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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