ADHD and Handwriting

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

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

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

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

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

Creating A Diverse Workforce

Parents of children with learning disabilities (LD) or ADHD often have many questions about their child’s future. These can include:

  • What kind of career / job should my child pursue?
  • Where will my child work?
  • Will my child be able to hold down a job?

In general, people with LD / ADHD have average or above average intelligence. This means that they should be able to secure and maintain meaningful employment. Despite this, many people with LD / ADHD struggle to find and keep a job. Sometimes this is due to a poor match between the individual’s strengths and the essential duties of the job, a lack of appropriate social skills, difficulty staying on task, etc… However, sometimes this may be due to employers having misconceptions about how having an LD / ADHD will affect an employee.

The Problem is not the Disability

What can you do to help?

If you are a parent of a child with LD / ADHD, encourage your employer to hire people with disabilities. Every business can benefit from ensuring they have a diverse workforce. This is not charity; this is just good business sense.

At one of their distribution centers where more than 50 percent of the employees have disabilities, Walgreens has experienced a 120 percent productivity increase. Now they are expanding that successful model to retail locations across the state and country.

– Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, 2014 State of the State Address

At LDAWE, approximately 30% of our 40 employees have disabilities, including LD, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, mental illness, brain injuries, physical disabilities, and vision impairments. LDAWE does not create jobs specifically for people with disabilities. By ensuring that each of our employee’s strengths match their job duties the need for accommodations is minimized and employee moral and productivity has increased.

Melissa Donaldson, director of employee networks and communications of the Diversity & Inclusion department at Walgreens says:

Our guiding mantra is “same job, same performance.” Walgreens has no “special” jobs carved out especially for individuals with disabilities. Team members with and without disabilities assume the same job roles and responsibilities across the enterprise, earning the same pay and striving to meet the same job performance expectations.

LDAWE works with several individuals with LD / ADHD who are seeking employment through our Employment Supports program. If you are an employer who wishes to gain the benefits of having a more diverse workforce, please contact our office at 519-252-7889 or info@ldawe.ca.

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.

Motivating Children with ADHD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get involved in GivingTuesdayCA!

Giving Tuesday

Have you heard of GivingTuesday yet?  This is the 3rd year that GivingTuesday has been around. The first year it was only held in the US, but last year it made its way to Canada and other countries around the world.  LDAWE has been a partner in GivingTuesdayCA since last year.  For those that do not know:

GivingTuesday is a global day of giving. After the sales of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, GivingTuesday is a time to celebrate and encourage activities that support charities and non profits. Whether it’s making a donation, volunteering time, helping a neighbour or spreading the word, GivingTuesday is a movement for everyone who wants to give something back.  www.GivingTuesday.ca

This year, GivingTuesday takes place on Tuesday, December 2, 2014.  There are multiple ways that you can get involved and support LDAWE and the GivingTuesdayCA movement:

1. #UNselfie – show your support for LDAWE and GivingTuesday by taking a picture of yourself holding a sign stating why you support LDAWE and post it on your social media acounts. Make sure to tag it #UNselfie, #GivingTuesdayCA, and #LDAWE. If you do not have a social media account, just email it to info@ldawe.ca and we will post it for you.

Having hard time coming up with your #UNselfie sign? We have created a couple of signs that you can use, plus a template sign where you can write your own message:

2. Text-to-Donate – during the months of November and December you can text LDAWE to 20222 and make a donation of $5, $10, $20, or $25 to LDAWE. A charitable donation receipt for your text-to-donate donation will be available from Mobile Giving Foundation Canada.

3. Interac Online Donation Matching Program – double the power of your donation by donating to LDAWE through CanadaHelps on December 2, 2014 between 9am – 11:59pm and pay by Interac Online and they will match up to $25 of your donation up to the first $10,000 donated.

4. Make a Donation – Make a safe and secure donation online to LDAWE through our CanadaHelps page or make an old fashion donation by cash or cheque to LDAWE at 647 Ouellette Avenue, Suite 101, Windsor, ON N9A 4J4.

All donations made to LDAWE stay in the Windsor-Essex community and are used to support our Resource and Support Centre, ongoing programs, and public awareness events. We hope that you will consider supporting LDAWE during this holiday giving season. Thank you for your ongoing support!

www.ldawe.ca

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!!!