Moving Towards Strength-Based Learning

Strength-Based LearningIt’s October.  For the Learning Disabilities Association of Windsor – Essex County (LDAWE) this means a busy month with lots of activities, because October is Learning Disabilities Awareness Month.  This year’s plans in Windsor – Essex have included:

A major focus of this year’s events have been a transition from focusing on the individual with learning disabilities’ weaknesses to focusing on their strengths.  During the Keynote at the Instruments of Change Conference, Dr. Cory Saunders referenced Dr. Ross Greene‘s “Kids Do Well When They Can” model.  Saunders asked the audience, “Why do we focus on the negative?  Does this help the child?”  Saunders left the audience with a to do list:

  1. Focus on successes
  2. Normalize development
  3. Foster growth in areas of strength

Another great resource for parents and educators is the HBO documentary, I Can’t Do This But I Can Do That: A Film for Families About Learning Differences as seen in the trailer below:

So what is strength-based learning?  Here at LDAWE, we believe that strength-based learning allows people to participate and excel in activities that match their strengths.  We began this process in our Summer Enrichment Camps by having weekly themes, which allow children to excel at drama, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), etc…  During our Open House, we will be taking this one step further by announcing plans for our new 3D Printer.

We encourage you to bring your entire family (recommended for ages 6+) with you to LDAWE’s Open House on October 24, 2015 from 9:00am – 12:00pm at 647 Ouellette Avenue in Windsor, Ontario.  The highlight of this free event will be the demonstration of our new 3D Printer; however, there will also be a child activity area, demonstrations of our assistive technology, and information about our programs, scholarship, etc… A short presentation will take place at 11:00am.  A few lucky attendees will even win one of the items made by the 3D Printer during the event.

Contact us at info@LDAWE.ca or 519-252-7889 for more details.

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.

A Time for Change… Student-Led Individual Education Plans

Guest Blog Post by: Bev Clarke, Executive Director of LDAWE

Self-AdvocacyHaving reviewed many Individual Education Plans (IEPs) that indicate the student should develop better self-advocacy skills, I am always curious to know how the student will learn to be an effective self-advocate.   Whose responsibility is it to explain the student’s learning disability; the legislation that outlines his/her rights; the services / supports / accommodations available; relevant language; and ultimately the policies and procedures to be followed, when engaging in self-advocacy? Is the psychologist that diagnoses, the parent, the teacher, the school administrator, or outside agency such as the Learning Disabilities Association responsible for teaching the student to be an effective self-advocate?

How do we measure whether the student is becoming a better self-advocate?  Is it when the student requests the accommodations and support outlined in the IEP that was prepared for student by an educator, in consultation with a parent?  Is it when the student is able to work independently in the classroom?  Is it when the student is able to get what they need in classroom without demonstrating or causing frustration? Or… is it when they are able to effectively contribute and direct their own IEP?  The Ontario Government’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) A Resource Guide (2004) indicates that principals are required to ensure that those students over 16 years of age must be consulted in the development of their IEP.  The Guide further indicates, “that any student for whom an IEP is being developed should be consulted to the degree possible.”  So, when and how does this begin?

I am the "I" in IEPI have had many conversations with parents, educators, other professionals, who suggest that the child may be too young to understand his/her learning disability; however, when speaking to very young children, they are clearly able to identify their strengths, and more specifically their differences, and while I wouldn’t expect a primary student to be able to say “I have central auditory processing disorder, which makes it difficult for me to prioritize noise in the classroom, so it would be very helpful to me to have access to an FM system,”  I would expect a primary student to be able to say, “I can’t pay attention when there is too much noise.”  They may not know all the educational and disability lingo and possible solutions to addressing their learning needs, but they recognize their differences very early.  Self-advocacy instruction and support should begin early.

The United Nations adopted the motto Nothing About Us, Without Us for International Day of Disabled Persons in 2004.  Observance of the Day was intended “to focus on the active involvement of persons with disabilities in the planning of strategies and policies that affect their lives.” The motto relies on the principle of participation and has been associated with the global movement for individuals with disabilities to achieve full participation and equalization.  I would argue that direct instruction and support is required for many students with learning disabilities to have full participation in the development of their IEPs and to develop the skills and acquire the knowledge to become effective self-advocates.

Student Led IEPThe IEP is arguably the most important document developed regarding the student with exceptionalities at school. The IEP meeting provides an opportunity to discuss critical issues and make decisions regarding specific accommodations and support services.  Creating the IEP without the student or with only token involvement teaches the student that his or voice is not important (Hawbaker, 2007); it is important for students with learning disabilities to not only be the receiver, but the author of their accommodations (McCarthy, 2007) and observing the student’s ability to meaningfully contribute to the IEP provides the school team with a way to measure the effectiveness of the self-advocacy instruction.  The goal is for students with learning disabilities to move from others leading their learning to students leading their own learning, with IEP meetings providing an opportunity to practice their decision making skills and gradually increasing autonomy to promote increased self-responsibility (Connor, 2012).

Students cannot be expected to know appropriate meeting protocol, systems, policies and procedures, and all the lingo the surrounds issues associated with education, disability, and legislation without instruction; however, they can be taught this information, with support and instruction from parents, educators, professionals, and local agencies. Developing effective self-advocacy skills as an elementary and secondary school student prepares the student to successfully advocate for themselves in a post-secondary environment, in the workplace, and in the community.

References:

Connor, D. (2012). Helping students with disabilities transition to college – 21 tips for students with LD and/or ADHD. Teaching Exceptional Children. 44, 5, 16-25.

Hawbaker, B. (2007) Student-led IEP meetings: Planning and implementation strategies – A case story. Teaching Exceptional Children Plus. 3, 5.

McCarthy, D. (2007). Teaching self-advocacy to students with disabilities. About Campus. 12, 5, 10-16. doi:10.1002/abc.225.

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 at the University of Windsor every Spring.

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, and are required to register online through the CUSP webpage.  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 also 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

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!!!