Marilyn Burns has a great set of math replacement units. These are books that give plans for units of study that cover one topic, such as money or probability, that teachers can use to replace (or supplement) the ones in their texts. I have used several of these at different grade levels, and I highly recommend them.

I used the one on multiplication fairly often, especially when I had average or low third graders and high-achieving second graders, because it was easy to use with them altogether. It's intended for 3rd grade, but it can be used also as enrichment for younger kids and remediation or reinforcement for older ones. She explains a number of activities set up as one- and two-person games (an adult can play with a child) that give practice in the meaning of multiplication. Kids can go back to them again and again for reinforcement. Kind of pricey, I think around $30, but you can likely go to a teacher store and peruse its pages to see if you think it would help you.

Tip: you can find the older out-of-print used version online titled: "Math by All Means: Multiplication, Grade 3" by Marilyn Burns through Amazon and other online sites. This is the version I used while teaching students.

The newer updated version is titled: "Teaching Arithmetic: Lessons for Introducing Multiplication, Grade 3" and can be found at
Math Solutions, a company founded by Marilyn Burns. It is also available (both new and used) through Amazon.

My daughter (who has partial ACC) did have some trouble learning her multiplication facts, but we just practiced them relentlessly. At school she used jewels, and we used the software at home. I hadn't discovered Marilyn Burns or using the margins at that time.

As I recall, memorizing multiplication facts was not as hard for her as addition was. Maybe because she was older. She did have problems remembering how to do multi-digit multiplying and long division, though. I decided she needed more practice. So I had her dad (she was a daddy's girl) write 3 or 4 problems, just for practice on the white board easel we kept in the kitchen, and she'd work on them while we made dinner. She just really needed a lot of practice, over and over, doing the same algorithm. And when she learned it, she needed lots of reinforcement for it to permanently stick."

(Teacher) and Parent of daughter, 24, with partial ACC and septopreoptic holoprosencephaly

If you would like to share input about multiplication and your child who has ACC, please send me an e-mail and I will be glad to include it here.


RESOURCES - (for your consideration):

For many kids who have ACC, learning through music is often times a helpful and successful method of teaching.

Multiplication Mountain CD, by Hap Palmer - listen to sound clips of songs

Singing Multiplication Tables CD, by Hap Palmer - listen to sound clips of songs

Tip: check your local library (and online library system) to see if you might be able to borrow the multiplication music CDs by Hap Palmer to try with your child.

**Please Note: Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum has a very wide range of effects--ranging anywhere from no symptoms--or mild learning disabilities--to severe mental and/or physical challenges. It can sometimes also be seen with other medical conditions, genetic syndromes, chromosomal anomalies and more. Every person with ACC can present differently in terms of their development, cognitive abilities and educational needs.

Each child who has ACC is a unique individual with their own abilities, weaknesses, challenges, motivations, strengths, as well as their own style of learning.

Shelby calls for a more open, accepting world

As our lead up to the International Day of Persons with Disabilities Dec. 3, we continue to ask how we can pull disability issues into the mainstream. Here we speak with Shelby Nurse, a Florida college student and advocate for people with disabilities who spoke yesterday with her dad Thomas at the Bloorview Research Institute Symposium. Shelby is on her way to becoming a child life specialist to ensure that hospitalized kids "remain kids." In a strange twist, her aunt is a dear friend of one of our BLOOM readers in Switzerland. It was an honour to meet Shelby and hear her ideas.

Why wait 40 weeks?

Graphic thanks to the March of Dimes.