Category: "Strategy"

Bilingual Adapted Protractor Instructions

by Helene Louise  

In September, I shared how we adapted a protractor to help my daughter better succeed in math class (Teamwork for Back-to-School Success). Given the interest there has been in this document, I’ve updated it to be bilingual - English and French. Here it is...


En septembre, j’ai partagé comment nous avons adapté un rapporteur afin d’aider ma fille à mieux réussir dans son cours de mathématiques (Teamwork for Back-to-School Success). Étant donné l’intérêt que ce document a suscité, je l’ai mis à jour en le rendant bilingue - anglais et français. Le voilà...

adapted protractor en-fr.pdf

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Teamwork for Back-to-School Success

by Helene Louise  

adapted protractor instructions.pdf

In a world where success so often seems measured by large-scale achievements, I still seem drawn to the smallest ones, the kind that most people wouldn't even bother writing about. In my presentation "The Importance of the Tiniest Things", I talked about how to me, it's the tiny things—a single smile, a kind word, a finger that one day, after months of effort, moves even just a fraction of a millimeter—that can make the difference between despair and perseverance, between frustration and hope. And in my book, I wrote about the first ten years of coming to terms with my daughter having suffered a pediatric stroke and all the tiny triumphs that were ours to celebrate. 

Although she is now well into her teenage years and doing infinitely better than I could have ever imagined, there are still challenges to be overcome. For example, in high school the concepts are becoming increasingly complex and the time pressure of exams ever more intense. But for my daughter, because of the stroke, the more stressed she feels, the less her affected hand responds, often ending up completely unresponsive and closed-up in a fist when she needs it the most. This has been particularly troublesome during math tests for which she needs to use a protractor. She can use her left hand to mark the angles with a pencil but having to hold the protractor in place with her fist means she is covering up most of the protractor with her hand, making it very difficult to see through it and measure accurately. So, one of our occupational therapy objectives this summer was trying to figure out how we might adapt a protractor for her.

When we arrived at the rehabilitation centre for her appointment, her occupational therapist asked if two of the students working there this summer could join us. I of course said yes and to my surprise and delight, when they walked in I realized that they were students from the class at McGill University that I had made a presentation to earlier this year. At that time, I had been invited to share my story with the students in the hopes that my experience might be helpful to them, and now, a few months later, here were two of those same students ready to help me! 

We all put our heads together and after much discussion and brain-storming, decided that the best way to adapt the protractor would be to somehow extend the base of it so my daughter could hold it steadily in place, without her hand getting in the way of the lines. To operationalize this idea, I then turned to my dad who, with his practical knowledge and workshop full of tools and miscellaneous doodads, came up with what is pictured in the photo above.

When I showed the final product to my daughter's occupational therapist, she said that this solution could actually be of great help to many other kids facing dexterity issues for different reasons. So, my daughter and my dad headed back into the workshop to document the process. I've attached the resulting "adapted protractor recipe" here in case there are other families and occupational therapists who might find this helpful.

All in all, everyone's contribution to this process might seem so very small when considered on its own. However, all of our tiny efforts together, the students at the very beginning of their careers, the centre staff in the middle of their careers, me as a mother and then later, my dad with his practical know-how, all came together to solve what might seem like something small to others but to my daughter, opens up the possibility of being more successful in school, feeling more capable, along with the long-term contribution to her self-esteem that that certainly brings.  

It might be ever so tiny as an achievement in the big world, but I truly do find real beauty and a sense of shared success in all of that. 

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From Illusion of Choice to First Choice

by Helene Louise  

When my daughter was small, it was relatively easy to work rehabilitation exercises into our day. I took her to the park and showed her that she needed to extend her right arm when she climbed on the play structure even if her hand was closed-up in a fist, I stretched her muscles as often as I could while I held her, and I invented all kinds of games based on the exercises that she needed to do (the “variations” that I wrote about in my book)

As she got older, however, and started asserting herself, as children do, I moved to the “illusion of choice” approach as I wrote about earlier. Letting my daughter feel she was a part of the decision-making process and had some choice in the matter, even if I had structured the choices to favour the integration of her exercises into an activity, went a long way to getting her to do what had to get done. 

The “illusion of choice” has actually been effective in other areas as well. Both my daughters have very good study habits and I think, to a great extent, it’s because they know they get the work done first, and then they can have all the free time they want. In the early years, the “illusion” in this case was that if they chose to get their work done first (like on a Saturday morning, right after breakfast) then we could have the rest of the day together after that. Within a relatively short period of time, they saw the benefits of getting their work out of the way so that they not only had the rest of the time to themselves, they also didn’t have to stress about what they hadn’t yet done as the weekend came to a close. And, with time, this approach became a regular habit so there was no longer any need for an “illusion”. 

In terms of my daughter’s rehabilitation, as she is getting older (and of course, increasingly asserting herself...), she understands the link between the exercises that she needs to do and her own progress. And, this realization has become a powerful motivator for her. For example, she wanted to learn how to cross-country ski but she was unable to use a pole with her right arm (yet...). To help her, her occupational and physiotherapists suggested a series of exercises and strategies to strengthen her arm and adapt the approach. So great was her interest in learning to ski, that she took the initiative to do those exercises on her own. Of course, going back to our “illusion of choice” days, she did them in front of the TV.

But that doesn’t matter, she is doing what needs to be done—there is no longer an illusion of choice, it is her own choice.

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The Illusion of Choice

by Helene Louise  

If you ask a child if they want to watch television, go to the park or have some chocolate, they’re very likely to express immediate enthusiasm. If you ask a child if they want to do their homework, they’ll generally be a lot less enthusiastic. And, if you ask a child who is facing any kind of physical rehabilitation to do a particular exercise, the response is not likely to be enthusiastic at all and it might even be a flat-out refusal. 

The exercises my daughter has had to do as part of her physical rehabilitation, for example, have been frustrating and tedious. Trying to stretch fingers that have never been extended, or use a hand that just “doesn’t want to listen” as my daughter used to say, is very difficult and often, even painful. Still, the only way for her to overcome the effects of the stroke she suffered is for her to work at it. As much as we want to give our children everything we can, the outcome of physical rehabilitation is not something we can give them directly, or do for them—it’s something we can only facilitate.

What I have found particularly helpful, is what I call the “illusion of choice”. For example, I might say to my daughter, “How about we do some exercises and then you can watch TV for a while?” to which she is likely to reply, “No, I just want to watch TV.” So then I might say, “No, but how about I’ll help you with your exercises while you’re watching TV so that we can get them done really fast,” to which she might answer, “OK, maybe...but only if I get to watch for an extra long time.” At that point, I’d say something like, “Hmmm, I don’t know...well...OK,” knowing that the longer she is distracted by the television, the longer I have to work in some exercises with her. And, because she feels like she has participated in the decision-making process, she is much more likely to be cooperative.

You can call it encouragement, being strategic, creative thinking or manipulation. I like to call it the “illusion of choice” and I’ve found it to be very effective in facilitating my daughter’s progress.

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Structure of a Science Experiment

by Helene Louise  

Recently, I was helping my daughter with her science homework and we were reviewing the basic steps of a science experiment—you start with a purpose, then you do your research, state your hypothesis, actually conduct the experiment, analyze the results and finally, arrive at a conclusion.

In my book I wrote about how, in setting goals for my daughter's rehabilitation after a childhood stroke, I loosely followed the structure of a “briefing note” which is a document often used in government decision-making. Briefing notes are structured to clearly identify the issue, that is, what's to be decided on or achieved, the background information, the considerations, and then, the next steps to be followed to achieve the intended outcome. In helping my daughter with her homework, however, I realized that the structure of a science experiment is equally applicable to figuring out how to achieve something, regardless of the context. 

In the end, I don't think it really matters how you go about setting your goals as long as you make a reasonable attempt to apply some logic to it all. A clear idea of what you want to achieve, some thinking about the factors that can influence the outcome as well as the steps you might follow in order to move towards your goal must surely be more effective than just diving in and desperately hoping for the best. 

I've tried both approaches over the years and although I have no specific data to analyze, I am certain that the logical and structured approach has been much more effective than when I've simply thrown my efforts at something without much thought. It's not scientific, but that's definitely my conclusion.

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