Thursday, November 1, 2012

Teacher of Student with ACC shares input

Some parents who have a child with Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum choose to hire a tutor to help their child with certain academic areas that many kids with ACC commonly struggle with
(i.e. math, reading/language arts, homework), and they mention that hiring a tutor for their child who has ACC turned out to be a great experience, with positive results.

The other evening I was casually reading an article about tutoring and I couldn't believe my eyes when I actually saw (and then realized) that yes, the teacher/tutor actually just stated in writing that:

"one of my Kindergarten students came in with a rare condition: Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum."

Those words, in an article written by a teacher, are probably even more rare than actually having ACC.

I excitedly, and very eagerly, continued to read all that the Kindergarten teacher, Alexandra Berube, wrote in her article with respect to the details of her experience teaching the student with ACC.

I was immediately captured with her style of tutoring, her passion for teaching and her philosophy of taking cues from the child and shifting gears whenever necessary in an effort to fine tune her methods of teaching to meet the child's style of learning. That is a major key to successful learning for many, many children who have Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum.

As I was reading the article, I quickly had a desire to hopefully reprint the Kindergarten teacher, Ms. Berube's, article here on the ACC blog for others to read. Then (as a mom myself of a child who has ACC), I really, really wished that she might share a little more information about her experience teaching the student who has Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum.

Later that evening I sent off an e-mail to Dr. Alise Holland-Johnson, an educator, professor, professional tutor, author (and owner of the blog where Alexandra's original article appeared), requesting permission to possibly re-print Alexandra's article here on the Agenesis Corpus Callosum blog. I also shared with Dr. Holland-Johnson some of my enthusiatic thoughts and my wish.

I went to bed that evening all giddy, like a little kid waiting for Christmas morning.

The next morning I received an e-mail reply from Dr. Holland-Johnson, who very graciously granted permission for me to re-print the guest blog article written by the Kindergarten teacher, Alexandra Berube, and I also received a second e-mail from Alexandra Berube herself (who I didn't even e-mail). I very quickly discovered that Dr. Holland-Johnson had forwared my e-mail on to Alexandra for her to see.

In her e-mail to me, Alexandra surprised my socks off (and fulfilled my wish) by generously agreeing to write another article and elaborate further about her teaching experience with the student who has ACC. I was (and still am) astonished and grateful and elated all at the same time.

Having the opportunity to receive written input from a teacher who had a student with ACC in her class--and be able to share it here on the blog with you--is incredible!

My sincere thanks and appreciation to Dr. Alise Holland-Johnson and also to the Kindergarten teacher (and tutor), Alexandra Berube, who wrote the article titled: "How to Support a Student with Unique Learning Needs", which you can read below for yourself.

*Alexandra's article below reprinted with permission from Dr. Alicia Holland-Johnson, where it originally appeared as a guest blog posting on her Helping Tutors Become Their Best blog.

How to Support a Student with Unique Learning Needs
By Alexandra Berube,

Teaching my second year of Kindergarten, one of my students came in with a rare condition: Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum. This is a complete or partial absence of the corpus callosum, the band connecting the two hemispheres in the brain. It was not known how deeply this would affect his development, but his learning would clearly be shaped entirely by his brain’s ability to share, process, and store information.

I should explain that I am not a teacher with a Special Education background--I have a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education and I am certified in this field; however, I was not trained to teach students with Special Needs beyond how to incorporate modifications into lesson plans and how to read an IEP. I had worked with students with Asperger’s, Sensory Integration Dysfunction, ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Autism, but never had I had complete responsibility for the education of a student with needs such as these.

This student is now in 3rd grade, and I have had the honor of being able to watch him grow, tutoring him on and off ever since he graduated from my classroom. Tutors are often assigned students to work with, not knowing what to expect, and they are being given the opportunity to test the limits of their creativity and their patience. It is truly an opportunity, a gift, to have this chance to bring out what this child has to offer.

Over the years I have watched this student learn everything backwards. By that I mean, in order to hear a rhyme, he had to be able to read the word first: Do cat and hat rhyme? They both visually end in ‘-at,’ so yes. But he couldn’t hear the rhyme.

He can do multi-digit addition and subtraction, with carrying and borrowing. But he has to count on his fingers, even to subtract 3 from 3. Theoretically, he can’t do math facts in his head at all. Each year, we have retaught him how to add and subtract, and he has several strategies that work for him--he physically ‘catches’ the small number and counts up to the big number to subtract, and ‘catches’ the big number and adds the small number from there for addition. It’s tactile, and that’s how his brain allows him to add and subtract. But it does seem illogical to watch a student add 2 plus 3 on his fingers and then see him add 23,908 to 13,208 with carrying, with ease.

This is not how children are supposed to learn, according to common belief. You are supposed to teach children in a certain order, because that’s how their brain develops. But what if their brain needs to develop a different way? What if their brain makes connections in a completely new and circuitous way, that leaves you, the tutor, baffled time and time again? What if that’s okay?

Tutoring a student who learns differently, for any reason, means shedding your beliefs of what is the right order to teach content. It means not drilling in one concept over and over until they get it, because you think they can’t move onto the next concept until they get this one.

All students learn in leaps and bounds, which may mean skipping over one concept, moving onto the next one, and weaving back around, ‘absorbing’ that ‘previous’ concept into their learning schema long after it logically makes sense for them to do so.

Every student deserves the chance to learn at their own pace, and it takes understanding on the part of the tutor that this may be the right way for them.

About Alexandra Berube

Alexandra is the Managing Director of Boston Tutoring Services, a tutoring company that offers one-to-one in-home tutoring in Massachusetts. She is also a former Kindergarten teacher who also tutors students in grades
K-8, in all subject areas, including test preparation.

Would you like to have a print copy of this article?

Alexandra has given me permission to convert her article to a pdf format, which you can access by clicking on the link below:

How to Support a Student with Unique Learning Needs - printable version

Exciting News!!

Watch for Alexandra's upcoming second article regarding the student she taught (and tutored) who has ACC, which will be posted here on this blog next week.

And, if you can believe it, (I'm still in awe), not only is Alexandra willing to write a second upcoming article--she is also, very generously, willing to write and share several more upcoming guest blog articles here in the near future regarding her teaching and tutoring experiences (from Kindergarten to 3rd Grade) with her student who has ACC!

(With her permission) I'm including something here that Alexandra wrote--in one of her e-mails to me--for you to read:

"I started with him the first day of kindergarten, when he was nonverbal and could make no shapes on paper (so he couldn't even draw a line, or a circle, let alone a letter). I could write about any level of his development from that point until now, in 3rd grade. He's on an IEP but not receiving any services at this time because he doesn't need them--he's on grade-level!"

*Please Note: ACC has a very wide range of effects--ranging anywhere from no symptoms--or mild learning disabilities--to severe mental and/or physical challenges. It can sometimes also be seen with other medical conditions, genetic syndromes, chromosomal anomalies and more. Every person with ACC can present differently in terms of their development, cognitive abilities and educational needs.

Each child who has ACC is a unique individual with their own abilities, weaknesses, challenges, motivations, strengths as well as their own style of learning.


  1. As the mom of a kid with ACC (undiagnosed at the time and for years thereafter), as well as her teacher in public school K-3, my experience is parallel, and I can second what this author says--follow the child. I was told by an "expert" in phonics that she couldn't have learned to read by spelling, but she did just that. First spelling, then writing, then reading, all before she started preschool at 4. Not your average way of developing literacy, but no one told her that!

    And I can relate to the finger-counting part too. As a teacher of young children, I already knew that to hold them back because they have not memorized math facts is silly, and it was that way with her, too. Fingers are great--accurate and quick--with addition and subtraction, but less so when it comes to multiplication and division. So we drilled those in, and surprisingly, they were easier for her to learn. It was my contention that she could add and subtract forever that way, as she became quicker and more dexterous (and far less obvious) with it. She was still adding that way in her algebra I and II classes at times. Big deal!

    I'll be excited to read the future articles by this teacher. What a great find, Sandie!

    Susan, mom of Beth, 24, septopreoptic holoprosencephaly and P-ACC

  2. Wow!! I'm very excited along with you!
    I'll follow everything to understand what is possible.
    In the next school year (which starts in Brazil in February), my son will start their school experience and am responsible for passing information to the school.

    a hug

  3. This is excellent. I wonder if we (parents of kids with ACC) could borrow Alexandra's articles and perhaps suggest that some of our own school teachers read them, or even correspond with her; with her permission of course, if they are looking for some insight into teaching a child with ACC... Nicolas is still an infant, but may someday have a grade school teacher who has never heard of ACC...

  4. Thank you to Alessandra for sharing her experiences teaching a child with acc! My son Ben has complete acc and he is the forth child in our family that I am homeschooling. Alessandra hits the nail on the head when describing her students way of learning as new and circuitous. I have seen the same things in my own son and like Alessandra, have decided to follow his lead instead of trying to follow the prescribed course that I took with my neuro-typical children. Can't wait to read more about Alessandra's experiences!

  5. As a teacher & grandmother of a beautiful granddaughter with ACC, I would suggest using the Touch Math system with children that need concrete kinesthetic method to do math. The numbers are assigned dots the child touches & counts - beats counting on fingers.

    Mary grandma to Jacqueline


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look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.