By Eve Dufour, M.Ed., Producer, French Educational Content, LDAO, in collaboration with Annie Lessard, OCT, Centre Jules-Léger
For students with learning disabilities (LDs), writing an autobiography can be a very rewarding activity. Writing an autobiography can improve learning in any language and provides an opportunity to address the strengths and needs of each student. Overall, writing an autobiography allows students to compose an individualized manuscript based on their own experiences.
Relevance to Learning for Students with LDs
Writing an autobiography allows students with LDs to develop language-specific skills according to curriculum expectations; these can be modified depending on the student’s grade or the curriculum modifications outlined in the student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP), if applicable. Writing an autobiography helps students understand: the structural element of a text, the writing and review process, and allows them to apply the rules of grammar and syntax.
There are several software programs that can assist students with writing (e.g., Word Q).
As part of their French classes, my students have read and analyzed several autobiographies. Once identified the elements of the structure, they had the opportunity to compose their own autobiography, describing some key events in their lives that particularly affected them. Students were encouraged to talk about their challenges, particularly their learning disabilities. By understanding their difficulties, the students have learned to raise awareness of their surroundings, to persevere and to accept their situation and appreciate that they all have strengths and qualities that enable them to succeed and take their place.
Annie Lessard, Teacher at Centre Jules-Léger, Ottawa
My name is Brigitte Caron and I love art. I am 13 years old and I was born on May 14, 2001. I have a learning disability and I also have ADHD. That means it’s difficult for me to concentrate and control my impulsivity. I want to share my life story, to introduce myself, and show that no one is alone.
I was born in Timmins, Ontario. I still live in Timmins with my father, my stepmother and my stepsister. I go to Iroquois Falls for two weekends each month to visit my mother, my stepfather and my stepbrother. I am in grade 8 at Centre Jules-Léger. It’s a provincial school in Ottawa for students with LDs. I love to write, draw, listen to music, do boxing, kickboxing and Taekwondo.
I didn’t expect that school would be so difficult, and it was very difficult. I refused to read and write. I finally accepted that I was having a lot of difficulty. Towards the end of grade 4, my parents separated and I had a lot of difficulty with that too. During the spring before my mom left, I was assessed for two weeks, along with students from Hearst University and their teacher. They asked me to draw my life at home. I drew one house and inside my mother and father were screaming. In a second house there were my two cats and me; there I did not hear my parent’s cries and words. In grade 5, my father, my mother and my stepmother met with the psychologist to get the results of my assessment and the psychologist recommended that I see a doctor for a further evaluation. In Grade 6 I received a laptop and I was able to use it for my schoolwork.
Michelle, the resource teacher at my old school, told me about Centre Jules-Léger. She said it was a school for people with a learning disability, like me. I visited my friend who was at the Centre Jules-Léger. He said it was a lot of fun and you could make a lot of friends. So I said I wanted to come to the Centre. I had an interview and tests before I could come here. In 2012, at the age of 12, I was accepted at the Centre. I was so happy!
The advantage of the Centre Jules-Léger is the help you have. I can go for walks when I need to rethink something, or when I feel stressed or tired. Also, the classes are small so you can have more time with the teacher. I learned math and how to control my excitement and my impulsivity. Finally, after Centre Jules-Léger, my dream is to finish school, go to college to study digital animation and then live in Africa and travel the world.
Marie Liane’s Autobiography
Hi, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Marie Liane, I am 15 years old, I was born on March 30, 2000 and I have a very different life than you. I have a learning disability (LD), which means that I learn things differently; I learn in a different way than other people. My purpose of telling you the story of my life is to show you how a child feels, thinks and lives with a learning disability. I will explain exactly what a learning disability is.
I live in the country, in Chesterville, Ontario with my parents, my two brothers and my younger sister. I am in Grade 9. I like reading books of almost all kinds, but especially science fiction books. My passion for imaginative and creative books created my dream of being a famous writer. I like books, but I love horses. My parents enrolled me in riding lessons at the age of 10. Since that first day when I got on a horse, you couldn’t get me out of the saddle. I always feel free when I am horseback riding.
On the other hand, at school I felt trapped, suffocated and even stupid. The other students in class were always staring at me. I would leave class with my teaching assistant and often tests were changed. The work seemed to be more difficult, especially in math and writing. I wrote more slowly than others around me and I made a lot of mistakes. I often missed recess and my only rest time was spent writing and finalizing the remaining notes to catch up. I also had to do the same lessons over and over again because I learn differently from others because of my LD. Every time someone learned that I had a learning disability, they called me baby or stupid, as if I wouldn’t understand if they didn’t speak to me slowly. Because I was different from others, such as the teachers, students and parents, everyone around me treated me like I wasn’t one of them, like I was another species. This was because they understand what a learning disability is.
In this life of inner darkness, there was a dim light. A teaching assistant who knew and understood what a learning disability is recommended a residential school to my parents, a school that could help me and give me strategies to learn and to demonstrate right away that the girl I am is smart, has talent and is amazing. This school would allow me to be myself. The school would also prepare me to go to a totally unknown world and would show me that I have the ability to succeed. My parents helped me enormously and continue to help me. They also helped me to get into this wonderful school. This school is called the Centre Jules-Léger (CJL). When I heard that the CJL was full of people like me, who felt and lived like me, I did not believe them. But within a year, I found myself walking in the corridors of this unimaginable school. I was scared, I was stressed and I was withdrawn. Was this school going to be like the others? I had so many questions. Suddenly, I found myself in my second year, surrounded by people who help me, accept me, and who know me and love me for who I am. I am surrounded by friends from across Ontario. All my questions were answered. This school is NOTHING like the others. Classes are small. At CJL, you can only be there for two years, so this is my last year and I know I'll have great difficulty leaving. I have made so many great friends and good relationships and I will never forget my two years at the Centre. In my first year at CJL I was in grade 8. And now I'm leaving the Centre in Grade 9, moving on to grade 10. Because of this little light, I found myself. My life is now much easier. My life is an internal light and not an internal darkness. And because of all the people who helped me, who took the time to understand, children with learning disabilities have lives so much more incredible than before. I will pursue my dream and I will be a famous writer. Now it's up to you to ask questions. Do you really understand what is like living with a learning disability and what does it mean? Do you understand US? Put yourself in our shoes for once.
The Challenge in My Life
My name is Mirlène, I'm 13 and I live in Orleans near Ottawa, Ontario. I have a little secret to tell you: I have dyslexia. Yes, I have a learning disability. I'll tell you about my challenge.
I was born in 2001 but my life has started badly. Why? Because my mother Marlene died when I was born because she was sick. In addition, I was also ill. I had bumps on my tongue. And because of that, I could not eat through my mouth. The doctors had to put a tube in my nose. And yes, I had to eat through my nose. In 2003, my mother Claude decided she wanted to have another child who was a little girl. She visited Haiti to see me. She wanted to adopt me.
I arrived at my home in Ottawa at the age of 2 1/2. I saw that I had a brother named Julian. He is older than me; he is 15 years old. I was nasty to my brother when I was young. My mother and my brother saw that I was clever, but funny.
It All Started at School
I had trouble in nursery school and kindergarten. I was the wrong colour. In grade 1, it was the worst year for me because everyone was already learning math and French. I understood nothing; it was as if the teacher was speaking Greek and I had no idea what she said.In grade 3, my mother said that I should go and see someone to test my intelligence and my learning. My mother thought I had a learning disability, and yes it's true, she was right. So in grade 4, I went to a new school, Reine-des-Bois, until grade 6. It was easier for me because my class was specialized for students like me.
At Centre Jules-Léger
For grades 7 and 8, I went to Centre Jules-Léger (CJL). You do not know the CJL? You think the Centre Jules-Léger is just a high school? No, it is a school that helps children and adolescents who have a learning disability for two years only. Teachers give us the tools to learn. At CJL, we study French, math, physical education and the arts. We do not do learn about science and English and if you speak English, they will say: "FRENCH!"
At CJL, students in each class are presented with certificates based on merits, such as: academic effort, pride and the French initiative. Last year, when I was in Sandra’s class of Sandra, my class received a certificate and the theme was "CSI".
The Video Will Show You
I like the Centre Jules-Léger because I have new friends from other places like Timmins and Toronto. The center helped me a lot. I now socialize more with everyone from school. I feel more confident, despite my challenge
My name is Pascal Desormeaux and I am 16 years old. I was born on June 13, 1998. I have difficulty reading, writing and concentrating in class. My goal is to introduce myself.
I was born in North Bay, Ontario. In my family, there was my father, Luc, mother, Denise, and my sisters, Jessica and Melanie. I am in Grade 11. These are the schools I attended: Resurrection, Franco Cité and the Centre Jules-Léger. I love hockey, volleyball, video games, hunting, BMX bikes, trucks and music. My passion is to be a DJ.
My problems began when I was in grade 1, when my teacher told me that I had a learning disability. My first assessment was in grade 2, for dyslexia and dysgraphia. I was diagnosed with a learning disability. I had the help of a speech therapist, a laptop, a program to help me write and read, support from teaching assistants and an iPad to help me in class.
I was in grade 9 when a friend of my father, who told me about CJL, suggested to my school that I come to the Centre. I was 15 years old, in grade 10, when I arrived. The benefits to CJL are small classes, more help from teaching assistants and more tools to use. I learned to improve my relationships, be more positive and accept help from adults. After CJL, I will have a co-op placement, finish high school and then become a welder or electrician.
My name is Adam, I'm good at writing stories and I also have Tourette syndrome. That is to say, I have trouble concentrating. I decided to tell the story of my wonderful life to help other young people like me.
Ever since I was born, I have lived in Timmins, Ontario with my father, my mother and my sister. I was 8 years old when Dad took me on the Zipper ride for the first time; it was during the 2009-summer holiday, in Niagara Falls, Canada. I felt like I was flying in the clouds but I was afraid the first time. Now I go every summer when the carnival is in Timmins.
When I was in school, from kindergarten to now, it’s like my brain is playing tricks on me, telling me not to concentrate. In grade four, I pretended to concentrate and listen, but my teacher knew. I always found that classroom responsibilities and work were difficult, because I was distracted. It upset me when I was the only one who didn’t know how to do the work. Then a lady made me do some tests. She told my parents that I had Tourette syndrome. She explained that to learn to concentrate, I had to work very hard, much harder than my classmates. In order to learn better, I had to practice concentrating. And now, I understand science better, just like my classmates.
Once I decided to pay attention and improve in science class, I became good at science. One day we had to do a science exhibition and I was one of the winners of the gold medal. I was more successful than many other students. My mother said, "Do you know that Tourette’s and science are like two friends, they both seek to understand things better.” I continued to concentrate in science. I had to be patient, attentive, happy and tenacious. These are the same qualities that helped me focus. By winning the competition, I became confident in myself and in everything I was doing, even in math. No one can be good at everything. Since I love myself as I am, when I am doing science and math, and it's difficult, I think about my medal and all of my strengths. I know that if I try with all my heart, I will succeed. I might not be the best in math, but I know that I will succeed in school and have a good job. I'm not afraid because I am confident with new modifications for school and other situations.
When writing an autobiography, ask students to share their personal challenges and successes. This could lead to a classroom discussion on individual challenges and successes and even the similarities and differences among all the students. This could serve as a starting point to address the topic of inclusion in the classroom. Educators might also encourage students with learning disabilities to write about the challenges they have faced in school and their successes. This provides an opportunity for students to identify their strengths and needs, and to help them understand their learning profile. A student who understands his needs and strengths is a student who will develop self-determination skills. The student’s autobiography can also be shared with future teachers, to help them better understand the student.
Writing an autobiography provides several options to enhance learning. This writing process helps students with LDs to know and understand their learning profile, to develop both their French language and self-determination skills, while valuing their life experiences.
Relevant Resources on the LD@school website:
Students at Sagonaska School created their own self-advocacy pamphlets to help others understand their strengths and needs, and to assist with transitions. Click here to view the video, "“Our Self-Advocacy Pamphlet Journey”, and to see two samples of self-advocacy pamphlets
The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1 – 8: Language. For detailed information on the elements of effective writing and the stages of the recursive writing process, differentiated by grade level, click here to access the Ontario Language Curriculum Document (elementary).