Winding Down, Gearing Up

Image of sunny beach, with book, sunglasses, umbrella in the foreground.

“One benefit of summer is that each day we have more light to read by”.

Summer is upon us! I don’t know about you, but it feels to me as though the rest of the year is just one long prelude to what we’ve all really been waiting for: SUMMER!  And although recent weather in Essex County has been more like autumn than summer, IT IS SUMMER nonetheless.  Barbecues, beaches, boating, biking, picnics, cottages, swimsuits, vacations, and…well, lots of fun stuff to do.

Summer is also a time when many students and parents are anticipating a new chapter in their lives: transition from high school to college or university. Because I work with university students, helping them to make this transition smoothly and successfully has always been an interest of mine, and it’s a topic that has been addressed here fairly extensively. So rather than re-invent the wheel for this blog post, I thought it might be a good time to re-visit some good information that has already been posted here over the last couple of years. So here we go…

For a parent’s perspective on getting students accommodated at a post-secondary level, check out this article by Tammy Wilcox: Transitioning to University or College.

The transition process can look quite different from the perspective of the teacher. What Your Post-Secondary Teachers Need to Know, by college professor Kathy Hansen, offers some terrific insights that will be valuable to students and parents who are preparing for this transition.

Students and parents looking for information about the transition process and what they can do to make it smoother might want to have a look at Smooth Moves: Transitioning to University, as well as Transition: Smooth Moves Part 2.

Students looking for basic information about how to use their summer productively to get a good start on their college or university career should check out Don’t Stop Building Your Smarts.

And finally, are you interested in knowing the six qualities demonstrated by the students with learning disabilities who achieve academic success in college or university?  Then you may want to read Predicting Success (And Why Hope Matters).

Happy reading! Have a safe, happy, and productive summer.

Mindful Living for Kids

UWindsor Blog Post by: Carlin J. Miller, Ph.D

Goldie HawnMindfulness is a hot topic in the media. Football players do it. Hollywood types do it. Kids in Vancouver Public Schools are even doing it. Yet, many people really don’t know what mindfulness training entails. Mindfulness training is about learning to meditate, which means paying attention to thoughts and feelings and behaviours as they happen without getting caught up in them. The goal is to not ruminate over the past or plan for the distant future, because both block our ability to experience what is happening right now. Most of the time, mindfulness is an “anchored practice,” which means you learn to focus on a specific aspect of your experience, such as your breath or the sounds you hear around you. There is no intention to block other thoughts or to change thinking. It really is about noticing.

Mindfulness training might sound very mystical but it isn’t really. It came from a Buddhist practice and was transformed into a secular activity in 1970s by a researcher in Massachusetts who wanted to help people with chronic pain to live more full lives. Since then, Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction and the many related interventions designed for special populations have been taught to hundreds of thousands of people. There are even forms of it for women during childbirth, people undergoing cancer treatment, and survivors of trauma and other potentially overwhelming experiences. Programs also been developed for children in classrooms, parents, and teachers.

Mindfulness in SchoolsOver the last year, my research team and I have been teaching parents and teachers of children with ADHD to meditate in a program called Mindful Living. We hoped that as these adults, who spend time with somewhat more challenging than typical children, learned to be present in their daily lives they would be less stressed and more effective in their interactions. We also hoped they would experience greater life satisfaction and more joy. Although we have only worked with 20 people thus far (too few to present any real statistics), our participants enjoyed the 8-week intervention and many continued to meditate following their completion of the program. It also appears that they are less stressed, more mindful, and have a better understanding of ADHD. We are now working with one of the local school boards to expand this training to more teachers this spring and next fall.

Because so many of our participants suggested these strategies would be helpful for the children and adolescents with ADHD in their lives, we developed a program called Mindful Living for Kids. Our first round of 6-sessions starts on May 13th and the sessions are 1 hour in length. We will have a group for children in grades 3-5 and another for preteens in grades 6-8. Unlike meditation training with adults, this program will be very hands-on with crafts, activities, and movement-based meditation, rather than emphasizing sitting quietly. If you would be interested in hearing more information or having your child participate, please call Dr. Carlin Miller at the University of Windsor (519-253-3000, x.2226).

About the Author:

Carlin Miller is a faculty member at the University of Windsor in the Department of Psychology. As a clinical psychologist with extended training in developmental neuropsychology and school psychology, she has spent the last 20 years trying to improve the quality of life for people with ADHD and learning disabilities. Prior to her doctoral work, she was a public school teacher. She found her passion for advocacy and research through her experience of growing up in a family with multiple people diagnosed with both disorders. In addition to her long resume with many publications and presentations, Dr. Miller has also been meditating for the last decade and brings to her research on meditation the positive experience of trying to live in the present. In addition to her work with the local chapter of the Learning Disabilities Association, she is also a provincial appointee to the Board of Directors of the Windsor-Essex Health Unit. When not at work, she is a mom, a wife, an avid gardener, and someone trying to be the person her puppy believes her to be. 

I Can’t Hear What You’re Not Saying (Cracking the Non-Verbal Code)

Hand putting puzzle piece into place.

Making and maintaining solid social connections can be puzzling for kids who don’t understand non-verbal communication.

We communicate with one another in code. Somehow we’ve agreed that certain sounds and symbols in just the right sequence are going to represent specific things and ideas, and through the miracle of language we can share with each other what is in our minds.

But there’s much more to communication than just language. It has been estimated that anywhere from 60 to 90% of our daily communication is non-verbal. Think about that for a second; less than half of our communication comes from the words we use, while the rest comes from how those words are delivered. Now, imagine that you were never able to learn the secret code of non-verbal communication. Imagine that you are unable to receive any of the visual and non-verbal messages that are transmitted in a conversation, relying only on the words delivered in a robotic monotone with no inflection or emotion. Not only would you be missing most of the meaning behind attempts to communicate with you, but you would be severely limited in your attempts to express yourself to others. And if you can imagine that at all, then you have some sense of what social interactions might like for someone with a non-verbal learning disability (or any other condition that involves impaired non-verbal and social communication). You have imagined what it might be like to be Sheldon Cooper.

Black and white image of Dr. Shelson Cooper form the televsion show The Big Bang Theory.

Dr. Sheldon Cooper’s obvious social awkwardness is due in large part his inability to understand non-verbal communication.

Fans of The Big Bang Theory will know that it’s probably a lot of work to be friends with the Asperger-ish Sheldon Cooper. He has extremely poor social skills, tends not to understand jokes or sarcasm, is very concrete in his communication, and is constantly misinterpreting the social behaviours that are happening around him. He seems not to be very good at the non-verbal communication that lubricates our social interactions and conversations. And although this can make for a funny and entertaining half-hour of television, the challenge of living with this kind of impairment in the real world is daunting to consider.

In another blog article (“The Loneliest Kid on the Bus”) we talked about kids with social skills deficits, and how that often involves difficulty with non-verbal communication. But what is non-verbal communication, exactly, and what are we actually doing (often without realizing it) to communicate with each other non-verbally?  Well, it’s much more than just ‘body language’, and it involves things like:

  • our facial expressions (which can express emotion without our needing to say a word)
  • our eye contact (the length and intensity of which can express interest, boredom, hostility, affection, and which can be important for maintaining conversational flow)
  • our body movements and posture (the ways in which we walk, stand, sit, move, tilt our heads all say something about our mood and intentions)
  • our gestures (conversational hand gestures when we speak, symbolic gestures like a fist-bump or thumbs-up, and fidgeting or manipulating objects all convey information to our conversational partner)
  • our use of touch (a pat on the back, a touch of the arm, a strong/weak handshake, all contribute valuable information to a conversation)
  • our appropriate use of physical space (understanding the difference between public space, social space, personal space, and intimate space)
  • how we use our voice (including our use of volume, tone, inflection, timing, pace, pauses, and even our use of non-speech sounds to convey meaning)
  • our choice of words and phrases, and our understanding of the social context for using language
  • meta-communication (the use of any of the above to send a message about our message. For example, we might soften a sarcastic comment by smiling or winking)

So it’s not difficult to see how someone who constantly misunderstands or misinterprets this kind of information, and who may be missing more than half of the content that is being communicated, will be seen as having poor social skills. This might manifest in behaviours that can include:

  • a tendency to think and communicate literally and concretely (and therefore, a related tendency to misunderstand jokes, metaphors, idioms, sarcasm)
  • physical and social awkwardness
  • a tendency to miss or misunderstand social cues
  • a seeming ‘obliviousness’ to people’s reactions or feelings
  • a misunderstanding of appropriate social space (standing too close to people, making them uncomfortable)
  • a seeming inability to see the big picture, often getting lost in the details
  • poor conversational skills, changing the subject abruptly, or not using appropriate turn-taking in conversation
  • difficulty making friends

We all sit somewhere on the spectrum of non-verbal abilities, ranging from people with exceptional skills at understanding and using it in their interactions, to people who are completely unable to recognize or interpret this critical aspect of communication. There are a number of reasons why this might be. For someone on the autism spectrum, or with social/pragmatic communication disorder, or with a non-verbal learning disability, it may be that their brains are just not hardwired to learn these skills as readily as the rest of us. For someone with other kinds of learning disabilities or with ADHD, it may be that they are not able to consistently apply the non-verbal skills they may have learned, or that they lack the awareness and self-control to apply good social judgement. Whatever the case, there are strategies that can be learned and scripts that can be taught to help kids improve their skill set in this area.

It’s been suggested that the most important part of communication is hearing what isn’t said, and the research bears this out. Our words carry only part of the message, and understanding the non-verbal messages that support and augment language can go a long way toward enhancing our social/communication skills, and ultimately our relationships.


Representation of the sender-receiver model of communication.

Click on this image to learn more about non-verbal communication

The Learning Disabilities Association of Windsor-Essex County (LDAWE) offers programs designed to build effective communication techniques for everyday situations (including sessions on social communication and understanding body language).  They also offer recreation and support groups where people can practice the skills they are learning in comfortable ‘real-world’ settings.  Contact the LDAWE for more information.


ADHD and Handwriting

UWindsor Blog Post by: Thomas A. Duda, M.A.

The diagnosis of Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) often conjures to mind an image of a child who doesn’t pay attention during school, is very talkative, acts without thinking, and appears to be constantly on the move as if powered by a motor. In addition to these cardinal features of ADHD, those with ADHD also tend to present with other differences compared to those without ADHD, including problems with motor control. In particular, the handwriting of those with ADHD is often described as illegible and less organized than those without ADHD. However, looking at what’s written down on paper isn’t the only way to think about handwriting. For example, other kinds of research has identified differences in the handwriting of those with ADHD at the actual movement level. Said another way, there are differences not only in what handwriting looks like, but also in the movements during handwriting. As one example, scientists in Australia found that how forcefully children with ADHD wrote was related to symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity. There are several different ways to conduct these kinds of studies, but scientists have most frequently used digitizing tablets (think “iPad”) to study handwriting motor movements.

Child with ADHDResearchers at the University of Windsor have been studying handwriting movements in children and adults with ADHD since about 2011. During this time, several interesting discoveries have been made. For example, parents and educators talk about children with ADHD as having a problem “doing what they know” rather than “knowing what to do.” They also show a lot of variability in performance such that the only thing that is consistent is their inconsistency! They may do really well on one assignment, but on the next one, although similar, do very poorly. They may complete chores satisfactorily sometimes, whereas on other occasions, these chores are completed haphazardly. This variability isn’t limited to these kinds of activities. Compared with adults without ADHD, Windsor researchers found that the handwriting movements of adults with ADHD were significantly more variable on average. Interestingly, this was only the case when learning a new symbol and it didn’t matter if they were on or off their medication for the treatment of ADHD. It was also shown that these adults with ADHD didn’t become as fluent in reproducing the new symbol as quickly as the adults without ADHD. This could mean that it takes more practice for adults with ADHD to become fluent when learning how to write.

Handwriting TabletThe next question might be, why is this important? Good question! First, these findings show that certain characteristics of ADHD (i.e., differences in handwriting motor movements) are not limited to childhood and continue into adulthood. In addition, the observation that adults with ADHD may take more time to become fluent at a motor task could have implications for accommodations. What’s more is that within the greater scope of psychology, researchers are trying to come up with new ways to identify and diagnose different kinds of psychological and neurodevelopmental disorders. Needed are more objective measures of functioning and this type of research can help with developing new methods to do this! Researchers at the University of Windsor are currently investigating if differences in variability and learning how to write that were observed in adults can also be found in children with ADHD, how different “thinking” abilities might be related to developing fluent handwriting in those with and without ADHD, and whether or not an objective measure of handwriting fluency development can successfully identify those who have ADHD.

Thomas A. Duda, M.A.
PhD Candidate
University of Windsor

Next Steps

Six graduates determinedly looking forward.

High school graduates with learning disabilities who are contemplating the next chapter in their academic careers should start learning about and preparing for that transition as early as possible. Programs like the CUSP Program can help.

There is in many ways a “disconnect” between high school and university which can make the transition to post-secondary that much harder. The secondary and post-secondary education systems are two very different systems that have evolved in very different ways, which means that students are often surprised by and unprepared for many aspects of the brave new world they finds themselves in after they leave high school. Beyond that, students with disabilities will discover differences in how their disability needs to be documented, how their accommodations are accessed, and in the expectation that they will take on a more active role in their own accommodation.

A number of previous LDAWE blog posts have discussed some of the obvious differences between these two education systems, and their impact on the transition process. Tammy Wilcox offered a parent’s perspective on this process in her article “Transitioning to University or College”. And in “Smooth Moves: Transitioning to University” and “Transition: Smooth Moves, Part 2”, I talk about some of these differences, and offer a bit of advice about preparing for them.

The reality is that educators and advisors in each of these systems are well aware of this apparent “disconnect”, and working hard to close this gap so that transitioning from high school to university or college can be a little more seamless (and a little less daunting) for our students. An example of this can be seen in the CUSP (College and University Success Preparation) Program, which is offered annually at the University of Windsor.

CUSP was created in collaboration with the Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) (with help from our friends at St. Clair College and from the Learning Disabilities Association), to make sure that high school students who have a learning disability and/or ADHD get information they need well in advance in order to make informed choices about the academic path that’s right for them, whether that’s university or college. Students and their parents spend the morning with us learning about some of the differences between high school and college/university, as well as about the variety of services that are potentially available, how to access those services, and how to access funding for assessments and technology. They also have the opportunity to hear first-hand from a panel of students with LD/ADHD who have managed to transition smoothly from high school and are “getting it done” at a post-secondary level with great success.

High school students in Grade 11 or 12 who have a learning disability and/or ADHD and would like to start gathering information that can empower them to have a smoother transition to college or university can learn more on the CUSP webpage. Students affiliated with the GECDSB can also learn more from their Learning Support Teachers. Students from private or separate school board high schools are also welcome to join us, and are requested to contact us directly for registration. The link for that can be found on the CUSP webpage.

It has been said that the future belongs to those who prepare for it today.   So students, think about the kind of future you’d like to create for yourself, and start planning for it now. If you think there might be a place in that future for university or college, then consider joining us for the CUSP Program as an initial step in gathering the information you need to start creating the future you want.

dys·lex·i·a

dəsˈleksēə/

noun

a general term for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols, but that do not affect general intelligence.

(Thank you Google!)

As a Learning Support teacher and specialist in treating students with Language-based learning disabilities, I often have parents enquiring about whether or not I believe their child has Dyslexia. I am not a psychologist and cannot make that call! Only a certified psychologist can properly diagnose Reading Disorders, through psychoeducational testing.

However, there are warning signs. I noticed several oddities when my son was a preschooler. My son was very intelligent! He understood everything that was asked of him, although he sometimes had difficulties following multi-step directions. He had a fantastic vocabulary and general knowledge, especially about the things that interested him. He knew the alphabet song and could easily sing it anytime it was requested. But, when it came down to pointing to the letters of the alphabet as we sang, I noticed he had no idea that each of these strange symbols meant. He had difficulties with cutting and pasting, pronouncing some sounds, words and phrases. Seeing hundreds of children every day enabled me to realize that something was up.

What is Dyslexia?

  • Dyslexia is the name for specific learning disabilities in reading.
  • Dyslexia is often characterized by difficulties with accurate word recognition, decoding and spelling.
  • Dyslexia may cause problems with reading comprehension and slow down vocabulary growth.
  • Dyslexia may result in poor reading fluency and reading out loud.
  • Dyslexia is neurological and often genetic.
  • Dyslexia is not the result of poor instruction.
  • With the proper support, almost all people with dyslexia can become good readers and writers.

Could my child have Dyslexia (or a language-based learning disorder)?

The warning signs…

(taken from http://www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities/dyslexia/what-is-dyslexia)

Young Children

Trouble With:

  • Recognizing letters, matching letters to sounds and blending sounds into speech

  • Pronouncing words, for example saying “mawn lower” instead of “lawn mower”

  • Learning and correctly using new vocabulary words

  • Learning the alphabet, numbers, and days of the week or similar common word sequences

  • Rhyming

School-Age Children

Trouble With:

  • Mastering the rules of spelling

  • Remembering facts and numbers

  • Handwriting or with gripping a pencil

  • Learning and understanding new skills; instead, relying heavily on memorization

  • Reading and spelling, such as reversing letters (d, b) or moving letters around (left, felt)

  • Following a sequence of directions

  • Trouble with word problems in math

Teenagers and Adults

Trouble With:

  • Reading at the expected level

  • Understanding non-literal language, such as idioms, jokes, or proverbs

  • Reading aloud

  • Organizing and managing time

  • Trouble summarizing a story

  • Learning a foreign language

  • Memorizing

Empowering your child with Dyslexia

bruceDyslexia is a very specific learning disability. Children with Dyslexia usually have at least average (and many times above average) intelligence. Once your child is able to be aware of this, they can understand and embrace that they only have a very specific challenge. This empowers them! It is way easier to know that you only have to overcome one or two hurdles than to think you are incapable. Often this is the case before the diagnosis of Dyslexia.

Let them know and reassure them that as they learn new strategies life will get easier. Reading and writing will always be a bit more of a challenge for them compared to their peers, but over time they will learn way to compensate for this and their true abilities will shine through. Sometimes these challenges help them to realize that their strengths are truly gifts.

For example, my son always had difficulty writing in his agenda. However, he always remembered his assignments and important dates. He then came to realize that his memory for schedules and date was extraordinary!

Famous People with Dyslexia

I find that my son and my students are amazed when they find out that many famous and successful people struggled with Dyslexia. One of my students recently came to me and said he would never be able to do anything academic because he had Dyslexia. I said to him that I know a lot of people with Dyslexia that were still able to be very successful! We went on the computer and looked it up. He was ecstatic and began to take on a different view of his challenges.dyslexia-banner-1000x288

Let’s take a look at just a small sampling of some people with these challenges:

  • Walt Disneywalt_disney_records
  • Steven Spielberg
  • Tom Cruise
  • Will Smith
  • Steve Jobs
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • Anderson Cooper
  • Leonardo da Vinci
  • Pablo Picasso
  • Andy Warhol
  • Tommy Hilfiger_41358919_orlando_getty_203
  • John Lennon
  • Cher
  • Alexander Graham Bell
  • Albert Einstein
  • Thomas Edison
  • George Washington
  • Andrew Jackson
  • Woodrow Wilsonimages2
  • Nelson Rockafeller
  • Muhammad Ali
  • Bruce Jenner
  • Greg Louganis
  • Nolan Ryan
  • Jackie Stewart
  • Richard Branson
  • Henry Ford
  • William Hewlitt
  • Charles Schwab
  • Ted Turner
  • Frank W. WoolwortSteve Jobs
  • Hans Christian Anderson
  • Agatha Christie
  • Orlando Bloom
  • Vince Vaughn
  • Robin Williams
  • Harry Belafonte
  • Jim Carrey
  • Danny Glover
  • Famous_DyslexicsWhoopi Goldberg
  • Jay Leno
  • Keanu Reeves
  • Kiera Knightley
  • Billy Bob Thornton
  • Tommy Smothers
  • Henry Winkler

…and the list goes on!

dyslexics

Read more: http://www.dyslexia.com/famous.htm#ixzz3OcDLAhpr

Motivating Children with ADHD

UWindsor Blog Post by: Brie Brooker, M.A.

ADHD ChildIt is often said that being a parent is one of the most rewarding experiences of adult life. But for the parents of children with ADHD, the joys of parenting often come with daily struggles to manage a child’s behaviour and to keep him or her on-task. These challenges can leave parents feeling drained, frustrated, and isolated, often wondering if there is hope that their child’s behaviour is within their control. At the same time, children with ADHD may also feel frustrated, often desiring to comply with their parents’ requests but struggling to resist competing impulses and focus on the task at hand.

So what are parents of children with ADHD to do? Overreliance on punishing undesirable behaviour can be frustrating for a child, but when it comes to reinforcing good behaviour (whether through praise or a more tangible reward), research suggests that children with ADHD process this reinforcement differently than other kids do. By basing parenting strategies on these differences, parents may increase their (and their kids’) success.

Here’s what research tells us about how kids with ADHD are motivated.

  • Reward JarKids with ADHD may need more rewards in order to achieve the same level of performance as their peers. This suggests that parents of kids with ADHD may achieve better success by celebrating even the small victories, such as completing part of a chore or homework assignment.
  • Immediate rewards have a greater impact. Research also suggests that kids with ADHD are more motivated by immediate rewards rather than the promise of a reward later. However, parents may wish to teach their children with ADHD the value of working toward a more distant goal. One strategy which has been successful for kids with ADHD is the use of “tokens”: children earn small rewards (stickers, marbles in a jar) which may be collected and exchanged for a reward after a point (for example, after the child earns 10 stickers).

These are, of course, general findings based on large groups of children with ADHD, and every kid with ADHD has their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, it’s been suggested that individual factors such as ADHD medication can also impact reward processing, making kids with ADHD respond to rewards more similarly to non-ADHD kids. However, these findings may serve as a starting point for increasing success opportunities and making the parent-child relationship more rewarding for both of you.

Brie Brooker, M.A. (Doctoral student in Clinical Neuropsychology at the University of Windsor)