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. 

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.

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.

Laptops and iPads and Chromebooks, oh my!

I have written blog posts (Goose Bumps and The iPad Question) before about our A/T program.  For those who don’t know… A/T stands for assistive technology or adaptive technology.  LDAWE is fortunate that we have contracts with both of our local English school boards to provide A/T training to students with disabilities who receive technology for use in the classroom to help them access the curriculum.  The name of the Ministry of Education funding used to purchase this equipment is call SEA (Special Equipment Amount).

The good news is that both of our school boards are fairly progressive when is comes to issuing SEA Claim Equipment.  For example:

  • They issue equipment (and lots of it… more about that later).  I have heard that some school boards around the province still hardly issue any A/T equipment to students who would benefit from it.
  • They are innovative.  Instead of just issuing laptops like they have in the past, both school boards are now experimenting with new types of equipment, such as iPads and Chromebooks.
  • They invest in training.  The equipment is only beneficial to the student, if they know how to use it.
  • They are willing to change.  When given feedback that current policies around issuing SEA Claim Equipment are not working, they make adjustments to the policies and procedures to make it work.

Laptops, iPads, and Chromebooks

All of that being said… I’m feeling a little bit like Dorothy in Wizard of Oz this year.  The first full year that we provided A/T training was the 2009/2010 school year. That year we had 5 A/T Trainers on staff and we provided training to 129 students. This year, due to some changes in one of the Board’s policies, we have already received referrals for 486 students to receive training (and it’s only November). We started off the school year with 9 A/T Trainers, 1 A/T Training Scheduler, and myself as the coordinator of the program. Since the change in policy, we’ve hired 7 more A/T Trainers. I have also been busy creating new lesson plans for the new types of devices that are being issued. Also, both school boards are looking into adding classroom training as well.

Please be patient as LDAWE and the school boards work through these changes. All of these changes are great news for students with learning disabilities and ADHD in Windsor and Essex County.  I look forward to a day when all students can access the curriculum regardless of ability and without fear of judgement.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!However, with that being said, I must admit that I’ve had more than a couple dreams about A/T lately…

Laptops and iPads and Chromebooks, oh my!

Laptops and iPads and Chromebooks, OH MY!!

Laptops and iPads and Chromebooks, OH MY!!!

Technology that can change learning

My final blog,

I’ve used technology to create some videos, along with some helpful links. Technology has really been my wings in learning to fly free of my disabilities. There are so many great programs out there that no matter who you are, there’s an answer out there for you.

I think the first step to knowing what technology is right for you is to understand what needs you have and where do you excel.  Both through learning styles and types of intelligences, we can create a better undrestanding of ourselves.

VARK is a site that asses learning styles.  I subscribe to the VARK theory rather than the traditional Visual-Oral-Kinesthetic theory because it distinguishes differences between reading and visual and is a lot more intensive.  The acronym stands for Visual, Aural/Oral, Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic.  I would suggest completing the questionnaire and reading up on the descriptions of the various learning styles.  If you find that you are more visual, than programs like Prezi, and SmartIdeas may be better suited to your abilities.  If you find that you are lower in the Reading/Writing learning styles than you may benefit from using programs like Premier.

Multiple Intelligences:  Here is a test to determine where you are likely to find the best skills.  When students struggle in subject/intelligence areas, they tend to lose motivation to complete tasks.  Knowing that a student mayy struggle with a certain subject area, teachers, parents, and students themselves can use technology to make studying easier and more enjoyable.

Once you have an idea of how you learn and you strengths, here are some programs that may help.  Each link will redirect you to a short video that walksthrough some of the functions of the program and how they may benefit your student.

Smart Ideas and Inspiration are brain storming/mapping software programs that help students with studying and writing.  These programs draw on visual learning.

Premier and Kurweil3000 are reading programs.  Both programs allow students to scan in text books, have them read back to them, create study notes, and even create MP3s of the scanned documents.  Premier has a few more tools, such as word predictor, word processor that reads back your work to you, and a summarizer.  It also has a lower price point.  For this point, I have focused mainly on the Premier software.  Both of these programs support aural learning.

Google Drive, Google Forms, and Google Sites are all part of Google’s version of “Office.”  They are all cloud based and allow for collaboration, revision histories, and strong communication venues for parents and students.  You can truly spend days trying to figure out all the possibilities that the Google suite can offer learning.  This suite focuses on Visual, Aural/Oral (you can dictate text through Google speech), and Reading/Writing.

Prezi is another free program that runs off of the cloud.  Prezi is a presentation alternative that many student prefer.  It is very visual and interactive, focusing on the Kinesthetic and Visual learning.

Now, some of these programs are free to use (Prezi, Google drive, Google forms, Google sites) while others can cost as little as $50 to as much as $3000.  It can’t be expect that every parent will be able to afford such luxuries and as such the government provides programs to increase accessibility to these programs.

IPRC is a program that is used at the primary and secondary levels.  Once a student is formally diagnosed, recommendations are made by a panel ofeducators, psychologists, and parents on which resources will be available for the student to use.  Being informed, parents can advocate for the proper technology so that their students can find the most success.  Often students may be assigned a personal computer along with access to many of these programs.

The Bursary for Students With a Disability (BSWD) is not advertised as well as it should be.  This program is available at the post-secondary level.  Students must report to the schools’  centre for students with a disability and request a form.  They usually are then given an appointment with a councillor to help fill out the information.  They will need a final approval from the councillor, and often the councillor will insist on an updated diagnosis.  The BSWD will cover for various resources up to $15,000 a year (from what I can remember.)  In the past, I have received approval for a video recorder, voice recorder, laptop, desktop, Kurzweil3000, Inspiration, a printer, and a scanner.  Approval is based off of financial (must qualify for OSAP) and educational needs.  Not everyone will get a new computer, however, this program is still something everyone should look into.

These bursaries are great for evening out the educational playing fields.  As teachers continue to adapt to DI, technology allows students to find success without having to wait for teachers to understand their personal needs.  By being informed, educated, and prepared, both students and parents alike will have the necessary tools to advocate for a strong and fair educational program.

As my blogging comes to an end, my work for students with disabilities continues.  I have been and will continue working as an advisor and tutor to many students with disabilities along with my daily work as a teacher.  I encourage any and all parents with any other questions regarding my personal experience, or my professional opinion to tweet me @followmrcasey.

Cheers,

Matt Wachna

(aka Mr. Casey)

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.