#GivingTuesdayCA is here!

GivingTuesday-Wide

GivingTuesday is a National Giving Day

Most people know about Black Friday and Cyber Monday… now GivingTuesday is coming to Canada on December 1, 2015.

It is a new Canadian movement for giving and volunteering, taking place each year after Cyber Monday. The “Opening day of the giving season,” it is a day where charities, companies and individuals join together to share commitments, rally for favourite causes and think about others.

So, why should you donate to the Learning Disabilities Association of Windsor – Essex County?  Simple.  Your donation will have a direct impact on a child, youth, or adult here in Windsor – Essex.  See below to learn how you can help.

Help a child learn to read (1)

Help a youth graduate from high school (1)

Help someone find a job

You can help a child make a friend...

Make your donation to LDAWE go further on Giving Tuesday!

Several companies are offering donation matching programs for Giving Tuesday:

PayPal: Make a donation through CanadaHelps.org, using PayPal starting on Tuesday December 1, 2015 through Thursday December 31, 2015 and PayPal will match 1% of every donation made throughout the promotion.

Interac Online: On GivingTuesday, December 1st, 2015, Acxsys Corporation (the architects of the Interac network) will match online charitable donations made through CanadaHelps.org and paid using Interac Online, up to $25 per donation and a maximum total of $10,000 in matching dollars.

Text – to – Donate to LDAWE is Back!

Text LDAWE to 20222 to help children, youth, and adults with learning disabilities in the Windsor – Essex community. You can donate $5, $10, $20, or $25. You will have the option to download a charitable donation receipt. Text to donate will end on December 31, 2015.

Visit our website to learn more about our programs and services.

 

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.

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

Hand putting puzzle piece into place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Representation of the sender-receiver model of communication.

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

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


Next Steps

Six graduates determinedly looking forward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

dys·lex·i·a

dəsˈleksēə/

noun

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

(Thank you Google!)

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

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

What is Dyslexia?

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

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

The warning signs…

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

Young Children

Trouble With:

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

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

  • Learning and correctly using new vocabulary words

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

  • Rhyming

School-Age Children

Trouble With:

  • Mastering the rules of spelling

  • Remembering facts and numbers

  • Handwriting or with gripping a pencil

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

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

  • Following a sequence of directions

  • Trouble with word problems in math

Teenagers and Adults

Trouble With:

  • Reading at the expected level

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

  • Reading aloud

  • Organizing and managing time

  • Trouble summarizing a story

  • Learning a foreign language

  • Memorizing

Empowering your child with Dyslexia

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

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

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

Famous People with Dyslexia

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

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

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

…and the list goes on!

dyslexics

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

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.