MCLD – Montreal Centre For Learning Disabilities
A Brief History of the MCLD
Over forty years ago, a small group of parents got together to seek help and services for their sons and daughters who were doing very poorly in school. The sad fact was that very little was known four decades ago about these “disconcerting” children who, despite their intellectual skill, had difficulty learning to read, write, calculate, socialize, communicate, etc. Although the parents seemed to recognize the problem, the school system refused to acknowledge them.
In 1966, Ellen Sabin, part of the parent group and involved in a speech therapy program at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, read an article about the Ontario Association of Learning Disabilities. That group began two years earlier and she eagerly visited Toronto to see what they offered. Excited at the prospect of developing this in Montreal, she put a brief announcement in the Gazette newspaper and heartfelt letters from parents flooded in.
Ellen along with her husband, Dr. Morris Sabin, invited 14 parents to meet several times in their home. They shared experiences and searched for competent professionals who would understand their child’s difficulties and teach strategies for success. Their search led them to Dr. Sam Rabinovitch and Margie Golick, psychologists at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, Dr. Howard Stutt, Director of Special Education for the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal, Doreen Kronick, founding President of the Canadian Association for Children with Learning Disabilities, and Dr. Abe Kirshner, an optometrist interested in hand-eye coordination in children. Encouraged by these professionals and convinced of the need to rally together, these parents founded the Quebec Association for Children with Learning Disabilities in October 1966.
From Parents to Heroes
Parents were unquestionably the catalysts for change. In 1970, the Quebec Association for Children with Learning Disabilities rented a tiny office and quickly filled it with information documents, which people were desperate to get their hands on. Again, at the time, learning disabilities had not been identified and were not well known. As soon as the association’s name and number were listed in the telephone directory, calls started flooding in and have never stopped. Anne Gross set up a library by asking certain publishers for complimentary copies of relevant publications. As the membership grew, many activities were organized to bring more parents together and provide assistance to their children.
Joan Dougherty was hired as the executive director and filled that role for three years. In 1973, Joan secured a 3 year grant from the McConnel Foundation to hire Eddy Polack, a special education expert to help the Association to develop programs and help educate both parents and teachers. Eventually, he introduced the first conference which brought together international speakers who were experts in the field of learning disabilities.
Vicky Steinberg, a devoted mom of a special needs child became the founding president of the first chapter in Laval. She also was on the national board and went to Edmonton as a representative for Quebec at the national conference.
Some of the Laval Chapter’s programs were:
- a gymnastic and music class, attended by 20 “perceptually handicapped” young people, through the Montreal Jewish Community Centre.
- a summer program for boys and girls at Wooden Acres Camp, a “talking circle” for mothers under the leadership of a qualified teacher, Mrs. Wugalther.
- guest speakers were invited to provide parents with information. The first presenter for the Laval Chapter was Marilyn Zwaig-Rosner, a therapist/teacher from The Montreal Children’s Hospital, who presented on children with hyperactivity. Marilyn joined the group in an advisory position, providing guidance and information for the chapter.
- A fund-raising campaign was organized to finance activities. Folders for schools and hospitals were drafted and printed. Margie Golick, Ph.D., wrote a brochure titled “A Parent’s Guide to Learning Disabilities,” and the proceeds from the sales went to the association.
Spreading the Message
Elizabeth Handler became the first secretary to work at the office with both Joan and Eddy. She and Vicky had many meetings with teachers, school boards and universities. In 1975 the “Success Is Possible” conference was organized and with a thousand people in attendance, it was a tremendous success. Other chapters of the learning disabilities association spread across Quebec and their volunteers would provide information and services to their respective regions.
And so, the association began to organize as people attempted to define the concept of “learning disability”. At the time, the expression being used was “exceptional children.” A definition of “learning disability” was essential and one that eventually became official.
The Montreal Laval chapter became Montreal Chapter 1, in recognition of the fact that it is the oldest chapter in Quebec. Steps were undertaken to incorporate it in order to facilitate independent fundraising.
Growing Programs for the Community
Sheila Donohue became the president of the chapter and ran the AQUA- K.I.D.S. swim, gym & art program and parent support groups. She and Joan Dougherty offered volunteer services for many years. Elizabeth Anglin became the next president and was followed in 1994 by Joan Scott and then by Adele Nessim. They set into motion the principal activities which were carried on by Montreal Chapter 1, which were a regular schedule of speakers, activities designed to sensitize teachers and a program to help children develop socialization and motor skills. A tutoring service was added to help individual children in their studies. Tutors were interviewed and matched with approximately 20 students at a time. When possible, bursaries were provided to cover part of the cost to low-income families. Judy Deere became president in 2003 to 2012. Sana Nakhleh became president in 2012 to 2014. Both continue to inspire guidance and dedication.
In 1995, with the closure of The Montreal CHADD Chapter, (Children & Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder) Linda Aber, Sheila Ostroff and Cindy Blauer met with Montreal Chapter 1’s executive to merge 100 members with the LDAQ. New innovative educational/support groups were created to encompass ADHD.
Through the years that followed, Montreal Chapter 1’s services expanded to include parent educational/support groups, family social skills groups, and adult employment services and groups. We continue to offer public lectures with professional guest speakers on various topics of interest. Over the years, we have been able to maintain our AQUA-K.I.D.S. swim, art and gym program with tremendous success. One of the most inspirational program’s we offer is the Ambassadors, which is a group of adults and teens who spread their personal success stories of living with LD & ADHD to students and teachers in various Montreal schools.
A Major Transition to become officially Montreal Centre for Learning Disabilities
On January 2013, focusing on the specific needs of our members, our organization went through a major transition. We separated from AQETA head office and proudly have become the Montréal Centre for Learning Disabilities/Centre Montréalais pour les troubles d’apprentissage.
We take pride in our organization’s roots – a tribute to the committed, unwavering parents and experts that underlie the strength and credibility of the message conveyed by our values—that everyone has the right to learn. This inspirational message continues to raise people’s awareness of learning disabilities and ADHD, ensuring compliance with each individual’s right to an education adapted to his/her needs.