Here are Simon and Amanda at bowling! We had a lot of fun and amazinlgy I didn’t entirely disgrace myself – in fact I won one of the two games we played! The Mums played and there were two lanes with students playing – Simon scored his best score ever and when I can finally work out how to put a video on wordpress you will see his impressive strike! And Simon was right in his description of the bowling alley as very old fashioned but at $8.50, including shoes, I don’t think we could expect anything more!
Tomorrow is Saturday – love these long weekends!


The Taliban Cricket Club


The Taliban Cricket Club

Things are a little out of kilter this week, as I was rather on a mission with my take on the real life impact of learning difficulties and then distracted with the first snow, which was so lovely.
On the last Tuesday of the month the Peterborough Library book group met once again to discuss this months book, The Taliban Cricket Club. The group was significantly smaller than last month, which made for a much more manageable discussion, with an interesting start where one of the librarians who had lived and taught in Bahrain for 3 years came in to show us the increasingly oppressive nature of the outfits women in the Middle East have to wear, starting with the hajib and onto the chador, she didn’t have the full horror of the burka. It set the scene for an interesting discussion about the book – the majority thought the book was a good read but that the storyline was somewhat far-fetched, and for most the description of the lives of women under the rule of the Taliban was shocking. But for me not only were the lives of girls and women constrained but the young men’s lives were wasted too, a life without purpose is a tragedy and I hadn’t appreciated that previously. The lack of purpose and hope was vividly described as were the horrific random acts of violence. How we take our freedom and way of life for granted for which we really should be thankful. I also loved the descriptions of cricket and the cricket matches, which I think were mostly lost on the Canadians who have never seen a cricket match! It beggars belief that this book was inspired by the fact that the Taliban decided to try to promote cricket in order to improve their international reputation!
There were some views that it was too depressing and realistic – well, and this is probably rather harsh, but really, why bother reading if you want a Hollywood ending – they should be reading Mills and Boon!
The next meeting is in January – I am having to adjust my timetable as my “real” book group has a lovely December meeting with plates of Christmas cheer and no January meeting as many people are away – all topsy turvy in the Northern hemisphere or is it the other way around? I am currently reading Blood and Beauty, a history (factional) of the Borgias, which is keeping me up far too late into the night! Thank you Helen! And thank you for all the book suggestions, I am not sure when I am going to find the time to read all the fabulous books but I will try my best, and I haven’t yet read any new Canadian authors!

More on learning difficulties and their impact

Another area that Barbara Arrowsmith Young has defined is called “symbolic thinking” – for anyone with a deficit in symbolic thinking life is very difficult. They have great difficulty developing strategies for studying, are easily distracted and appear to have a short attention span. Organisation, planning, self-direction and establishment of long-term goals are all major challenges which means they live only for the moment (as they are unable to look any further) and may be viewed as flighty and/or untrustworthy.

One of the students with a deficit in this area described it like this: imagine a wall in front of you that extends in either direction as far as the eye can see – you have to get past that wall – the wall is a problem and that problem requires problem-solving. Imagine that the wall provokes no thinking at all, only mental paralysis. This is what it is like to have this deficit – you have no mental initiative, leaving you distractible, disorganised and unable to plan and set goals. You can never get past that wall.

Being described as flighty is never a good thing- such a person as described above will often make social arrangements and then get distracted by what they are currently doing and not turn up – and I am sure you can understand that there are only so many times you can let people down, your friends, your boss, your family. Another example of a real life situation, which Barbara quotes, is that such a person may have a medical condition but not think to go to see a doctor which would seem so obvious to  you and me! Many people have difficulties keeping their jobs or maintaining relationships – the impact of this difficulty is enormous.

And finally, a deficit in symbolic recognition leads to poor word recognition, slow reading and difficulties with spelling. The part of the brain that is not working here is the left hemisphere which allows us to recognise and remember a word or symbol. Those with this deficit have to study a word many more times than average before being able to memorise it and this recognise it, and say it correctly next time they see it. In many cases, they cannot learn sight words even with multiple repetition, and every time they are presented with a word that should be familiar, they need to sound it out as if they are seeing it for the first time. This means that learning to read and spell is a very slow process. This will obviously impact on their future employability as well as having profound effects upon their self-esteem.

These are just some of the areas Barbara Arrowsmith Young has defined and I hope that these few posts have shown how learning difficulties in these areas can have significant long term implications if they are not addressed but the marvellous thing is that they can be addressed. Each of the exercises Barbara has devised address a specific difficulty and Simon says all of the exercises are very hard!  Particularly because once you have mastered a level in a specific exercise, then you have to go onto master the next level of that exercise until you get to a rating of average or average to above average or even ultimately above average. The length of time this takes depends upon where you are starting from and there are many levels you have to go through and it also depends upon the effort that the student puts into the exercise and how precise they are in doing the exercise. Always you can hear a pin drop in the classroom, such is the level of concentration and the determination of the students, but oftentimes it looks as if they are simply daydreaming as they are working on the exercises by thinking! That these students have the chance to overcome their learning difficulties is (excuse the pun!) mind-boggling, that mainstream education has yet to embrace the concepts of neuroplasticity is equally mind-boggling but I continue to be hopeful of change, as well as being awed and inspired by the dedication of the students, teachers and  by Barbara Arrowsmith Young and her life’s work.


More on the everyday impact of learning difficulties

Well, apart from the fact you probably think I am mad with my headtorch on and supergluing kitchen roll to my finger (don’t ask), you must have wondered what the heck I was talking about in terms of the photo – I didn’t realise it hadn’t been uploaded and neither is it uploading tonight so clarification as to what is happening in the photo will have to wait for another day!

To continue with various types of learning difficulty and what it means to the person who is struggling  with them…

Another of the categories of learning difficulty defined by Barbara Arrowsmith Young is Predicative speech and, as Barbara explains, with this deficit the neurological process that converts thought into an organised sequence of words is flawed. This results in an inability to learn the rules governing sentence structure which in turn results in speaking and writing in short sentences and having a hard time following longer sentences. Another consequence of this deficit is having no ability to rehearse mentally (through what is known as internal speech) what you are going to say or do (and usually we all do this internal speech, without knowing it) so there is no anticipation of the consequences of your words or actions which means you could appear rude and tactless. For instance blurting out that you already one of those when you receive a birthday present of something  you already have  and yes, Simon has done this on more than one occasion!

A person with this problem is not deprived of words but of the ability to order words to formulate a complex thought or sentence. Students with this difficulty might have any or all of the following:

a reduced amount of speech, restricted vocabulary, use of short, simple and often incomplete sentences, missing functional words, substituting general words such as thing or stuff for a more precise word and I think they may also shrug and say “I dunno” in answer to any enquiry of “how are you?” or “what have you been doing today?”  because it is simply too hard to work out how to answer with a well formulated answer.

On the surface it appears that external speech is the primary difficulty but in fact it is far more profound than that – this difficulty affects both internal and external speech. Internal speech allows us to guide and regulate our behaviour. This deficit affects memory, thinking speech and writing.

I think you can see how devastating this particular difficulty can be and how it will affect communication with others, understanding conversation, particularly in a group situation, where grasping what is going as conversation parries back and forth is almost impossible – I liken it to learning a foreign language – you get to a stage where you can converse reasonably with one person but in a group situation where the conversation moves quickly, you take too long to work out where the conversation is heading and by the time you do, it is too late to take part, the conversation has already moved on. Living with that everyday must be enormously frustrating and in the end, unless the conversation is really interesting, why would you bother to take part? I am sure this leads to withdrawal and social isolation.

Another learning difficulty is Broca’s speech pronunciation and this results in mispronouncing words and avoiding using words you know and understand because you are uncertain of the right pronunciation.

Since speaking requires concentration, it is hard to talk and think at the same time which means it is easy to lose your train of thought. A person with this deficit can have flat and monotone speech which lacks rhythym and intonation, a tendency to mumble and when learning to read it is difficult to convert letters into sounds.

For such a person when they look at a word it is like us looking at a Welsh word – complete befuddlement! So, they (like we with the Welsh word) stare at the word helplessly, not knowing where to start. As they have trouble learning the rules of pronunciation they can’t call on these rules to help them to break the word into its component sounds, sound them out and then blend them into a word.

This you can see makes reading a nightmare, in addition to conversation being hard with losing your train of thought – and the older you get, the more inadequate you feel comparing yourself to your peers, difficulties relating to your peers and again, social isolation and possible mental health consequences.

There are just a couple more areas of learning difficulties I will go into tomorrow. I appreciate that it makes for quite depressing reading as did the blog post I wrote about mental health and learning difficulties but I feel it is so important for as many people as possible to have some insight into how these students feel so there is more understanding of their plight. I am just so enormously grateful that we have found and come to the Peterborough Arrowsmith school where Simon has a means to begin to overcome his difficulties, with a great deal of hard work and dedication on his part, support from his fellow students and encouragement on the part of his teachers and of course, an especially big thank you to Michael for supporting and encouraging Simon (and me!) to pursue this.

Learning difficulties and how they impact everyday life


Learning difficulties and how they impact everyday life

I have been reading “The Woman Who Changed Her Brain” once again in order to try to understand more clearly how learning difficulties impact the lives of those who live with them, particularly Simon, obviously. My interpretation of what Barbara Arrowsmith Young has done is that she has defined 19 areas of learning difficulties and devised specific exercises to improve cognitive function for each weakness – the premise being that, rather than avoiding those areas, if you exercise them, much like a muscle, the cognitive function associated with that area will improve.
I have summarised some of the impacts that will result from weakness is a specific area (again to try to understand how these impact on life in the real world) – these are generalisations and not all of the difficulties described are always seen in every case.
A weakness in “motor symbol sequencing” has profound consequences. A weakness in this area results in impairment of processes involving input through the eye (reading) and output through the hand (writing) and mouth (speaking). At a severe level of difficulty speech lags far behind thought, so it is rambling and disjointed, wandering in the same way that writing does. The person could have all the information in their head to tell their story properly but the leave out critical parts (though they think they have stated them) making it difficult for others to follow. They may stumble or hesitate or become shy and withdrawn because of their inability to express themselves. They may have trouble writing neatly. Their spelling of one word may vary even on the same page. For these students performing any task that involves using this area of their brain takes extra effort, the additional load on the brain means that they tire quickly and can’t sustain attention. Clearly this will impact upon their performance in the classroom or work place and has social implications also.
I can’t finish this tonight as Simon has gone to bed and I am sitting here with my headtorch on trying to read my notes! Quite a sight, I am sure you can imagine! And my other difficulty is that I have superglued some kitchen roll to my one of my fingers, making typing a wee bit tricky! It makes feel even worse for the old lady, and for her husband, who put superglue in her husband’s eyes thinking that is was his eye drops – terrible!
Does anyone know what is going on in the photo? More preparation for winter I think, with hay bales being put at the base of trees on the slopes where sleds may run into them?

Our Harry Potter fest!

Apart from a brief outing to the Farmer’s Market, the library and a lovely Artisan Christmas market, through a flurry of snow, we have had a day of indulgence watching Harry Potter. We watched the first two films last week and today we watched the next 3 – The Prisoner of Azkaban, The Goblet of Fire and The Order of the Phoenix. It is probably just as well that the next two were missing from the library or we would still be watching them! It has been so interesting  to watch the younger actors learning their craft, from very young and quite wooden performances in the first film to nuanced and sophisticated as they grow up. The constant theme through the books and the films of the power of love, friendship and loyalty triumphing over evil is inspiring, although J K Rowling says that her main theme is death, together with corruption and prejudice which I find interesting as those are not the main themes that I see and for Simon, it is the friendships that he loves to watch (and listen to). Having listened to the entire series read by Steven Fry and now watching the films we are enjoying working out how the screenplays vary from the plot in the books in the process of making the plot flow cinematically. Simon tells me exactly what is missing when and he sometimes says the words as Harry is saying them as he knows the stories so well.

Ultimately, I believe, the story is about fighting for what is right and good and being prepared to sacrifice yourself for the greater good – much like Primo Levi’s autobiography/book “If This Is A Man”, it makes me wonder if I could be that brave should it ever come to that? As Albus Dumbledore says “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities”. 

David Bowie


David Bowie

I set off with some kind friends who gave me a lift most of the way into Toronto and made my way to the Art Gallery of Ontario on the subway which seemed super-efficient and clean to me. The Art Gallery is such an impressive building but my iPad photos didn’t do it justice and besides the iPad froze as it was so cold! I must find out what the lowest temperature it will tolerate is as I would hate to freeze it! All that to say, the photo today is not of the Art Gallery but shows some detail of the work I mentioned yesterday by the artist, Mazinani – I hope you can see the small images which make up the bigger pattern.
Into the David Bowie exhibition I waltzed – no queues mid-morning but it was so crowded once inside! It was a fabulous exhibition, showing the breadth of his work and the reach of his influence, through his songs, costumes, films, notebooks and musical scores. The sheer variety of his interests in terms of reading, musical influences, films, plays, fashion and culture upon his work was astounding.
So many memories came flooding back as I listened to the music and remembered watching Top of the Pops and not quite knowing what David Bowie was all about but that, I think, was the point of him. I think if it had been less crowded it might not have been so overwhelming but squeezing between the people to read the all information took some of the enjoyment out of it, but nonetheless, I am pleased that I went to see it before it moves onto Sao Paulo, Chicago, Paris and Groningen (wherever that is).
As it says in the AGO magazine, Art Matters, Bowie’s greatest achievement is arguably to say to everybody, not just the elite, that you can be anything you want to be – in look, image, identity, belief, sexual orientation – if you are determined enough. Indeed, in the title od a recent song, he references St Catherine of Siena’s bold statement “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire”.
I enjoyed a great lunch of a beautiful Salad Nicoise and a glass of delicious chardonnay from Niagara in the Member’s Lounge (thanks Vicky, Richard and Jean for making me a member!), then slept all the way back on the Greyhound bus to arrive home to find Simon in good spirits, looking forward to Friday Nighters! Simon had a good day too!