The courage to get real

Stylized drawing of young woman and lion, sky in background, reaching for heart representing courage.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”   Anais Nin

In a previous blog article (When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change) I talked about Malcolm Gladwell’s contention that learning disabilities may in fact be what he called “desirable difficulties”. He contends that in spending a lifetime confronting and managing a learning disability, a skill set is forged which turns out to be a significant advantage when harnessed in the right way, potentially resulting in something extraordinary. I believe that one of the character traits forged during this process is the ability to function in the face of fear: courage.

Having courage is not the same thing as being fearless. In fact, appropriate fear plays a very important role in our survival. It would not be smart to ignore fear when we are faced with legitimate threats; it’s the thing that warns us that it’s time to fight or flee. Fear was indispensable to our ancestors confronted by sabre-toothed tigers and marauding enemy tribes. It wears different, less physically threatening faces in the modern age (often, it may in fact be False Evidence Appearing Real) but it still feels just as threatening and provokes the same instincts as it did in our ancestors. Courage is the thing that allows us to rise above the fear, to respond bravely when every instinct is telling us to run (or hide). Courage trumps fear, empowering us to meet challenges, stretch our limits, and find fulfillment in our lives.

It’s hard for me to use the word “courage” without thinking about one of my favourite movie characters, the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. The interesting thing about the Cowardly Lion is that he was so focussed on his fears that he couldn’t see things as they truly were. In the beginning he is ashamed of being afraid, not understanding that true courage means taking action despite our fear (something he actually does frequently to protect his friends). In the end though, with a little help from the wizard, he is able to “change the way he looks at things” to recognize and accept his authentic, courageous self. He is finally led to the discovery that courage had been within him all along, and learns that you don’t have to be fearless to be brave.

So what does this have to do with learning disabilities? Just this: That school can be a scary proposition for a kid with a learning disability. Will I have to read aloud in front of the class? Will I be able to plan ahead and practice my passage so that I don’t screw it up? Am I going to blank out on the exam again, even though I studied hard and I know the material? Am I going to be bullied again today? Will I be called stupid or lazy or be laughed at in class? Why am I doing so poorly when I work so hard? And yet these kids get up each morning, marching bravely off to school to face whatever dragons may await them there. If we agree that courage is a kind of inner resolve, a resiliency that allows us to face scary circumstances head on, then let’s agree that these kids have it in spades.

It’s been said that courage doesn’t always roar; sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says “I’ll try again tomorrow”. That is what kids with learning disabilities do every day. But there comes a point for them when an even greater courage is required: The courage to acknowledge, accept, and embrace their learning disability in order to create the kind of life they want for themselves. I was reminded of this recently when a young woman arrived at our office to identify herself to us as a student with a learning disability, and to request accommodations. She explained that she’d had an IEP and received support throughout elementary school, but had decided to go without it in high school because she “didn’t want to deal with the label or the stigma”. She did reasonably well in high school with a lot of very hard work , and had hoped that trend could continue through university. It did not, which brought her to a realization that it was time to fully accept, confront, and manage her learning disability, and she is now well on her way to doing that. She readily admits that the prospect of that is scary, but she is ready to take it on…with courage.

I asked her what had ultimately spurred her decision to finally explore this aspect of herself without shame or embarrassment, and her answer was simple: “I was just tired of being afraid.” She went on to say that what she always had feared was being vulnerable in the face of other people’s judgement and rejection. She had always felt pressure to present her best possible self, and there was no place in that perception for anything resembling a flaw or an imperfection. It occurred to me as we spoke that we are all in the same boat, but that not all of us have the courage to deal with our issues the way this young woman was. Most of us do what we can to avoid confrontation with the “shadowy side” of our selves, but in finding the courage to learn about and accept all aspects of herself she felt lighter and truer and more authentic than she ever had.

Successful people with learning disabilities don’t get there by accident, and they don’t get there by denying who they are. And if it happens that who they are is in small part a person with a learning disability, then they go about learning what that means for them, and doing everything they can to understand and manage that aspect of the “self”. They don’t deny it. They don’t hide from it. They don’t run from it. They find the resolve to confront it and deal with it. It requires vulnerability, and self-acceptance, and authenticity, and…courage. And maybe that is one of the qualities that Gladwell is talking about as one of the positive side effects of living with “desirable difficulties”.

Author and lecturer Brene Brown had this to say about courage: “Courage is a heart word.  The root of the word is ‘cor’, the Latin word for heart.  In one of its earliest forms the word ‘courage’ meant to speak one’s mind by telling all of one’s heart.  Over time this definition has changed, and today we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But…this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak openly and honestly about who we are and about our experiences – good and bad”.

A Turkish proverb says that a lion sleeps in all of our hearts.  Real courage is about connecting with who we truly are by entering our own hearts and awakening our inner lion.  It’s about being authentic in the face of fear and vulnerability.  It’s about accepting and loving ourselves (and one another) warts and all, which let’s face it, can be a messy business. But it’s the only way to live an authentic life, and it’s one of the greatest gifts we can give to one another.

The Loneliest Kid on the Bus

Sad boy in foreground being teased and bullied by three kids in the background.

Many kids with LD or ADHD also have social skills deficits which make school and life that much harder.

A Twitter ‘retweet’ via the LDAWE flashed onto my screen a few weeks ago, and it said this: “Stats Canada reports that 3.2% of Canadian children have a learning disability; that equates to 1 child in every full school bus”.  And it occurred to me as I read this that the one child on the bus who has the learning disability would very likely be the child who was sitting alone, being ignored or being bullied. I shared this observation with a friend, who pointed out to me that it would be just as likely that the child with the learning disability might also be the child wreaking havoc and doing the bullying. In either case, the reason might be the same: it is estimated that 75% of children with learning disabilities also have social skill deficits that make it difficult for them to have and keep friends.

It was these kids that Rick Lavoie was referring to when he coined the phrase “last one picked, first one picked on”, capturing the idea that it’s a real struggle for these kids to understand and “fit in” to the social structure around them. It may be that they were unable to learn the social skill or rule in the first place. It may be that they learned the skills but fail to consistently recognize when and how to use them. It may be that a lack of self-control results in negative behaviours which prevent them from either learning or applying good,  appropriate social judgment. Whatever the reason, the result can be a child who feels broken, lost, rejected, and unable to connect with the people around them for reasons they don’t understand.

A significant consequence of this kind of social struggle in kids can be anxiety, which only exacerbates the difficulties they are having. Although this is by no means a comprehensive list, a social skills deficit might manifest in ways that include:

  • Missed social cues
  • Failure to use proper manners
  • Difficulty taking turns in conversations
  • Missing important pieces of information
  • Distractibility, or appearing to ignore others
  • Misreading body language or facial expression
  • Misunderstanding information, not understanding jokes
  • Inability to maintain topic in a conversation, or ending a conversation abruptly
  • Disorganized or scattered thought and speech
  • Sharing information that is inappropriate (disinhibition, impulsivity)
  • Avoidance of social situations

For most of us, how we interact with one another is second nature, and is something we learned mostly unconsciously and without much effort (albeit with a few bumps and bruises, a bit of trial and error, and perhaps a touch of drama along the way). For most kids with LD or ADHD though, it’s not at all natural or easy. The good news is that, although they may need to learn these skills differently, they can in fact be learned with the right kinds of interventions.

For local resources, parents need look no further than the LDAWE’s Child Programs, and in particular the BEST Social Skills Program (BEST: Better Emotional and Social Times), for children 8-12. Their Summer Enrichment Camps also have a focus on social skills enrichment, with lots of opportunity for kids to practice what they are learning. For older kids (13-18), the LDAWE’s Youth Programs include a Youth Recreation Program where kids can “practice their social skills in an understanding environment and… become more active within their own community”.

Without the right kind of guidance and support, kids with social skill deficits are likely to become adults with social skills deficits, making it difficult for them to get and keep stable employment   The LDAWE ‘s Adult Programs offer support through their ERASE Program (Effective Resources and Skills for Employment), their Employment Supports Program, (Job Placement, Job Advancement, and Job Retention), and their Adult Recreation Program.

I don’t imagine that it’s easy to be the loneliest kid on the bus, nor to be the last one picked or the first one picked on, but this is not typically a problem that will get better on its own.  The reality is that if left unacknowledged and unaddressed, social skill deficits are more likely to become bigger problems than to go away as one grows older.  The loneliest kids on the bus often grow up to become the loneliest people in the workplace, if they are able to land and hold jobs at all.  But it doesn’t have to be that way, and with the right guidance and support and information and resources, these kids can learn to develop and sustain the kinds of supportive, productive friendships and relationships that we are all entitled to have.


If you’re looking for a good book on the topic of social skills deficits and LD/ADHD, I offer a couple of recommendations:

“It’s So Much Work to Be Your Friend: Helping the Child With Learning Disabilities Find Social Success” (Richard Lavoie)

“What Does Everybody Else Know That I Don’t?”   (Michele Novotni)

And finally, Rick Lavoie’s video, “Last One Picked, First One Picked On”  is a terrific resource for parents and educators. Check out the Viewer’s Guide below for some very helpful information.

last one picked

Don’t stop building your smarts (some summer advice for students)

Stylized image of a human brain lit up with blue light indicating activity and growth.

“If you believe you can accomplish everything by “cramming” at the eleventh hour, by all means, don’t lift a finger now. But you may think twice about beginning to build your ark once it has already started raining” Max Brooks

School’s out (almost)! And if you’re a student getting ready to graduate from high school, you’re probably ready for some well earned down time, right? And if you’re headed off to college or university in September, you probably want to make this summer count. Spend time with your friends. Party a bit. Maybe spend time at a cottage, or just chill somewhere. Honing you academic skills is likely the last thing on your mind. But…if you truly want to meet your potential in college or university, there are some things you should do this summer that can’t wait until the last minute, which will keep you sharp and on your game, will prevent your skills from getting rusty, and will allow you to start this next chapter of your academic career with some momentum. It is absolutely true that “if you don’t use it, you lose it”, so here are some things you can do over the summer to maintain your edge:

Keep reading! It doesn’t have to feel like homework. Read anything that interests or inspires you, or sparks your interest. Read at a level that’s fun for you. Read magazines, or newspapers, or trashy novels if that’s fun for you, but read! And if you want to challenge yourself a bit, try listening to audio books, or try a novel using that text-to-speech software (Kurzweil, perhaps?) that’s been gathering dust on your laptop. The whole point is to keep your mind active and stimulated by giving it new information to process.

Keep writing! Nobody’s asking you to produce 10-page papers every week, but you can keep your writing skills sharps by doing something as simple as maintaining a daily journal.  And no…texting does not qualify as the kind of writing you need to be good at.  In college/university you can’t write using acronyms or emoticons (LOL), so keep your skills up by practicing the kind of writing that you’ll be required to do when you get here. Go old school and write a letter to your Aunt Daisy in Newfoundland, or a thank you note to Uncle John in Red Deer.   Journaling, letter writing, whatever you do, find a reason to write frequently throughout the summer. You may even want to do this by experimenting with the Dragon software that is sitting alone and lonely on your laptop.

Learn your technology! Many high school students with learning disabilities have access to technology and assistive software that they never use.  Take some time this summer to learn it.  Post-secondary students routinely use programs like Kurzweil, Dragon Naturally Speaking, and Inspiration to level the playing field and to achieve at their academic potential.  And with very few exceptions, every student at this level is using some form of technology. Get comfortable with your technology and be ready to put it to use when you get here.  You’ll be glad you did.

Learn your self!  Part of that self is the small but important part that is your learning disability. This part should never define who you are, but ignoring it won’t do you any good either. So, start by reading and understanding your IEP and assessment (if you have one). Understand your diagnosis and what it means. Understand and be able to explain why you get the accommodations that you get. Take responsibility for developing an understanding of how you learn, and what the learning strategies are that empower you to reach for your potential. The more you are able to do that, the more independent you become, and the more effective you will be in advocating for yourself after high school.

Maintain a schedule! One of the biggest potential stumbling blocks high school students encounter in transitioning to university is with time management. In high school, your schedule was largely determined for you, but in university…not so much.   In most cases you will determine the number of courses you will take, when they will be, whether or not you will attend, or whether a social event with new friends will take priority over your academic responsibilities. This kind of independence and responsibility can seem like freedom, but it can become a curse if you let it. So get a handle on your time management now. Plan and stick to a routine over the summer. Set an alarm and get up on your own. Figure out when you will work out, when you will spend time reading and relaxing, when you’ll hang out with friends, when you’ll take time for college /university prep, and how you’ll do all of that around the summer job you may have found. Put all of this on a schedule and stick with it, in preparation for the new time management demands you will find after high school.

Get ready for your courses! Look for course information online, and get the lay of the land as early as you can. It’s much better to start the first day of class having already established an overview of what will be required. You may even be able to buy your books ahead of time, and if you can do that, there’s no reason not to scan some of that material as part of your summer reading program. And to the extent that it’s possible, learn your new campus. Explore it if you have the opportunity to do that. Figure out how to find the offices and services you may need, and get comfortable with navigating your new campus well before class begins.  One less thing to worry about once class actually starts.

Make early contact with the Office for Student’s with Disabilities! As we discussed in a previous blog post (Smooth Moves: Transitioning to University), the process for being accommodated at a post-secondary level is very different from what you may have become used to in high school. So…it is never too early to start the process. Meet with a Disability Advisor at your new school, who will spend time with you reviewing your current accommodations and documentation. Many high school students require an updated assessment when they move on to college/university, and an advisor can facilitate and guide you through a process to ensure that you are appropriately accommodated when class begins.

So enjoy your summer, by all means, but don’t neglect important aspects of yourself in the process, and don’t stop building on the solid academic foundation you established in high school. Use some of your “down time” this summer to build yourself up, preparing your body and mind for the new journey that lies just ahead. Have fun, but make sure you don’t arrive at the first day of class with an empty tank. Get proper rest, and exercise, and nutrition, and nourish your mind in some of the ways that we’ve talked about. Nourish your spirit too, by spending time with people you love, and who love you, and who inspire you somehow to be your best self.  Have a fun, safe and productive summer, and plan to arrive at your new school with a full tank of gas, fully prepared to head out on the road to success.

 

If you have any thoughts on what you’ve read,  please feel free to comment,  ‘Like’ it,  ‘Share’  it,  or otherwise spread the word via social media.

Organize your Life!

One of the most frustrating parts of having executive functioning difficulties, is the lack of a clear organizational system. Simple, everyday tasks become difficult when you don’t know where to begin or worse…when you are ready to begin you can’t because you cannot find the necessary tools for the job. This can really get in the way of not just learning, but life in general. Those with poor organizational skills often end up late for school, appointments, social functions, etc.

Whether it is the child that is lacking in organizational abilities, or the parent (I’m guilty of this!) here are a few suggestions and strategies to help make things go a little smoother.

1.ROUTINE – Create a routine for your family. This is so important. Routines can easily become habits when they are DSC_0014-3Snap 2012-03-07 at 08.02.04consistent. This paves the way for leaning life-long strategies to help organize your life. Time management is always a valuable lesson. Making a schedule for your young children to follow can cut out a lot of family arguments as well. If children have assigned shower times and homework
times, there is no fighting over who goes next in the shower and yelling to turn the tunes down (depending on the age of your children). Always include homework time, a chore and free time in the routine. A balance is necessary. If your child doesn’t have time for these things, you may want to consider a shift in activities for better time management.calendar

2.FAMILY CALENDAR – Have a central family calendar that is posted somewhere with high visibility, like the fridge. I bought an “Mom’s Ultimate Family Fridge Calendar”. It comes with stickers for different activities and
appointments. You could also find many different DIY calendar ideas on Pinterest. It is way easier to plan events and activities when everyone knows what is going on.

2.PERSONAL AGENDA – Another important tool for children as students is the agenda. Many students are expected to carry an agenda for school each day. This
provides an essential daily means of communication between the parent and teacher. Phone calls and interviews are good for periodic checks, but in order for you to get the full picture on your child’s agendaschool day, an agenda routine is necessary. Some teachers and/or schools do not follow this policy. If that is the case it may be difficult for you to convince your child to consistently use an agenda, but give it it a try. It keeps them organized with assignments and homework and they can transfer any important days onto the family calendar at the end of the day.
Some teachers use blogs and websites to relay this type of information. That is great news! Make sure that checking the blog or website is built in to your child’s nightly routine.

3. ORGANIZE! – Organize and reorganize and reorganize! We finally get a room organized and then VOILA! All your hard is gone. Of course it is…it takes work to stay organized. Make sure you expect this to happen. Look for lots of ideas on how to organize parts of your house. I find most of mine on Pinterest or Google. It does take time to adjust to news ways of organizing your items, but it is worth it when you are looking. I use labels and pictures to help organize things at home and things at school. If you aren’t sure where to start, a FANTASTIC website for organizing your life is:

http://www.flylady.net/

 

This website really can help you clean and organize your entire house. She has tons of great ideas and even better – a routine to follow!

Most of my favourite ideas come from Pinterest though…

shoe-organizer-boy-spring-craft-photo-420-FF0408BABYA14

books

4. GENTLE REMINDERS – Remember – everyone needs lots of reminders! That usually includes the parents too. It takes a lot of work to change a lifestyle. You can do it! Life will be so much easier in the end.

Lazy Answers

Leaving the principal’s office, Steven looks at his new schedule; it all looks the same, sauf the second period class.  Steven was in his second week of school and had to be removed from his French class as the class reached its maximum numbers.  He didn’t think this would be that big of a deal, the only thing that changed was his classroom.  In fact, the new classroom was literally right below the old one.  Steven wondered as he wandered, “how will this change affect me?”  He decided it wouldn’t, it was a simple change, a singular variable.  The teacher was great (he heard that it was Mr. Casey 😉  ,)  and half his class was moved to this new room as well.

As the days start to pass, Mr. Casey notices that Steven has been late every day for class.  “What is wrong with this kid?!  Does he not like my class?  This is second period, how is he late when he’s been in school since 830a?,” Mr. Casey ponders frustratingly.  He follows the same basic routine as other teachers, that is, he asks Steven why he’s always late, calls home, assigns detentions; nothing seems to help.  When asked, Steven explains that “I try my very best to get here.  I promise, there’s just not enough time to get here.”

Finally, Mr. Casey decides he would investigate, hoping to catch Steven trying to grab a smoke between classes or something.  He checks with the office to get his period 1 class.  Steven’s classroom is surprisingly not far from his previous French classroom –just a couple doors down.  He waits in hiding as the period 1 bell rings.  Covertly, Mr. Casey follows Steven as he leaves his classroom.  Steven takes a quick right, which surprises Mr. Casey a little as the nearest staircase was a stone’s throw to the left.  Nonetheless, a simple detour to the main staircase should not make him late for class.  Mr. Casey continues to pursue as he starts making mental notes on how Steven can cut his travel time to class down.  Steven makes his way down to his locker, and again, Mr. Casey is shocked to find Steven’s lockers is steps away from his classroom door.  Steven switches out his books, shuts his locker, and heads back towards the main entrance of the school.  “Ah-HA!,” Mr. Casey mentally shouts.  “This is it!,” he thought, “Steven’s heading back to the entrance to get his smoke or something.  I knew it, I’ve got him!”  Mr. Casey follows Steven to the front doors with a sense of pride and excitement as a detective would walk on his way to the courthouse after making the plot turning discovery.  Then, Steven does something Mr. Casey would have never guessed, Steven didn’t leave the school.  Steven wasn’t smoking, doing drugs, selling smack, running tricks, or playing Pogs.  He turned to the staircase and walked back upstairs.  Puzzled, Mr. Casey followed Steven with caution.  Steven walked past his previous period’s class, past his old french room, and then down the north staircase.  “What?!,” Mr. Casey tried to deduce the rationality behind what he had just saw.  He hollered down the stairs to Steven.  Catching up with Steven, he asks “Steven, where are you going?!”

Steven, puzzled, replies “…to class…?”

“Where did you go, before class?

“…to my locker…?”

“Why did you go back upstairs?”

“…because I had to go to class…?”

“But your classroom and locker are both downstairs, why go back upstairs?”

“…?”

Steven shrugs his shoulders and starts to search the floor for an answer with a math-induced puzzled expression on his face.  “I don’t know.  That’s how I’ve always got to class.”  Steven was right, it was.  The principal had taken special care to make sure Steven understood the class change, as she knew he had a disability and was not good with change.  She only told him, however, about the classroom change.  Steven never learned that his pathway to his locker would now change.  Mr. Casey started to see this pattern of behaviour unfold in front of him.  He would spend the next few days helping Steven change his routine to avoid walking all around the school to get his new classroom.

Everyday life situations can be very stressful for people with disabilities.  Whether it be someone with a wheelchair being unable to visit his new friend’s house because he can’t get his chair up to the front door, or someone with autism having to brush their teeth with a blue tooth brush instead of a pink one, barriers exist.  Steven’s obvious conflict with his chosen pathway was formulated from past behaviours that never changed.  Routines are one of the most important goals for success with many people that have disabilities.  Routines help us to overcome barriers consistently/automatically, to avoid forgetting things, or to just create a safe place for ourselves.  These routines, when left unchecked, can create some conflict.  In Steven’s example, his routine was a good habit prior to his classroom change, but became a bad habit once his situation changed.  His old habit was no longer accomplishing what it needed to (that is, getting Steven to class on time with all his books.)

My own life has seen many similar situations turn up.  We all will deal with change to our routines in different ways, depending on who we are.  Myself, I see change, I understand it, I just don’t like to adapt to it.  When I find a successful routine, I strive everyday to maintain my routine, tooth and nail.  When a variable changes, I get upset and frustrated.  No matter the situation, no matter how big, nor how small, it physically disturbs me.  I need that “Mr. Casey” to come and help me out of my “rut.”  My parents tried to be that help when I was young, but struck with a lack of information, they never cracked my code.

The most challenging part of these routine changes, is that they happened all the time.  It wasn’t the big, life altering changes that drove me nuts, but the little unimportant ones.  When I graduated high school, I was more disturbed with having to go back for a 6th year than I was when I finally started university.  I spend 5 years understanding and preparing to move on past high school, but a 6th year was a change to my plans more than actual university.  When my brother started high school at another school, I had to change my morning routines as my ride left earlier; still not that big of a problem.  My mom had the day off one day, and it was the end of the world for me.  Despite the fact that nothing was actually hindering my morning routine directly, having my mom home was enough of a change that I would shut down that morning and be unable to function properly.  Now that I think of it, this explains plenty why my mother and I were always at each others throats’ those mornings.  Man, change sucks!

But change is necessary.  Years later, and many research projects ago, I learned how these routines affect my life.  Today, I am able to articulate, understand, even predict when these changes will disturb my life.  My wife is my rock.  Don’t get me wrong, she absolutely hates how “stubborn” and “obsessed” I get with small things, but she understands me.  I’ve told her plenty of times why I can react like I do, and she helps me to relax and adjust.  I never use my disabilities as an excuse for bad behaviour, but I do use it to understand my behaviours.  When I start to get upset about a change, my wife is great at walking me through things.  She knows that just explaining the changes and how they will affect/ not change my life at all is enough to calm me down.  My wife isn’t a psychologist, therapist, mother, or has ever dealt with people that have disabilities.  She has come from a place where it’s accepted to see people with a disability as burdens to society, rather than individuals that succeed differently (we are all changing our views on disabilities everyday, only some places adjust at different tempos.)  For the record, since having moved here, and understanding more about me, her opinions have greatly changed.

The point being (sorry, stray tangent,) you don’t need a fancy degree or life experience to be a helping hand to someone.  We do it everyday for our friends.  We see our BFF sitting in the hallway crying about being dumped or cheated on by his GF, and we sit down with them, console them, and try to get them back on their feet.  The challenge is that people with a disabilities are different.  We need different help, and many of us do not know how to help.  Most of the time, it just takes some investigative work.  My favourite example is the “lazy” student.  A student doesn’t finish his work, many teachers say he’s “lazy.”  When you do some investigation, it turns out that reading about some love story that happened 40 years ago is not only extremely unmotivating for a teenage boy, but when you also have problems reading you’ll never get to the point where you can complete your work.  “Lazy” is an excuse to not care, as are many other words that allow us to say, “I’ve done all that I can.”

If you have a child with a disability, I’m sure that you can identify the conflicts and struggles that come with it.  If you have a disability, I’m sure that you know you struggle, as did I.  We all need to take some time to do some investigation.  Our society has become better and better at doing this, yet often we continue to avoid finding answers.  Organizations like the LDAO and developing programs in our local school systems are there to help.  Ask your teacher for resources, ask your principal, your student services teacher, call the LDAO, anything.  When you are at your witt’s end with a teenager that has a disability, whether it be socially, behaviourly, or academically, sublimate your own stress and find an answer.  You’ll make your life easier, the life of others around you easier, and you’ll find that understanding someone leads to success.  I found it in my life, I see it everyday as a teacher.

More Anxiety Tips…

In my last blog I talked about anxiety in children and offered some tips to help your child deal with anxieties. I want to stress again how difficult it is to follow the steps. The thing you have to remember is these are tips offering long term solutions and life strategies, not immediate response tips. In the moment they are the hard things to do. What you want, and it’s the job of any parent, is an adult who can function in society in any situation they may face, be it social, job related or by chance.

To continue on the list I started last time, I am going to offer some more tips, but first let’s revisit some of the suggestions from last time:

self awareness

  • Reduce excessive stress
  • Create a routine
  • Give consequences
  • Be supportive
  • Encourage their independence
  • Build their self-confidence

Set realistic expectations. It is important to have expectations, but remember that an anxious child may get frustrated if goals or expectations do not seem attainable. Break larger tasks into smaller steps and offer encouragement so your child feels a sense of accomplishment. Let them take steps forward, but let them do it at their own pace.

Control your reactions. Although it is important to be understanding and caring, do not overreact or let anxiety trick you into thinking that something is too hard or impossible for your child. Keep things in perspective. Yes, it might be challenging, but it can be done! On the other side of the pendulum, sometimes it is hard to understand our child’s anxiety or why something is so difficult for him or her. When we don’t acknowledge that our child is having a hard time with anxiety, the child may try to hide it (and suffer alone) or the symptoms may become more pronounced, (the pouting, arguing or misbehaving) in order to get the attention he or she needs.

Be Self-aware. It can be very difficult dealing with an anxious child. As important as it is to control your reactions for your child’s sake you also must manage your own reactions, for your own good. Do some things for yourself (enjoy a night out, read a book when the kids go to bed, go for a walk, or whatever helps you keep a positive perspective). Remember the basics: eat well, get enough sleep, and exercise! You can’t be helpful to your child if you don’t take care of yourself. You also need to be careful not to pass fears on to your children. Try to present a neutral reaction to situations and let you child know it’s safe to explore things.

Try Something New

Take Risks. This is true for everyone, but doubly important for an anxious child, so that they can build self-confidence and develop the necessary skills for dealing with people and their environment. Encourage your child to try new things such as ordering the pizza, or asking the store clerk a question. The other thing to remember is that children learn from example, so you can model brave behaviour by trying new things yourself.

Avoid Avoidance! Anxious children tend to want to avoid things that cause them anxiety. Even though avoiding things may reduce stress in the present, it allows fears to grow and makes things more difficult in the future. Avoid letting your child avoid things. Instead, encourage him or her to try things and take small steps towards facing fears!

Once again I do not offer this information as an exhaustive list, but as someone on a learning curve myself. Stay true to what you believe and know is right for the big picture, and not to simplify or ease the present situation. 

Climbing down mountains

 

Today marks my 8th blog post; I want to start working up to something different for my 10th post.  I am well aware of habits and routines, and how a routine becomes a habit.  Each of my posts have been written once a couple days before my post, then almost entirely rewritten the morning I post.  Each of my posts have featured a picture of some sorts and about 1000 words (wow, that’s already 8000 words, mainly about myself.)

When I applied to be an author for this post, I offered my perspective as a person with AD(H)D and a teacher.  As I can recall, the majority of my family’s struggles were related to school.  I never had any issues with sports, friendships (when I was young) were never difficult, and I did help out around the house about as much as any other kid.  I can remember the fights, the tears, and the pains from bringing home notes, report cards, and calls home from school.  They have been such a part of my mother’s life that she retells the stories like an old war veteran, rocking on her front porch chair.

I’ve already shared many of the stories with you; the non-existent support, the overly intimidating IPRC meetings, the time I did get support, etc.  What I didn’t tell you is the problems other parents face.  I write these blogs every day from my own perspective, my own life, my own problems.  Solutions that I have brought forward are not universal, they may not even be transferable; it’s just a perspective.

This brings me to my topic de jour.  Although we are all different, and we each bring with us our own strengths and weaknesses, there are some universal solutions we can, will, and do adopt.  During my years as a student of our province’s educational system, some of these solutions were only in their infancy, others were not even a twinkle in the ministry’s eye.  

First, and most importantly, is differential instruction.  This idea is so simple, yet so oddly new that education systems in the United States are only now beginning to adopt it.  Differential instruction is using a variety of teaching and evaluation methods based off of the concept that every student learns differently.  This idea was only accidentally used when I was in school, and before that, teachers were taught how to deliver instruction in almost a militant form.  By using DI, students are able to learn the way that best suits them, and demonstrate their knowledge in their strongest form.  For some students, reading is easier as a learning tool, while others learn better with open discussions.  When it comes to evaluations, you may find that one student can show her knowledge better on paper, than in practice.  DI is all about finding the best in the student, not the comfort zone of the teacher.

For the students that require more than DI (or teachers that do not use DI), we now inact individual education plans (IEP.)  This program is fairly new as it did not exist when I was in school.  IEPs are created when students are struggling to perform but do not have a formal diagnosis.  This is very useful in cases where students may either not have an identifiable disability or there is a large wait time for a formal psychological evaluation.  They may include some alternate forms of evaluation, or accommodations; some may include, using a computer instead of handwriting tests, have a scriber in class, and relearning past curriculum.  The latter seems to be one of the most alarming for parents, as I will discuss.

The Identification, Placement, and Review Committee (IPRC) is very similar to the IEP with a few additional doors that open.  Where DI is implemented by the teacher by choice, and an IEP mandates that teacher to use DI, an IPRC identification is a legal mandate to the board and teacher that they must use DI to accommodate a student.  I currently provide tutoring and advising services for parents that have students that learn differently, and as part of that position, I always recommend that parents pursue IPRC whenever possible.  With a formal IPRC identification, students are allowed extra personal resources that may not have been available before.  Unfortunately, many parents with these students are told that there is an exhaustive wait period before their students may receive a psychological assessment.  For some parents, this process may accelerated with a private psychological assessment.  Such assessments may cost more than $1500 and a full day of school/work; a cost that for many parents that is just too much to bear.

Within all of these acronyms and edu-babble, it all unfortunately boils down to the parent.  A parent that is well informed and involved will almost always find success with their student.  There are many teachers out there that work hard, and will ensure that every student is taught with DI.  But when things don’t go right, parents are always the first line of defense.  My parents were there for me, and my siblings, and we all made it through each finding their own success.  I advise many parents that are met with struggles, but find solutions with efficiency.  

As with being the strongest defense for their students, parents can also be the obstacle too.  Often parents are given unwanted advice and do not take the time to learn what it all means; such as medication, therapy, identification, or modification of curriculum.  When a parent hears about modification, they may think that their student is going to be pushed back a grade or two.  In reality, modification means that a student may learn grade 5 math, rather than grade 8, however, this is likely because the student has no knowledge of grade 5 math curriculum.  By continuing to push students in grade 8 math, those students that need to learn earlier math will continue to fail.

And in the end, the most important thing for a student to be successful in school, is confidence as a learner.  A student that brings home level 4+ in grade 5 math is much more likely to feel better about themselves than a student bringing home 1- and Rs in grade 8 math.  With the proper modifications and accommodations, along with some tutoring, those students can quickly catch up to their peers while building their confidence as a learner.

I can remember exactly when and how I started to fall behind in school.  I also remember when and how I regained confidence in myself as a learner.  For me, it was my 6th year in high school, and it happened the same year I was given the proper support I needed.  So, for the parents out there fighting, keep fighting; when you finally win that battle it will make a difference.  For those parents that feel lost, talk to someone, read some articles, and pick up a phone.  Communication with the school is always the first step, and knowing that you’re reading this blog, you’ve already started your research.  We’re all different, and it’s by understanding how we are different that we find our success.