It’s not every day that a father and his child are students in the same learning centre.
13-year-old Timothy and his father, Walter, are participants in the Arrowsmith Program, a classroom-based program for children and adults living with learning disabilities and cognitive challenges.
As a child, Timothy was diagnosed with global development delay, global learning disability, ADHD, and low muscle tone, which affected his speech and coordination.
“Basically, what this means is that almost every area of development and aspects of his learning are delayed,” said his mother, Gennevive. “He sometimes doesn’t get things that are obvious to us (his family), and he doesn’t always understand multi-step instructions. He also has difficulty staying still and paying attention.”
Before joining the Arrowsmith Program, Timothy worked very hard at school and did homework every weeknight. However, whenever there was a break from school, he would forget much of what he’d worked so hard to learn and would have to start over. By Grade 5, Timothy could only read 15 words and was unable to remember all the letters of the alphabet and their basic sounds. His ability to understand math was also delayed, and he had difficulty making friends.
“He had huge anxiety about going to school and would often dash to the bathroom to vomit as soon as he got up,” his mom said.
Timothy is now in his fourth year in the Arrowsmith Program, which is offered through the Learning Disabilities Association of Manitoba (LDAM), a United Way Winnipeg donor-supported agency partner. Timothy also participates in LINKS, a literacy program that helps students become better readers, writers, and communicators.
Today, Timothy is reading several grade levels higher than when he started, and he is able to remember information much better, his mother said. His coordination has improved, and he can now ride a bike by himself. He’s also more confident, enjoys going to his classes, and has learned how to make friends.
“I’m so much better now,” Timothy said. “There are a lot of kind people. Everyone’s a friend here.”
And one of these friends is his father, Walter, who participated in the program following a hemorrhagic stroke in 2017.
Without any warning or having any of the known risk factors, Walter was left paralyzed on his left side, his speech was slurred, and he was unable to control body functions.
The experience was terrifying to Walter, Gennevive, and their four children. In addition to physical limitations and loss of independence, Walter suffered severe cognitive and memory deficits. He was unable to complete a 24-piece puzzle or simple word search. He also could not remember details or conversations accurately.
“I felt useless,” Walter said. “I felt like I couldn’t do anything. And I felt like this until I started at Arrowsmith.”
Following two months in the hospital, he enrolled in the Arrowsmith Program to regain cognitive function.
Within a year and a half after the stroke, Walter regained his skills and confidence and was given the green light to return full-time to his job where had worked for 24 years.
“Arrowsmith really celebrates accomplishments when you reach a new level,” Walter said.
The program is customized to students’ individual needs based on their own cognitive program. With a variety of ages in a classroom, many older students can take on a mentorship role with the younger students.
“When you give money, you’re helping kids and adults,” Walter said. “Their brains are being healed and working stronger than they ever have. You’re helping to make that difference.”
Gennevive now has hope for her husband and son.
“Before these programs, we were faced with the possibility of Timothy never being able to achieve the dreams he has for the future. And Walter was nowhere near being able to take up his life and work again,” she said. “Now the future’s wide open.”