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