Question: My son is a wonderful reader, can pronounce words well, and reads aloud with expression – however we recently discovered that he does not understand much of what he reads. Can you help us understand this?

Posted November 6, 2011 by valeriemaclean
Categories: Uncategorized

Valerie’s Answer:  Great question, and is one shared by many parents, so thank you for sharing.  What you have described is what many term as Hyperlexia – simply defined as an ability to read words far above the level of their peers.

As many of you know, for 13 years I was in the business of providing private schooling to children and teens with various learning challenges, to include my own private school – and am sharing today from these experiences. 


The two best programs I have found and have used within my school and have shared with clients acrossCanada are:

  • Lexia – This is a computer based program that can be downloaded from the company.  One of my favourite features is the artificial intelligence (automatically branches back to areas that need further work).  There are several programs, beginning with early sound symbol relationships and leading up to Strategies for Older Students which finish with all the skills students need to learn how to read and comprehend.  This program is like having a very patient teacher sitting with you, leading through the mechanics of learning how to read, and learning how to comprehend the written word.  I have highly recommended this program for many years, and recommend most students begin with the initial program – even for the practice of sound symbol recognition, which develops the corpus collosum which is helpful for those with reading comprehension challenges.  This company also had Cross Trainer, yet I believe it is no longer available (which is a shame as it was excellent – and I used it as a reward it was so much fun).  Let me know if you find it!



  • English Smart – I have found a link so you can view, but these are often sold at Costco and Chapters.


  • There are several books in the series, and I have them all, and found them to be the absolute best workbooks.  There is the English Smart series, the Math Smart series, and also a series called Canadian Curriculum.  Each of these has a separate book for each grade level. 


  • The Canadian Curriculum is a snapshot of English, math, history, geography, science (social studies) for each grade, whereas the English Smart and Math Smart incorporate lessons for the whole grade level.  That being said, I have used the English section of Canadian curriculum if I just wanted a “top up” of info or to assess where they really are in those particular academic skills, and then work through the full section as needed. 


  • Within the English Smart book are several sections – one specific section focuses on reading comprehension, another on grammar.  These are the two sections I used most frequently.  I actually had the kids work on those two sections as two separate subjects (and often they were not even working from the same grade level book, as often grammar and reading comprehension skills are very different).


  • In my school, the students did not go onto a new section or story until the previous one was 100% (in any subject).  This disallowed for skipping through sections that kids didn’t truly understand – and allowed for my teachers to monitor the students closely, catching their challenges to then be able to foster and support particular skills (which was the whole point of my school). 


  • I am saying all this, as I feel that to truly be effective, it is an intensive process.  In my experience, I repeatedly found that we needed to actually teach how to extract information so that it could be understood (and all the tricks and techniques to make that happen).  It’s a big and time consuming commitment – but we found enormous results, which then made the rest of learning easier.  As students progress in school, they soon face the change between learning to read … to read to learn – when kids are expected to comprehend in order to be successful in math, social studies etc.  Many get lost at this point.


  • To link this with HANDLE and other brain based approaches you may be utilizing – the corpus collosum is often underdeveloped in these kiddos – usually with one hemisphere far stronger then the other, and therefore they can go through the motions of reading, even be hyperlexic (and sometimes can read with emotion), but that is because they are technically awesome and truly brilliant, and yet have not developed the comprehension of the reading within their other hemisphere. 


  • As a warning – even though math may (or may not) be easy, soon their challenges show up in math class.  In later grades math changes from computation to extrapolation of patterns and utilization of problem solving.  Balanced brain functionality is essential. 




Come to Your Senses Conference – MukiBaum – October 19-23/2011

Posted October 20, 2011 by valeriemaclean
Categories: Uncategorized


Come and join me at this wonderful conference.  I will be speaking on Sunday October 23rd, more details below.

In the summer of 2008, Dr. Nehama Baum created the concept of Sensory Capital. 
She defined it as: 

“The collective attitudes, skills and abilities within a person which contribute to a better organized nervous system in everyday life’s context. It refers to the stock of sensory coping capacity, sensory skills, talents and unique capabilities embodied in an individual’s ability to process and function within the world around us, and to perform day to day tasks.
Sensory Capital is the quality of the sensory assets an individual possesses, and the potential for those assets to be improved through therapy, education, and training. Actualization of the sensory capital promotes a more integrated functional sensory system.
The term Sensory Capital recognizes that sensory competencies are important and essential assets that assist in the development and growth of a person. The ‘return’ on any investment in sensory training, treatment, development, health and support is an improved quality of life.”

                                                                                                     Baum, 2008

Dr. Baum contends that including the notion of Sensory Capital in the assessment and evaluation of the sensory strengths and challenges of individuals with various disabilities will assist in the formulation of the needs of the person in the development of treatment plans for him/her.

The 2011 Come To Your Senses Conference: Activating the Sensory Capital within Children & Adults with Autism and Other Complex Disabilities is dedicated to the exploration of this concept of Sensory Capital, and its manifestation and implementation in the treatment of children and adults with various disabilities.

Ultimately, the goal of this conference is to discuss how we assess and evaluate individuals’ Sensory Capital assets and, in turn, how we create supportive, enriched environments that will nurture, enhance and help grow their Sensory Capital within.



Autism Canada / KidsAbility 2011 Conference – Kitchener ON, Oct 14 & 15

Posted October 12, 2011 by valeriemaclean
Categories: Uncategorized

Please introduce yourself to me during this conference. I am honoured to be one of this year’s speakers, and looking forward to an excellent weekend.

Speaker Abstract: Valerie MacLean is a certified HANDLE® (Holistic Approach to Neurodevelopment and Learning Efficiency) practitioner and instructor, and implements the HANDLE approach to families across Canada, through the Phoenix Centre for Neurodevelopment, Osteopathy and Complementary Therapies, located in Peterborough Ontario. HANDLE is an effective, gentle, whole person therapy for people of all ages, and for a wide range of issues, including autism, based in neuroplasticity and synaptogenesis. Valerie has written several articles and is a frequent speaker at local, national and international conferences. She is also studying Osteopathy at the Canadian College of Osteopathy.

Presentation Title: Weaving the Fabric of Autism with HANDLE – Helping Extraordinary People Do Ordinary Things

Abstract: Valerie MacLean will speak about the international award- winning HANDLE approach. The presentation explores the work of Judith Bluestone, the originator of the… HANDLE approach. In her book, The Fabric of Autism, Weaving the Threads into a Cogent Theory, Bluestone combines her personal autistic experience with academic research and more than 40 years of clinical practice to craft a unique and compelling view of the phenomenon called autism. This presentation is designed for those who interact with children and adults experiencing sensory, cognitive, motor, social, and behavioural difficulties. We recognize that many struggling individuals are attending to their inner needs, and have less attention and energy to learn and develop efficiently. This is often the case with those who are hyper or hypo sensitive to factors in their environment, those with neurodevelopmental challenges, or those with sensory integration issues.

Email from a Parent: As we begin our new HANDLE Program

Posted April 12, 2011 by valeriemaclean
Categories: Uncategorized

Hi Valerie,  Hi Catherine,

First of all, it was such a pleasure to meet both of you. Our first HANDLE experience was so moving and memorable. I have no doubt that we’ve found something that will help “my son” immensely. (And “my son” can’t stop talking about it – so it definitely had an impact!)

We’ve been very good about keeping up with our activities (gently, of course) since we saw you and are already seeing some very subtle things in “my son”. The expression on his face – especially when he smiles – seems a little more natural and relaxed – even our therapists have noticed this. And his body doesn’t seem so “itchy” all the time. He’s spent very little time rubbing and rolling on the floor/furniture lately, which is very encouraging for us. And he really seems to enjoy the activities – no problem at all getting him to do any of them. And I really can’t believe the improvement in his blowing abilities/strength after just a few days of the blow soccer. The only “down side” (for lack of a better way of putting it) is that he seems a lot more inside himself and exclusive the last few days – seems to want to spend a lot more time by himself in his room, hasn’t been his usual excited self when the therapists come over, etc. We’re not really looking at this as a “bad” thing – I’m sure his body must feel different to him and maybe he just needs some quiet adjustment time – but just wanted to check in and see if this is something to be expected.

Have a great weekend!


 And we so enjoyed meeting your family, a treat for us.  This is so amazing, what an incredible fellow you have.

 I agree that I believe this is exactly what it is about, adjusting to a whole new world.  Just as any adventure, it can be exciting, exhausting, and sometimes scary too.   Keep your eye on it, and let me know how things change.  

 Your son may want to do some of the activities spontaneously himself.  If you have the opportunity, and its not “rehearsed” but a spontaneous and relaxed opportunity, you may chat a bit while doing a couple activities and say something like “Jiggle Bridge (as you are doing it), I have noticed Seymour that your face looks more relaxed when I do this, and it makes me think that your body and your brain feels relaxed.  Sometimes when I want to feel relaxed, I do Jiggle Bridge on myself, like this (and do it on you…. Just as if it were a part of the sentence).  Your son is a clever boy, and helping him label and model self advocacy and self awareness may be helpful – just imaging it on him or on you is helpful, as he is employing mental rehearsal.  

 Just as a side note…

I am super sensitive about labeling someone else’s feelings – so I would suggest not saying “oh I see Jiggle Bridge makes you feel good”, as you lose credibility if you don’t quite hit the emotion on the nail, and really it is his work to figure out what life feels like for him, with your guidance.  However, saying…. I notice (this observation), and it makes me wonder if it (relaxes, comforts, tickles etc…???.) is a nice model to use (observation and offering one or more labels). 

I used this model often, including within my school as I tried to build self awareness and self advocacy.  For example:…. “hmmm, I see your face is red and your voice is loud…. I wonder what that could be about?…..  maybe (offer an action, like a hug, cuddling up on this seat, stomping feet…. Etc)  for a few minutes until your feel like you want to talk about it may be helpful.  Let me know what you need from me to be helpful to you, I’ll be right here.    

I’m using this example, and pointing this out, as one of my goals for your son is to open up and organize more sensory feelings, and it an ideal time to help him label and understand on a deeper level – so he can access himself more and more.  This may even be helpful for us to keep in mind in the event his “quiet time” needs some of our intervention and support.  

April 2, 2011 is World Autism Awareness Day

Posted April 1, 2011 by valeriemaclean
Categories: Uncategorized

On December 18, 2007, the United Nations General Assembly declared April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD). On this day each year, we raise awareness about autism, encourage early diagnosis and early intervention, and recognize the high rate of autism in children in all regions of the world and the consequent developmental challenges.

By bringing together autism organizations all around the world, we will give a voice to the millions of individuals worldwide who are undiagnosed, misunderstood and looking for help. Please join us in our effort to inspire compassion, inclusion and hope.


CN Tower – Autism Speaks “Light It Up Blue”
Hosted by Autism Speaks, Toronto’s CN Tower will turn its lights blue to raise awareness for autism and commemorate World Autism Awareness Day. See the link below to find out what other buildings around the world are turning blue!
Date: Saturday, April 2, 2011
Time: 8pm-midnight
Location: CN Tower (301 Front Street West, Toronto)

Peterborough Chapter
Autism Ontario – Peterborough Chapter is hosting a free event to celebrate World Autism Awareness Day. Snacks/Refreshments will be provided.
Date: Saturday, April 2, 2011
Time: 2-4pm
Location: Beth Israel Synagogue (775 Weller Street, Peterborough)

Purple Day for Epilepsy

Posted March 28, 2011 by valeriemaclean
Categories: Uncategorized

It was an honour to be amongst many sporting their best purple attire March 26th in support of Purple Day for Epilepsy.  See www.purpleday.orgFor those seeking more information and support, also visit

Hello from Valerie

Posted March 13, 2011 by valeriemaclean
Categories: Uncategorized

Today’s Question – My son has started lining up his cups he sits at the kitchen table…

Posted March 11, 2011 by valeriemaclean
Categories: Uncategorized

Question:  My son has started lining up his cups as he sits at the kitchen table.  Also in the bath today he normally sits in the front, with one brother in the middle and another brother back. One of his brothers came to sit in front so I told my son to go to back and he got very upset and started crying and said he wouldn’t go there as he didn’t want to be in the deep end.
I said it is all the same. I then told him to hurry up and get out the bath and go get dressed as he wasn’t getting a story and he got very upset again and started crying and I had to tell him if he didn’t go I wouldn’t play with him on Friday night so he was very quick then.
Has this behaviour, which is new, got anything to do with his systems? 

Valerie’s Answer: 

You have described some “rigidity” in behaviour – wanting things to be “just so”. 

Part of that is natural and normal – as it is with all of us.  That is, when someone comes to our house and puts the dishes in the wrong cupboards – we celebrate the help, but mutter under our breath about it being out of place.  Rigidity is often warm and predicable and therefore very comforting.  For example, we often chose to dine at “our favourite restaurant”, because we associated emotions and memories of wonderfulness with our favourite place, it is predictable.  It is often where we can let ourselves be more vulnerable, can celebrate especially during important times (such as birthdays), and also where we like to go when we are tired and overwhelmed – we all naturally gravitate to “our favourite place”.  Everyone, when tired and stressed especially, find an even greater comfort in routine. 

Additionally, many of us are grateful for our well established and “auto pilot” routines when we are tired, distracted, stressed or overwhelmed.  Here is an example I often share….For the past 4 decades – I always gone thru the motions of my showering routine exactly the same – and therefore need less energy and attention to remember what to do next.  Sometimes I find myself off in lala land, and “wake up” to the feeling of the bar of soap on my face – and have zero recollection of shampooing my hair.  No need to be alarmed, as I know that if I am on “wash the face step”, I have absolutely already washed my hair, because that is a previous step in my fine tuned routine.  This allows my brain to be in other place – and I have said MANY times – if I didn’t shower, I would never have a creative thought.  That is, I am completely removing myself from the planet earth when in the shower  – and it is the only freedom I can guarantee on a daily basis – and is my salvation from the world pushing thoughts and ideas towards me versus me being able to create from the inside out.   So, this is just another example of how rigidity/routine is normal and natural and a good thing – when balanced.

What I am hearing from your question is your son is having challenges balancing his ways – and the rigidity of his routine is not yet established.  I don’t see this as something new for your son, I think it was always there, and saw signs of such from the first time I saw him. 

What I do believe is that so many things have changed for him that what is being viewed, and what he is doing to help maintain something solid, predictable and routine amongst his changing world is more highlighted.  That is, this little guy has experienced some great changes – more concentrated change, within a short period of time.  He knows and feels this too – absolutely – likely more than we will ever know.  He is a smart and very self aware little guy, and knows that lots of “stuff” is changing within him, in his world, and how he is relating to his world.  This is all good – but sometimes grabbing onto some routine/rigidity is understandable. 

Additionally, the changes he is experiencing, through the combination of therapies is different.  It is like having someone from the Home Decorating channel coming in and updating your kitchen – which you absolutely love, and it is much more efficient now, and you are in love with the changes – all wonderful things.  The bottom line is – you still have to take some time to figure out where to put your plates and glasses, and then you need to remember where it was you put your coffee mugs – you know its somewhere in that beautiful new kitchen, but exactly which door is it behind is temporarily omitted from your memory.  Your son too is sorting out, and fine tuning his changes – and not quite finished his work.

Differentiation – sorting out the on/off switches in the brain, able to switch plans in the middle of life, being okay with transitioning to Plan B midstream when your whole body and mind has already invested 100% in Plan A is hard work.  And, sitting in a different location in the tub is not the same – the angle of the light is different, the sound is different, who is sitting in front and behind you is different, the tap faucet location versus where he is sitting is different, the shower curtain proximity is different, the bubbles are different, the angle of the bottom and sides of the tub is different – its all so different that it is almost like comparing Jupiter and Saturn – and he had invested himself in Jupiter, and now he needs to settle for Saturn – yuk.  This is not a time for logic and all those great conversations – this is a crisis – as the rule book for bathing on Saturn is completely different from Jupiter – and the energy to learn the new process is way more fuel than brought aboard.  Therefore – a big flare goes out for help (called a flare up versus a melt down), as this issue is way bigger than he can sort out for himself. 

So, there will be a day that transitioning from one rule book to the other is easier, as there is more fuel tucked away in the accessory tanks for such unexpected fuel emergencies, and there is certainly more spare fuel than previously when he ran on fumes all the time, but not quite enough to feel absolutely safe and secure that there is more than enough fuel to safely make it back to earth and into mom’s loving arms with ample fuel to spare – so red flags of caution are thrown up – just to make sure there is access to assistance at any point in time during the journey.

I hope these additional perspectives on rigidity are helpful.

Valerie MacLean is on Linked In

Posted February 24, 2011 by valeriemaclean
Categories: Uncategorized

Looking forward to meeting you on Linked In

Today’s Question: I was just wondering what the Handle perspective is on Television? I’m not a big fan of TV and only allow my children to watch as little as possible. Are there any instances where you feel it is helpful for children?

Posted February 24, 2011 by valeriemaclean
Categories: Uncategorized

Valerie’s Answer:  First, I do not believe there is a “HANDLE” answer/perspective to this.  I believe the most accurate answer would be….  It depends!

That is, we ask about TV watching and video watching as part of our Assessment process, as these are important observations to make.  Sometimes this gives us information about a child’s attention, reaction to energy, their visual system, and their visual auditory integration and more.

  •  That is, some people are not able to attend to anything external, even a television or a computer. This is important information for me.


  •  Some (including one of my former students) are so highly sensitive to energy that they absolutely cannot go on the computer (even though may really want to), or for very short periods of time. 


  • I then often inquire how is the computer room, office, television room set up (or computer lab at school).  This is important information again, especially if a child is expected to be on the computer at school and showing behaviours, and  “is disobedient” and “non-compliant” .


  • Having an idea of exposure to television, computers and videos can give other clues to their visual processing.


  • The TV, computers and videos provide information is integrated to the ears and eyes.  That is, the input received by the brain has visual and auditory information, to both of these systems at the same time (both playing simultaneously). 


  • Some children and adults may have a challenge in their visual and auditory integration system within their own brain processing systems.  When this occurs, it is as if there are   gaps in these systems and process info as if the sound and picture don’t match –yuk!


  • Therefore, these individuals may use television, videos and the computer as a method to seek respite, to compensate, as visual and auditory are “delivered to the brain integrated” from this outside source, and therefore do not need to do this for themselves.  This can have a seemingly calming or even “shut down” effect, as these individuals are not working so hard to input information.   


  • Additionally, the TV and computer is usually a very solitary activity, and not very helpful with social development. 


Therefore, I usually approach this as more of an investigation process.

With clients I don’t usually make any recommendations one way or the other about TV, unless the topic comes up.  I am more of the personality to try to educate people and validate their parenting choices, and promoting balance.  However, I have recommended decreasing exposure to TV/computer especially with a taxed visual system, and tried to offer substitutions. 

When it may be helpful?  I have three examples off the top of my head:

  • to utilize the time when an active child is already engaged in watching TV etc to do some of their therapies or their HANDLE program if their child is very active, and parents are not able to “catch them” during other times.  (I do remind parents that implementing their HANDLE program during their sleep is another possibility).


  • I have utilized a computer based central auditory processing program to aid in reading skills – utilizing the visual auditory integration to my advantage.  Some with a visual auditory integration challenge also have difficulties with the decoding skills of reading (versus sight reading), as their sound/symbol relationship is challenged.  The reading program from Lexia  is fantastic, and used it extensively with my former students.  This program’s main objective is to seemingly teach language, but does such by working through visual/auditory integration (which is an interhemispheric integration function).


  • When parents have utilized/experimented with other compensatory techniques, and either the child or the parent needs a time of calmness, and to take this crutch away completely would not be helpful.  I again speak about balance in this instance.  It is my intent to change the disorganized systems so the need decreases, yet in the interim, effective compensatory techniques are often helpful. 


Hope this answers your questions.  Valerie