A Special Book for a Special Boy!

By Shirley McNaughton

I remembered “I Have a Flower” as one of my favourite books written for Bliss users in the 70’s. I wanted to include it in our U of T digital archival collection, but it took clever searching by the OISE  students working on our collection to locate the author and gain permission to digitize the book. Fortunately, they found Jacquie Krech, gained her permission and shared her email address with me. I have enjoyed re-connecting with her after 40 years. Jacquie is a wonderful example of the dedicated and resourceful teachers who helped our Bliss users in the early days. They changed the lives of the students whom they taught!

By Jackie Krech

When Derrin entered my classroom in Oakville in the late seventies, he was using the 100 character Bliss board to communicate.  The only verbal communication within his capability was the repeated uttering of the letter “p”.  Since I was unable to communicate with Derrin because of my lack of knowledge of Bliss symbols, I enrolled in workshops at the then Crippled Children’s Centre (OCCC) in Toronto.  There, under the tutelage of Shirley McNaughton and her colleagues, I worked through a series of lessons and workshops until I was proficient in the use of Bliss symbols and could joyfully communicate with Derrin.  Seeing the excitement he experienced in our new-found ability to talk with each other through Bliss-characters, was a fantastic experience for me.  

To help Derrin, I inserted Bliss symbols above words in a variety of books so Derrin could read them.  One of the books was a science book and his interest in that book sparked a lesson.  We rooted a branch of an impatiens plant and subsequently planted it in a pot in the classroom.  Everyday Derrin came to class, he checked on the progress of his plant.  He was delighted when the plant produced a flower.  That is what inspired me to write a story for him.   After repeated editing with Shirley and Mr. Bliss, the simple story became the book you see today.  It was Mr. Bliss who asked for the addition of the meaning behind the symbols to be included.

Derrin was late for school one day.  His assistant told me Derrin wouldn’t talk to anyone: however, his behaviour indicated he was obviously upset about something.  After awhile, Derrin began to talk to me through his Bliss board.  The sentence he formed was “God put pain in my throat”.  I wheeled Derrin to the school nurse who examined Derrin and discovered he had strep throat.  It wasn’t hard to imagine the discomfort Derrin was experiencing with the pain, fever, swollen tonsils, etc. that are signs and symptoms of this virus.  Without Bliss symbols, Derrin could not have told me the cause of his discomfort.

Although my career took twists and turns that moved me away from Derrin, I hold the experiences I gained learning and applying Bliss symbolics to classroom learning experiences as one of the highlights of my teaching career.

Note from Shirley:

Here are some pictures of Derrin as an adult, when he lived in Brantford and was a member of the Brantford Bliss group. Our Bliss alumni in Toronto keep in touch with the Brantford Bliss folk through BCIC Board meetings and study group meetings. Anne O’Malley is their decades-long facilitator and is seen helping Derrin in one of the pictures. We miss Derrin now that he has moved to Kirkland Lake, but we hope to find ways to keep in touch! 

Anne O’Malley helping Derrin at BCIC Board Meeting
Brantford group visiting Toronto before covid days!
Elaine Drover and Shirley visiting Derrin, Anne and Dean in Brantford

September News!

Happy Birthday Rhonda!!

Rhonda McCaig had her 60th birthday celebration in September. Rhonda’s friend, Kelly McGillvray arranged for some of her fellow musician friends to play at her party. We all met Kelly when she stepped in to be Rhonda’s helper for the weeks when Elaine was in the UK. I am sure everyone had a great time. Happy Birthday!!

A Wonderful outdoor birthday!

Breaking the Ice Town Hall

On September 21 there was Breaking the Ice Town Hall. The topics were pets, travel, and sports. The participants were divided into two break out rooms to discuss these topics.

Samantha attended the discussion on Pets. This is what Samantha prepared: 

“My family and I have a dog named Riley. She is a Havanese puppy. Riley was born on May 24, 2022. My family and I are going to puppy classes with Riley. She is very smart. I love Riley!!!”

 One of the questions that was asked during the pets session was, “How do you talk with your pet using your AAC device? Do they listen?” I thought this was a good question. I do have some phrases in my computer like “Riley, come!” and “Riley, sit!” but Riley doesn’t listen to my computer voice, so I have changed it to my mother’s voice. I’m not sure it works any better.

Carolyn attended the ‘travel and sports’ session.  This is what Carolyn prepared:

“”I like to travel to get away from everything and my problems and I like to see new places. My favourite trips are to London, New York City and Boston. In London, I like to go on the London Eye and go for walks around London, especially to see Buckingham Palace. In New York City and London. I like going to the theatre. I also enjoy going for walks in New York City and Boston.”

Other participants had visited Disney (or wished to!), Niagara Falls, or had come from far away places such as Iran and Turkey. Most participants liked to go to Blue Jays games. One participant combined sports and travel by biking to the East Coast as a fundraising trip!

Written by Samantha Millar and Carolyn Henry,

assisted by Julie Millar and Glynis Henry.