Lazy Kid Syndrome?

Lazy Kid Syndrome?

Probably not…

In general, children want to please. They want to make us happy and be rewarded with praise and attention. It is a basic human need that we all experience.

What many parents and teachers see as a lazy child is usually a distracted or confused child. Kids with Executive Functions disorder are often mistaken as lazy. These are kids that are seen as intelligent by parents and teachers but are often mislabelled as lazy or lacking motivation. They simply do not have the skills necessary to complete the expectations independently. Executive Functions includes regulation of goals, organization, flexibility, planning, prioritizing and reflection.

 Individuals with Executive Functioning deficits will experience problems in the following areas:

  • Getting started on their work

  • Seeing work through to completion

  • Writing essays or reportsPost-Frustrated-Boy

  • Working math problems

  • Being punctual

  • Controlling emotions

  • Completing long-term assignments

  • Planning for the future

Although Executive Functions Disorder can be a challenging learning disability, depending on the severity, it is manageable. Many strategies and accommodations can be put in place to assist kids with the scaffolding necessary to get them through a task, transition or social situation.

Parents and teachers can both take advantage of and teach strategies that help with organization of space, time and materials. A couple of excellent books that is a wealth of ideas and further resources for teachers are:

Smart-but-Scattered-Teens

Smart-but-Scattered

 

 Some useful strategies include:

  • Breaking tasks (assignments or chores) into steps, with a written plan for completing assignments. Provide directions written and orally

  • Use of agenda, calendar or daily planner to help organize special dates, assignments, classes, etc. Create a visual calendar to help with time management. Sometimes a month-at-a-glance calendar is more visual and helps with longer-term time management.

  • Use of watch or cell phone alarm for reminders. Use of visual timers if necessary

  • Provide transitional time between activities or tasks. This could just include a brief, “heads up…we are going to be leaving for recess in 5…” or, “I’m going to ask you to clean up your stuff in 5 minutes and then we are going to get ready to go.”

  • Use of “to do” lists and checklists. There are great apps for this purpose.

  • Create a working area at home that is organized and free of clutter and distractions. Regularly schedule times to reorganize this area.

  • Ensure there is good communication between home and school to prevent any missed assignments, papers to be signed, etc.

The most important advice I would give as both a teacher and a mother (of a child with executive function deficits) is to keep it organized and consistent. A good role model is important. Those with executive function deficits have little internal organization. Learning how to organize their world will help to make them more successful. Knowing where to find things, when to be somewhere and what to expect will reduce the amount of meltdowns associated with poor emotional regulation.

Ideally, all this hard work will pay off. Children learn quickly that these little things are necessary for their own success and eventually adopt the strategies that help them the most.

Some great websites on Executive Functions include:

http://www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities/executive-function-disorders/what-is-executive-function

http://www.ldonline.org/article/29122/

http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/7051.html

 

Living with Dyslexia – Part II

Living with Dyslexia – Part II

How do I Teach my son to Read????

Near the end of Grade 4 my son Donny was seen by a psychologist at the school. He was officially diagnosed with a reading disorder, or Dyslexia.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) defines Dyslexia as a brain-based type of learning disability that specifically impairs a person’s ability to read. These individuals typically read at levels significantly lower than expected despite having normal intelligence. Although the disorder varies from person to person, common characteristics among people with dyslexia include difficulties with phonological processing (the manipulation of sounds), spelling, and/or rapid visual-verbal responding.

Of course I was relieved to hear from the psychologist that my son was above average intelligence and he only had difficulty with symbol/sound relationships. He also has the extra challenge of having Dysgraphia, which seems to be more challenging now than the Dyslexia.

Knowing that this was our obstacle made the task seem much less daunting, however I still had a 9 year-old that was not able to read. I was panicking inside.

The psychologist’s recommendations listed many useful strategies to deal with Dyslexia, including the use of a computer, an IEP to address his learning needs and the Orton-Gillingham Method as a means to remediate reading. I had never heard of the Orton-Gillingham Method and as a teacher, my interest was especially peaked. I did quite a bit of research on Dyslexia and different ways to address the challenge.

Through a little research I was able to receive training in the Orton-Gillingham method. There is a learning centre located in our city that offers free training to students with Dyslexia. However, the waiting list for this centre is quite lengthy due to high need. I volunteered to offer my time tutoring in exchange for training (this is only one of many ways to become trained in the methodology).

My son attended the centre for two years and graduated from the program. I was very proud of the success that he achieved through the program and believe wholeheartedly in the method.

Image

So – What it is all about?

Image

Samuel Orton

The Orton-Gillingham Method was named after Samuel T. Orton (1879-1948) and Anna Gillingham (1878-1963), early pioneers in reading and language mastery. They conceived of a program that was language-based, multi-sensory, structured, sequential, cumulative, cognitive, and flexible – exactly what students with reading disorders need to be successful in learning.

The most important aspects of the program are that the approach is the multi-sensory. The learning must be:

  1. Visual
  2. Auditory
  3. Kinesthetic
  4. Tactile

Below is the detailed description of the Orton-Gillingham approach, as provided at the Academy’s website.

Personalized

Teaching begins with recognizing the differing needs of learners. While those with dyslexia share similarities, there are differences in their language needs. In addition individuals with dyslexia may possess additional problems that complicate learning. Most common among these are attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity (ADHD).

ImageMultisensory

It uses all the learning pathways: seeing, hearing, feeling, and awareness of motion, brought together by the thinking brain. The instructor engages in multisensory teaching in order to convey curricular content in the most understandable way to the student. The teacher also models how the student, by using these multiple pathways, can engage in multisensory learning that results in greater ease and success in learning.

Diagnostic and Prescriptive

An Orton-Gillingham lesson is both diagnostic and prescriptive. It is diagnostic in the sense that the instructor continuously monitors the verbal, non-verbal, and written responses of the student in order to identify and analyze both the student’s problems and progress. This information is the basis of planning the next lesson. That lesson is prescriptive in the sense that will contain instructional elements that focus upon the resolution of the student’s difficulties and that build upon the student’s progress noted in the previous lesson.

Direct Instruction

The teacher presentations employ lesson formats which ensure that the student approaches the learning experience understanding what is to be learned, why it is to be learned, and how it is to be learned.

Systematic Phonics

It uses systematic phonics, stressing the alphabetic principle in the initial stages of reading development. It takes advantage of the sound/symbol relationships inherent in the alphabetic system of writing. Spoken words are made up of individual speech sounds, and the letters of written words graphically represent those speech sounds.

Applied Linguistics

It draws upon applied linguistics not only in the initial decoding and encoding stages of reading and writing but in more advanced stages dealing with syllabic, morphemic, syntactic, semantic, and grammatical structures of language and our writing system. At all times the Orton-Gillingham Approach involves the student in integrative practices that involve reading, spelling, and writing together.

Linguistic Competence

It increases linguistic competence by stressing language patterns that determine word order and sentence structure and the meaning of words and phrases. It moves beyond this to recognizing the various forms that characterize the common literary forms employed by writers.

Systematic and StructuredImage

The teacher presents information in an ordered way that indicates the relationship between the material taught and past material taught. Curricular content unfolds in linguistically logical ways which facilitates student learning and progress.

Sequential, Incremental, and Cumulative

Step by step learners move from the simple, well-learned material to that which is more and more complex. They move from one step to the next as they master each level of language skills.

Continuous Feedback and Positive Reinforcement

The approach provides for a close teacher-student relationship that builds self-confidence based on success.

Cognitive Approach

Students understand the reasons for what they are learning and for the learning strategies they are employing. Confidence is gained as they gain in their ability to apply newly gained knowledge about and knowledge how to develop their skills with reading, spelling, and writing.

Image

Emotionally Sound

Students’ feelings about themselves and about learning are vital. Teaching is directed

toward providing the experience of success and with success comes increased self-confidence and motivation.

Reading Systems Based on the Approach

Commercial Reading Systems that use the Orton-Gillingham approach are listed below. If your school or tutor uses one of these, you’re probably in good hands:

  • Barton
  • Wilson
  • Multi-Sensory Teaching Approach
  • Language!
  • Project Read
  • Recipe for Reading
  • Spalding
  • Orton-Gillingham (in addition to being an approach there is also an actual OG reading system based on the approach. Essentially it’s the latest version of the program Anna Gillingham invented! )

 Along with these commercial systems, there are also many individuals that tutor students privately using this training method. I have found it to be very effective in small group instruction at school and especially in smaller groups privately. I have used this methodology to teach dozens of children how to read and have personally seen the effectiveness!

Check out this great blog suggesting some great books about Dyslexia.

Executive Functions: Self-regulation and Emotion

Executive Functions: Self-Regulation and Emotion

“My kid can’t control his emotions! He gets so upset about everything or overreacts to minor incidents. I don’t know why he is like that.”

Executive Functions involve so many aspects of our lives. Our job as human beings is to monitor our state of arousal and ensure that it is at the appropriate level for the task at hand. Such self-regulatory functions, such as set-shifting, transitions, organization in time and space, initiation of task and emotional regulation, are some of the big areas of our lives that fall under the umbrella of executive functions.

Of course all aspects of executive functions and self-regulation are important when an individual needs to attend to a task. However, regulation of emotion is most likely the most all-encompassing and intertwined of the executive functions.

I am currently reading a book entitled “Calm, Alert and Learning: Classroom Strategies for Self-Regulation” by Stuart Shanker. In this book, the author discusses the six critical elements to optimal self-regulation:

  1. When feeling calmly focused and alert, the ability to know that one is calm and alert.
  2. When one is stressed, the ability to recognize what is causing that stress.
  3. The ability to recognize stressors both within and outside the classroom
  4. The desire to deal with those stressors
  5. The ability to develop strategies for dealing with those stressors.
  6. The ability to recover efficiently and effectively from dealing with stressors.

CAL_banner3

Shanker discusses the Five-Domain Model of Self-Regulation. One of these domains is The Emotional Domain.

Emotion regulation is as much about up-regulating positive emotions as it is about down-regulating negative ones.

Shanker brings up research done by Daniel Goleman on Emotional Intelligence and Social Emotional Learning. Goleman’s model identifies four main elements of emotional intelligence:

  •  Self-awareness – the ability to identify one’s own emotions
  • Self-management – the ability to modulate one’s emotions
  • Social awareness – the ability to understand others’ emotions
  • Relationship management – the ability to co-regulate and manage interpersonal conflicts.

Greenspan’s Theory of Emotional Development is cited as stating that a child’s knowledge that they have the tool that can help them stay calm instills upon them the confidence that can help them deal with potential disruptive emotions. Greenspan’s research has some implications for the classroom and for parents that are very helpful.

For Teachers:

  •  Be conscious of your emotions and attempts to self-regulate throughout the day.
  • Acquaint yourself with the many resources on emotional self-regulation (age-appropriate)
  • Look for ways throughout the day to encourage the development of self-regulation
  • Consider and be sensitive to how your students’ cultural and/or social backgrounds may affect their awareness of emotions
  • If possible, introduce yoga, tai chi, breathing exercises, or meditation
  • Help your students learn to express how they are feeling verbally so they will be less likely to act out physically.
  • Model self-regulation when faced with frustrating situations in your classroom.
  • Involve families in the students’ attempt to self-regulate by discussing the benefits of their child spending more time being physically active and reading and less time watching television and playing video games.

For Parents:

  •  Provide as predictable a routine as possible
  • Let their child take responsibility for tasks, and for monitoring their own success at completing each task
  • Help relieve the child’s stress by making them aware of upcoming transitions
  • Model self-regulation in their own behaviour

Of course, stressed time and time again by researchers is the idea that children (and all individuals working on healthy emotional well-being) should monitor their state of emotion. Several suggestions were made including cognitive behavioural therapy, keeping a journal of feelings with regard to certain times of day, situations and interactions or engaging in a variety of activities that develop self-awareness.

Happy regulating!

 

Living with Dyslexia – Part One

There is so much to say when you are raising children with the gift of Dyslexia. There is truly something unique, creative and almost mystical about individuals born with this “learning disability.”

donny

I have been blessed with two beautiful boys, both of which have Dyslexia. However, Donny has faced the most challenges due to the degree with which Dyslexia has affected his life. Donny is my youngest boy and is going to be seventeen in a couple of weeks. I am very proud of him and the distance he has come, especially considering the challenges that he faces.

Donny had such difficulty learning how to read and write, yet was so bright in all other areas that it was very apparent there was an issue. I was amazed that someone so creative, bright and motivated to explore life could have such difficulty learning. He was diagnosed with Dyslexia and Dysgraphia by the school psychologist by grade four. This was mostly due to teachers that helped work to make him successful and partially from learning that advocating for your child is essential in order to help provide them with what is necessary for success in not only school, but life as well.

Part of the key is not only advocating for your child, but teaching your son or daughter how to advocate for themselves. I have always been one to hit the books when faced with an issue. Once learning my son had these challenges, I became engrossed in literature, blogs, webcasts, courses and any other piece of information that would help me to learn more about how my son’s brain functioned.

The most important part of the journey has been what my son learned. I have always kept him informed and updated on the exact challenges he was facing. We would talk about the problems he had and discussed how he could work to solve them. Donny was aware of his IEP and what it meant for his learning and has realized that he must learn to advocate for himself as he gets older. Donny does not let his learning disability get in the way or see it as a burden. He realizes that there are limitations to what he can do without some assistance, but with that knowledge he knows that he is an intelligent young man that can accomplish great things.

fish

I’ve touched only briefly on actually living with Dyslexia (and Dysgraphia) in this blog for a reason. I wanted to stress the success that Donny has experienced because he knows about his learning disability, the strategies he must use to overcome the challenges, and what steps he has to take to ensure that he has his needs met respectfully. I want to stress this because I remember the hopelessness I felt before we knew what was giving Donny a hard time. Once he was diagnosed, I again felt helpless because I wanted him to become an independent and successful individual and didn’t know the extent of his challenges. His Dyslexia is severe, yet he has persevered. I want to send that message.

The experiences Donny has acquired, due to his openness to share,  have empowered him. He now serves as the student representative for the Learning Disabilities Association- Windsor Essex and speaks openly about his challenges. Donny and I were just featured on the CBC radio program The Bridge, talking a bit about life so far. Please take a listen.

sitenavlogo-br

Click on logo to hear broadcast

 

Learning to Read

summerreadingGood day fellow bloggers! I have the pleasure of blogging this week from sunny Florida…as I visit family and wind down the summer in preparation for back to school. Like many educators I have difficulty ‘turning off the teacher’ while on vacation. So, as I have been relaxing on the beautiful beaches, I have also been thinking about the great research and resources that come out of this sun-shiny state. This is the inspiration for my blog this week.

My youngest son was diagnosed with Dyslexia, a Reading Disorder, at the end of grade four.  I will discuss that journey in future blogs, but for the purpose of this post it is important to know that I have focussed my education and attention to this subject for not only professional, but personal reasons as well.

I recently led a workshop that was entitled “Learning to Read.” The audience was a diverse mix of educators and professionals. The purpose of the workshop, as you may guess, was to share different strategies for teaching struggling readers.  A large part of this workshop centered around various visual, auditory, kinaesthetic and tactile ways of teaching reading – the foundation of Orton-Gillingham Methodology. The other focus of the workshop was some of the great resources I have encountered and use regularly in teaching reading.

In this workshop I talked about the different components of learning to read. Reading is not simply decoding and phonics. Good readers must understand what they are reading. As an educator this is often a difficult message to relay to parents. Many believe that if a child can read a book, they can understand it – but this is not always the case. Like teaching phonics, comprehension can be taught to readers, but there must be a balance in reading instruction. We need to ensure that students are learning not only how to decode words (phonics), but also how to read fluently and what type of questions to ask to get the most out of what they are reading.

Five Components of Reading

It is vital to understand that good readers must attend to five important components of reading:

  1. Phonics
  2. Phonological Awareness
  3. Fluency
  4. Comprehension
  5. Vocabulary

These five areas provide a balanced approach to reading instruction. Each element is equally important, yet not mutually exclusive in successful literacy programs.

So what kinds of great resources?

images

One of my favourite resources that provide adequate focus and balance for reading instruction is the Florida Centre for Reading Research (www.fcrr.org). This website provides the latest research in reading remediation and instruction. Even better, the website provides a wealth of usable, printable resources that are centred around the about-listed five components of reading. The resources are sorted according to the components and are also accessible by grade.

The resources are in pdf format and are both printable and downloadable. There are so many activities available that it can be overwhelming to organize. I generally print off the activity according to the lesson planned, as needed.

I have also taken some of the activities and turned them into task baskets for students with higher needs that are learning how to read. Many of the resources are easily adaptable for varying needs.

Did I mention that this website is 100% free? A great deal, for sure.

 

My First Blog – How I Learned About ADD/ADHD

chris and don 001

Christian and Donny

As this is my first blog, I would like to preface it with a little bit of my background. I am the mother of two wonderful teenage boys. I discovered, many years ago, that each one of them has a unique set of learning obstacles they had to overcome.

Before becoming a teacher I had worked with persons with physical disabilities for 14 years as a PSW, then as a DSW, while studying Psychology and then Education at the University. I was offered the opportunity to teach Life Skills at St. Clair College and loved the experience.  I was determined that I was going to become an excellent Special Education teacher. It was around the same time that it was discovered that my sons’ each had a learning disability. That information only made my decision to specialize in Special Education even more salient. Immediately after graduating I pursued my specialist in Special Education and got in contact with the Learning Disabilities Association of Windsor-Essex. I wanted to become heavily involved in order to learn as much as I could about what was affecting Leigh_12our family and to contribute to a great cause.

I have been with LDA-WE for almost 7 years now and have learned so much. I sat on the Board of Directors for 6 years and now my son is the student representative. As well, I have been trained in the Orton-Gillingham Methodology (Dyslexia Remediation) and have been a Learning Support Teacher and Special Education for 9 years.

I am looking forward to sharing information, strategies and advice in the areas that I have had the most experience. My standpoint is not only as a teacher, but as a parent that has been through the trials and tribulations of discovering the challenges of learning disabilities.

How I learned all about ADD/ADHD

I remember the October my oldest son was in Kindergarten. His teacher called us in to discuss our son’s progress thus far. We were invited to sit in the little plastic chairs. She started our conversation by letting us know how much she enjoyed having our son in her class and that he was coming along well in the French Immersion program that we had opted to give a try.
“One thing that concerns me is that Christian does not seem to be paying attention at circle time.” She began. I did not see that coming.hiding under the bed 001
“What do you mean, exactly?” I asked, quite bewildered.
“Well, when we are doing activities like singing or sharing, he is playing with his shoelaces, looking around the room and bothering the friends around him.” She added. I didn’t like where this was going. My son was bothering friends?
“When you ask him a question, does he know the answer?” I asked, now worried that she might be alluding to the idea that my son doesn’t understand what is going on.
“Oh yes, he most definitely understands the questions and is usually able to give an appropriate answer. I’m just concerned about his focus.” She said with a furrowed brow.

I didn’t know what to make of what she was saying. I felt like I needed to defend my son. I was sure this was just a ‘boy’ thing and this teacher was not used to boys. I was in my fourth year of studying Behaviour and Cognitive Neuropsychology and I was positive my son was very clever and had passed all his developmental milestones with flying colours. There didn’t seem to be any issues or red flags, even at the daycare he had attended for many years. Perhaps she just didn’t like him? Questions were flying through my head. All the ideation that was occurring led me to the final conclusion that it was probably her and not my son.

The problem, I discovered later, was that I didn’t know what to do with that information. The missing piece to that puzzle was the next step.

For the next few years Christian had some issues in school, but none of the teachers had any huge complaints about focus or attention – only that he took a long time to get his work done. He was very polite and well-behaved but had a hard time finishing his work in class and would have to bring it home to complete. These times became very difficult because he also had difficulty completing the work at home. I didn’t realize how unusual it was to take such an extended amount of time to complete work.

When Christian was in grade 2, his little brother Donny started JK and a whole different world opened up. I was just finishing up my Bachelor of Education when Donny was finished grade 1 and it had become apparent that French Immersion was not the best choice for the boys. They switched to the district public school to begin their years in grade 4 and grade 2.

Christian’s grade 4 year was a challenge. He had difficulties in math and language, barely passing. His teacher ensured me that Christian knew his stuff, but was having other issues. Now, as a brand new teacher, this was all new to me. As the school year progressed I did begin to notice that he had difficulty organizing his things and initiating tasks. His teacher suggested that perhaps Christian may have an attention problem. I was not very familiar with ADD/ADHD so I began to research. I asked lots of questions to try to understand why it took him so long to finish things. There was a lot of information out there and a lot of different ideas about how it is acquired. The puzzle pieces were coming together though – Christian was a very intelligent student, he just wasn’t starting or finishing his work. After a lot of reading and wondering if this was Christian’s issue, I decided to take him to a doctor (along with his little brother – a subject for future blogs!).

There were very few specialists in the area at the time. I was fortunate enough to get an appointment for Christian with Dr. Sharon Burey. The first appointment with her was an interview with Christian’s father and me, then a second appointment with the boys. After a lot of discussion and review of problematic behaviours Dr. Burey confirmed what was expected… that Christian most likely had some form of ADD. Since he did not exhibit the signs of hyperactivity, it was not included in his diagnosis. Donny was also suspected to have some ADHD (with hyperactivity), but Dr. Burey wasn’t confident that was the cause of his difficulties. She suggested we try medication to see if it made a difference in Christian’s ability to focus and for Donny’s behaviour as well. Although reluctant (very, very, very reluctant), it was a go.

Donny’s trial with medication was very short-lived. It made no difference in either his behaviour or his difficulties (again, a future blog) so it was discontinued after a brief trial. Christian began the medication about half-way through grade 4. It was almost immediately evident from teacher feedback that there was improvement. This improvement was not noticeable at home though. After school Christian would be cranky and often cry. He also was still having difficulties completing homework, although he did have less because he was completing it during the day. After speaking with Dr. Burey about this problem, his medication was changed to Adderall. The change was dramatic this time. Christian was alert and focused at school and was able to complete gradphot 001his homework with very little cueing. The medication was a success! Christian still needed guidance with organization and initiation of his tasks, but he was definitely meeting with more success and gaining confidence in all aspects of his life. His marks had increased from C’s and D’s to B’s and even some A’s.

There was a period of time that his medication was off the market due to concerns. We had to try different types of medication and had some difficulties trying to adjust. However, the medication came back on the market and he continues to take it to focus when necessary.

Later on in school, it was discovered that he also has the added challenge of Executive Functioning Disorder, which can often go hand-in-hand with ADD/ADHD. We have learned many tips and tricks to deal with this learning disability as well and will share in future posts.

Christian has now graduated high school with honours and scholarships and is headed to University to study Chemistry and Physics. We are very proud of his accomplishments. He has learned many strategies through the years to deal with his attention issues. We have discovered that awareness of your own challenges and a great sense of humour are really the most helpful strategies…along with great community support.

I am willing to share and exchange ideas and best practices! Please feel free to share your successes as well.