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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Somewhere Between Nothing and Everything

by Helene Louise  


As I wrote in my book, when I found out my daughter had suffered a pediatric stroke, I was also told that because of the stroke she would “likely never walk” and that in the specialist’s opinion, “it wouldn’t be worth the trouble” of helping her. 

 After many sleepless nights and much reflection I decided, however, that if I did nothing then of course there was little or no chance of improvement but if I did something, anything, then at least there was a small possibility of some improvement—no matter how small and imperceptible it might seem to others. My daughter might never regain all of the mobility she might have had had she not suffered a stroke, but somewhere between likely never walking and competing in the Olympics, between doing nothing to help her and everything possible, surely there must exist an area of unknown potential and possibility worth the trouble of trying to work towards. How could it not be worth the trouble of trying? 

 This summer, my daughters and I spent some time hiking in the Laurentian mountains here in Quebec (the photo above is one we took along the way on Mont Tremblant). Years ago, especially when I first received my daughter’s diagnosis, that would have seemed an absolute impossibility but now it’s our reality. It’s a family activity that we all love to do together. We hike more slowly than most people and much more carefully, taking into account various factors to make sure my daughter is steady and safe but we’re on the trails just like everybody else who loves hiking. With every step I never forget how far we’ve come, how much I have to be grateful for and in particular, how thankful I am that somehow, between nothing and everything, so many years ago I found the courage to aim for that unknown potential in-between, even if to someone else, it wouldn’t have been worth the trouble.

 Somewhere between nothing and everything, somewhere between “likely never walking” and competing at the Olympics, I believe there is almost always something. For us, that something is walking together happily and peacefully along the mountain trails. That is our Olympic sport and the photo above, our gold medal—no matter how small and imperceptible it might seem to others.

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84th Acfas Conference

by Helene Louise  

This week I had the privilege of making a presentation at a workshop which was organized as part of the 84th Afcas conference held in Montreal. Acfas, stands for “l’Association francophone pour le savoir” which translates to the “Francophone Association for Knowledge”. 

The topic of the workshop was “The Physical Rehabilitation Continuum: From Child to Adult” and I was asked to provide my perspective as a parent in the middle of that continuum, between a pediatric centre and one for adults. I made the presentation in French but have made it available in English and French below. 

Rather than focusing on one specific element, I chose a theme which would be more widely applicable. I spoke about “The Importance of the Tiniest Things”. But, my gratitude for having been included in the event and the warm response to my reflections is far, far from tiny!

Presentation in English: acfas helene louise may 2016 en.pdf

Presentation in French: acfas helene louise may 2016 fr.pdf

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Visit to McGill University

by Helene Louise  

This week I was truly delighted to have the opportunity to speak to a class of students at McGill University's School of Physical and Occupational Therapy. I wasn't sure what to expect or what the reaction might be—it's been decades since I was last in a university classroom. But, it was a wonderful experience and I am very grateful both for how warmly I was received and for the interest the students and professors showed in what I had to say. 

Besides sharing my experience navigating the rehabilitation network in trying to help my daughter after a childhood stroke, I talked about the power I believe each and every one of them will have as they begin working in a clinical setting. As I wrote in A Little More Light For the Seaweed, what I've learned through this experience is the value of the little things—how our words and our actions, unexpected moments of understanding and compassion, can make the difference between frustration and hope, despair and perseverance, failure and success.

I hope my story will serve as a reason, as I said earlier this week, to always be conscious not to inadvertently be discouraging to those we are trying to help. And, to leave open the possibility that there might be a little bit of hope, even if we can't see it. I certainly feel very hopeful for the future having met such bright, sensitive and engaged young therapists-to-be.

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What I Learned in Econometrics Class

by Helene Louise  

As I've written previously, even though my objective after high school was to avoid anything remotely math-related, I ended up studying economics further to the advice of a misinformed guidance counsellor, who told me that economics would be perfect for me since there would be no math (was she ever wrong about that...!). I was most definitely out of my element but stubborn as I was, I persevered until I had completed a master's degree. 

One of the most complicated areas of economics and the one which I found particularly difficult, was econometrics. One semester, the course was taught by a young visiting professor from Australia. He was very shy and awkward, which seemed very un-professor-like given the older, self-assured types that we were used to. And, he not only spoke very softly, he also had an accent that we weren't used to so overall, we were quick to write him off.

However, we soon discovered that underneath that awkwardness was an exceptional enthusiasm for what he was teaching, a boundless positivity, a sense of humour which surprisingly, he was able to bring to such a dry subject area. And, a sincerity that won us all over. I don't remember anything at all about what we learned that year but I do remember how much I looked forward to his class and that to my surprise, I did really well. The experience showed me that despite that I was not a natural in the field of economics and that I hadn't consciously chosen it, if I worked hard enough, I could succeed. 

And most importantly, I learned how someone's approach to teaching something, anything—be it a complex math theory or finding a way to open a jar because a person's mobility has been affected in some way—can make a difference in whether the process ends in success or failure.  That's certainly something I’ve applied to helping my daughter overcome the effects of a childhood stroke. Adding some fun to the hard work wherever I can has made a world of difference.

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