Monday, August 22, 2016

Beating the “Back to School Blues”

We welcome everyone back after what we hope was a good summer. As we get ready for the start of the 2016-17 school year, we thought it would be timely to share some sound back to school routine advice from Laura Caprini, who is an expert in this department. She is a mother AND a teacher. Thanks, Laura!

By Laura Caprini

Here we are once again, getting the kids ready for yet another school year. Sitting outside the other day, I noticed glimpses of yellow and orange already tingeing the leaves on our maples, an early reminder of what’s coming. To confirm this, I let out a series of loud, wet sneezes, a definite trademark reminder of the season-my allergies were kicking in. Exit summer, enter autumn.  

If you’re like me, it’s likely that you are beginning to get the kids back into “school mode.”  I’ve been pretty slack on bed-time enforcement, and sleeping-in has become customary in our home. But alas, all good things must come to an end. This week we actually set our alarm clocks -Yikes!

My daughter and son begin school at the end of August, and so part of my job as Mom is to get these two psyched for a brand new school year. This is not an easy feat where kids are concerned, but there are a few simple steps a family can take to make getting back to school as painless as possible. Easing back into the daily routine will be all that more smoother with a little advanced preparation and organization. 

The first thing I did this week was to re-instate the “chore chart” on the fridge. I sheepishly admit to being a little slack in this department, too. I’m home with the kids all summer (I’m a teacher), and as a result,  I tend to do many of the chores myself rather than watch both of them get into a heated argument about who empties which rack in the dishwasher. 

Next, I create the weekly “breakfast” menu. This is a list of quick and easy to make morning meals that my kids choose from the night before.  This eliminates wasting time in the morning as each of them stare into the great refrigerator “abyss” while trying to decide what to eat. 

Bath and showers happen the night prior, outfits are carefully selected before we go to bed (I have a teenage daughter, so I’ll say no more), and bedtime routines are slowly re-established so that nobody goes into shock-mode the night before the first day of school begins.

Of course, where would I be if I didn’t end this piece by reminding parents to make reading a part of your child’s daily routine: Be sure to get bedtime book-reading rituals back into full swing. This may be easier for some kids and a little more challenging with other kids not so keen on books. My son, for example, needs a significant amount of coaxing to settle in with a book before lights out. Not so with my daughter:  an avid reader who’ll read just about anything from “War and Peace” (her current novel) to the instructions on the back of a shampoo bottle!   

Good luck to all you families out there.  Have a great school year.  It’ll be over before you know it!

Laura Caprini is co-director, with Sandra Weir, of The Hudson Literacy Clinic


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Life after 18 seminar

Life after 18: 
 Transition planning for youth with disabilities

On June 8, we were delighted to welcome over 70 guests to the EMSB to address the concerns that parents, teachers and caregivers are facing when it comes time for their children with special needs to transition from the support of the education sector into adult life. 

This free seminar aimed to redefine what is possible for people with disabilities, providing educational support and resources for families of children with special needs between the ages of 12 to 22 and beyond. 
Nathan Liebowitz

The seminar included a presentation by Nathan Leibowitz, senior investment advisor with Manulife Securities, who informed about financial, legal matters, and government benefits that are available to families.

Leibowitz provided a wealth of information, such as answers to questions such as who will take care of my child after I am gone, and what money will be available for my child to live, public curatorship, and disability tax credits.

Linda Mastroianni, Life Coach and founder of Speaking Autism spoke about the importance of transition planning. "Young adults with special needs require different support and resources than their neurotypical peers. Securing the righ support for them requires proper planning," she shared. "A transition plan will also help prepare the 
youth for the changes and opportunities that lie ahead."

A transition plan will include: helping the youth identify their likes, skills and develop these abilities during their school years; help identify opportunities while setting short and long term goals; detailing and implementing strategies to achieve these goals; and ensuring the individual secures the right support. Transition planning should begin a few years prior to the individual leaving school, usually between the ages of 14 and 15. 
Linda Mastroianni

Key individuals that Mastroianni recommends be involved in the planning are teachers, principals, resource teacher, child care worker, therapists such as speech language, occupational or psychotherapists, etc., parents and caregivers, and their health and community workers such as CLSC, CRDI, CSSS, rehab centres. The plan will integrate everything from transportation to self-care, socializing, sports and leisure, and housing.

Jacques Monfette

Jacques Monfette, principal of Marymount Adult Education Centre in Cote Saint-Luc, spoke about the programs that are available for adult students with special needs at the centre, including Social Integration Services (SIS) and the Social Vocational Integration Services (SVIS) programs. In addition, the school houses a collaborative program between the EMSB and Giant Steps School for students with autism, and the C.A.R.E. Centre for people with physical disabilities.

Monfette stated: "In education we tend to forget something very important. It's called happiness. Many of our students have gone from failure to failure to failure. We try to find something that will make them happy and change this cycle." Galileo Adult Centre also has SIS and SVIS programs, as will John F. Kennedy 
in the coming school year. Consult the EMSB website to see more adult and vocational centre 

To round off a most informative evening, social workers Natalie Correia and Alexandra Leblanc Etienne, from CSSS de la Pointe-de-l'Ile, Equipe DI-TED, spoke about the multitude of resources available to families to access through their CSSS, CLSC or CRDI, to help navigate through the transition years. 

Natalie Correia and Alexandra Leblanc Etienne

Special thanks to Marla Vineberg for bringing this seminar to Inspirations and the EMSB and organizing the seminar, and Pina Evangelista, TEVA (Transition école vie active) Consultant, Student Services Department, EMSB for her support in planning the event. 

Guests had the opportunity to visit exhibitors prior to the seminar including representatives from Action Main-D'oeuvre, I Can Dream Theatre, The Big Blue Hug, and Inspirations.

  It is safe to say that seminar attendees left with a great deal of information in hand. What was clear is that the discussion has only just begun, and must be continued. Stay tuned for a feature article about TEVA in our Fall 2016/Winter 2017 edition.

Read our Spring / Summer 2016 print edition at

Friday, June 3, 2016

Front to back portrays beautiful lives of people living with spina bifida

Front to Back:
Steve Kean explores beauty, stories, and 
Spina Bifida through photography

In honour of National Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Awareness Month and Quebec's week honouring persons with disabilities, l’Association de spina-bifida et d’hydrocéphalie du Québec (ASBHQ) has launched an extraordinary photography exhibition called Front to Back, featuring the work of Toronto-area photographer Steve Kean.

The exhibition includes 18 portraits of nine people who have spina bifida, each of which were eager to share their stories and body for the sake of exploration, awareness, breaking down barriers, interpretation, and beauty. 

Steve Kean at the vernissage of Front to Back, at Café L'Auditoire

Photographer Steve Kean, who was present at the show's vernissage on June 2 at Café L'auditoire on St. Laurent Boulevard in Montreal, is a commercial photographer who also has spina bifida. He is passionate about showing the inner and outer beauty of people born with the neural tube defect. In Front to Back, he focused his work on showing his subjects "as they are and how they want to be seen every day."

A unique concept, each of the nine participants is displayed in two photographs. The first is a colour portrait of their 'front', meaning their faces and front of their bodies. Front photos were taken in a setting that was most meaningful to them. The second photograph, portrayed in black and white, are nudes. They show each participant's back, where the effects of spina bifida are visible. 

Laurence Leser, Director General of ASBHQ
and  photographer Steve Kean

Spina bifida is part of a group of birth defects called neural tube defects. The neural tube is the embryonic structure that eventually develops into the baby's brain and spinal cord and the tissues that enclose them.Normally, the neural tube forms early in the pregnancy and closes by the 28th day after conception. In babies with spina bifida, a portion of the neural tube fails to develop or close properly, causing defects in the spinal cord and in the bones of the spine. Spina bifida occurs in various forms of severity. When treatment for spina bifida is necessary, it's done surgically, although such treatment doesn't always completely resolve the problem.
With Front to Back, Kean is expanding the idea of what is beautiful, asking people to rethink beautiful. "I want people to see us. That's where society needs to start," shares Kean, adding that people are too quick to see a disability and make judgements. "Well over 50 percent of people with spina bifida are unemployed. Employers see a body broken, someone who will need to take time away from the office. They don't see the skills first."

Kean showcases the stories of each individual who posed for his exhibition. These include why participants chose to have their portraits taken. Laurence shared, "I was really happy to have the opportunity to participate in Steve's project. I did not hesitate one second before agreeing to be a part of Front to Back. I saw a beautiful way of showing spina bifida. In the difference lies strength. I did not think putting the focus on my scar and my deformity would give such great pictures and that what comes out of these pictures the most is the beauty of my personality."

Kean portrays the 'front' in colour as it shows real life. The black and white 'backs' make you stop and take another look. "Black and white gets right to the theme artistically," shared Kean. The photographs help reclaim the dignity of people living with spina bifida, taking them to a place of beauty and out of the medical disability model."

Montreal is the second stop of Front to Back. It premiered in Toronto. Kean hopes to photograph people in every major city across Canada, show his exhibition, and end his tour with a grand show in Ottawa.

Kean's impactful, beautiful, thought and discussion-provoking exhibition will be on display at Café L'Auditoire, 5214 Boul. Saint-Laurent until June 9, 2016.

For information contact or 514-340-9019. For information about AHBSQ, visit

Monday, May 30, 2016

Breakthrough, by John Grant High School students and David Hodges



Special needs students at John Grant High School in Cote Saint-Luc were mentored by recording artist and producer David Hodges. The result is a remarkable original song and video that gives us a look into their souls.

On April 18 and 19, 2016, John Grant Highs School teacher Marie Francis invited David Hodges to the school. Over these two days, Hodges guided several of the students in produced an original song titled Breakthrough. These novice recording artists have special needs, including selective mutism, speech impediments, and literacy difficulties. Together, these students created a touching and catchy song that provides insight into their thoughts and lives while inspiring the public to reach for their dreams.

The impactful lyrics demonstrate that students were eager to take the opportunity to teach what they have learnt on their journeys. And the tune will stick with you; it's that catchy! 

Their words include: “We’ve all been searching for a light in our souls. Cause we all feel alone.” The chorus is highly encouraging: “We’ve got to break through. Don’t let it change you. It may hurt sometimes. Ya, but we’ll learn to fly. So just hold onto your dreams. Don’t you fall to your knees. Let your light become your saving grace. Cause everyday we can change.”

Teacher Catherine Rendell-Green explains that the song's lyrics tell the life struggles of the students, and come straight from their hearts. "The experience taught us more about the students and the struggles they have had in their lives. It really opened them up. They had the courage to share their stories." she shared. 

This collaboration was made possible trough the Culture in the Schools grant program.  Ms. Rendell-Green created a video to accompany the song. 

To view the video, visit

“As their teacher, I am extremely proud and honoured to witness their growth and maturity,” shared Ms. Francis while encouraging the public to enjoy the music her students created. “The lyrics reflect their lives, their emotions, and their perceptions of the world.”

TUNE INTO GLOBAL MONTREAL TONIGHT AT 5:30 p.m. to see the students interviewed about their song.

Read our Spring/Summer 2016 edition at

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A new chapter for YALDEI

YALDEI to begin a new chapter

This week, the leadership of Jewish People’s Schools and Peretz Schools and Bialik High Schools (JPPS-Bialik) and The Donald Berman YALDEI Developmental Center announced the sale of the JPPS-Bialik Van Horne Avenue property to YALDEI: a private, not-for-profit early intervention centre dedicated to helping children with developmental challenges reach their full potential. 

Both institutions are particularly pleased that the property will continue to serve the educational needs of the Montreal community and the sale is a significant step in strengthening the financial and pedagogical foundation of both institutions. The new, fully updated and modernized JPPS will now be firmly rooted in the Bialik building and is slated to move in the Spring of 2016. 

The Donald Berman YALDEI Developmental Centre is realizing one of its long-term goals with the purchase of this Van Horne Avenue property. The acquisition is groundbreaking news as it signals a new chapter in history for the special needs community of Montreal. The new property will serve as a home for the numerous programs and therapies YALDEI offers children with developmental delays, as well as those with behavioural or learning challenges. The extra space will enable the continued growth of this Intensive Early Intervention Program. 
École YALDEI, a school for special needs students, offers a low staff to child ratio, complementary therapeutic services and unique environment, all under one roof. “École YALDEI alone has seen constant growth and in the last year the number of children has doubled,” said Risa Plotnick, Director of School and Rehabilitation Service. “There is a huge wait list of children that have developmental delays or other obstacles. We’re working on filling the void of taking children off that wait list and expect to see another 50 percent increase in the number of students in the coming year.” 

The Donald Berman YALDEI Developmental Centre community is grateful to the Board’s new Building Sub-committee headed by Martin Schwartz and Michael Rosenberg. Also acknowledged for their hard work is the Board of Directors who, led by Jack Dym, have been planning the strategic vision of YALDEI for many years” said Menachem Leifer, YALDEI Founder and Executive Director. 

“There’s no child that cannot learn,” shared Plotnick. “There’s no child that has so many challenges that we cannot help them. We work in partnership with the private and public sector in order to enhance the potential of every child. Every child should have the opportunity to learn. Challenge accepted.” 
For information about YALDEI, visit, or contact Lillian Vennor,, 514-279-3666, poste 245.

Monday, December 7, 2015

City of Laval is becoming autism-friendly

City of Laval partners with Giant Steps 
to become first autism-friendly city in Quebec

By Valentina Basilicata

Laval is committed to better serving its autistic citizens, declared Mayor Marc Demers at a press conference held December 3, 2015. Demers affirmed the city is collaborating with Giants Steps School and its Resource & Training Centre to teach first responders, public transit workers and employers to better understand and interact with autistic individuals. 

The announcement coincided with the United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which was themed “Inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities” this year.

"The goal of this project is to provide autistic people and their family with better access to life in their community, by promoting awareness, acceptance and appreciation of autism," explained Seiun Thomas Henderson, Director of Giant Steps School.

Pierre Brochet, Laval Police Chief, Entertainer Charles Lafortune, guest of honour artist Remrov Vormer, Marc Demers, Mayor of Laval, and Robert Séguin, Director of the Fire Safety and Security Department of Laval.
(Photo courtesy of the city of Laval)
“As a Laval resident and the father of an autistic child, I am proud that my city recognizes the challenges of people affected by this condition, particularly since the city is serving as a pioneer to make Laval the first municipality in Canada that is accessible to everyone and all-inclusive," said Nicholas Katalifos. Katalifos sits as chairman on the Board of Directors at Giant Steps. The private, bilingual school is dedicated to children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), while its resource centre supports the ASD community through a wide range of services.

Training for Laval’s firefighters and police is already underway. Public transit workers will have their turn in 2016. Moreover, the city will create a voluntary registry of households with autistic individuals; it will be integrated into the 911 service’s database. It is estimated there are 4,000 people living with autsim in Laval. 

“It’s crucial that [first responders] recognize certain behaviour as autistic instead of threatening or disrespectful,” explained Remrov Vormer, an autistic pencil artist working closely with Giant Steps. “Another thing that many of us find scary and very difficult is public transportation. It would be good if personnel could recognize this so that they could help out whenever is needed.”

The city also has several long-term projects in the works related to housing, employment, sports, arts and even entertainment. And Cineplex’s Colossus Laval has plans to introduce sensory-friendly movie screenings. These screenings are presented with the lights up and the sound down.

City officials and the school’s representatives are confident their joint efforts will improve community life for people with autism, while simultaneously raising awareness and acceptance of individuals on the spectrum.

Katalifos said Giant Steps is eager to work with all partners who wish to develop similar initiatives. “This is a long-term project. It’s not going to happen overnight,” he admitted. “We need to work in collaboration with many different organizations, be it municipal or out in the community.”

Demers is proud to be taking the lead: “I invite other municipalities to benefit from our experience and the steps we’ve taken to better serve the population.”

Valentina Basilicata is a freelance journalist, communications specialist and emcee. She is also the proud mom of two boisterous, loveable boys.

About Giant Steps School
Giant Steps School / École À Pas de Géant is the only private education institution in Québec whose training mission is exclusively aimed at 4-21-year-old girls and boys with autism spectrum disorders. Set up to meet the needs of both English- and French-speaking children, the school is recognized by many parties concerned in the educational and health networks.

The Resource and Training Centre of Giant Steps School offers many quality services to professionals, educators and families faced with issues related to autism in Québec and elsewhere.

About Laval
With a population of over 420,000, Laval is the third largest city in Québec. It is also one of the cities with the highest demographic growth. Laval is both a city and an administrative region. Following its Repensons Laval / Rethinking Laval operation, Ville de Laval developed a strategic vision (Urban in Nature – Laval 2035) in 2015.