The Loneliest Kid on the Bus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

last one picked

Labour Day Blues…

Am I the only one that feels this way?  I’m in my 30s (and no, I’m not going to get more specific than that), and I still dread Labour Day.  I’ve always felt it’s the worst holiday of the year.  To me, Labour Day always symbolizes the end of Summer and the beginning of school.  I remember listening to the radio one year on Labour Day and something must have happened at the radio station, because they just kept playing the R.E.M. song, “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” on repeat for over an hour.  I remember wondering if it was some cruel joke the radio station was playing on all of us students.  I haven’t gone to school for over a decade, and I still get that feeling of back to school dread.  Maybe if I had my own children, the feeling of dread would be replaced with the feelings of joy and happiness as I got to ship the children off to school.  I don’t know…

Regardless of my feelings of the holiday, for children with learning disabilities or ADHD, and their parents, the start of a new school year can be very anxiety provoking.  Parents worry about a wide variety of things, such as wondering if the:

  • new classroom teacher is going to “understand” the child’s disability and/or accommodation plan.
  • child is going to get the computer equipment the school promised the year before.
  • class bully is going to be in the child’s class this year.
  • etc…

During the next couple of weeks, all of these questions will be answered.  I wish the best for you and your child.  However, if difficulties arise, please don’t forget that there are lots of great organizations (such as LDAWE) around that can assist you and your family.

I also want you all to know that LDAO (our provincial organization) is hosting a webinar, “Starting the school year off on the right foot – how to help children with LDs transition back into school.”  The webinar takes place on Wednesday, September 24, 2014.  Please click on the flyer for more details.

Webinar

When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change!

Autostereogram with hidden 3D image

This image may not look like much of anything, but if you look at it for long enough, in just the right way, it will reveal itself to you in ways that aren’t at all obvious at first glance.  Stick with it; there’s a 3D butterfly floating in the foreground.

Some of you may be familiar with MagicEye images like the one above, and some of you may have already developed an ability to see what is hidden there.  They’re called stereograms, and if you can break out of conventional ways of seeing to focus “differently”, a 3D image will emerge from the seeming visual chaos.  The moment when one is first able to see an image like this is a happy and somewhat dramatic surprise, as if a secret world has suddenly opened up to us. It seems to me that disabilities can be like that, and that stubbornly persisting in looking at them in conventional ways deprives us of the opportunity to see and experience the beauty, talent, and potential that may be hidden there.

There are a few things that got me thinking about this.  One was the terrific blog posting from Mr. Casey a few weeks back (The Advantages of AD(H)D).  In it, he talks about an experience that caused him to “reinvent” his  perception and experience of his own AD(H)D.  He describes shifting his focus away from any limitations, instead conceptualizing his AD(H)D as a gift that provided him with a skill set that many others do not possess.  In having the courage to think and focus differently, he was able to reveal to himself the gifts that were hidden beneath the label, and in doing so, re-invent his future, his life, and the attitudes of the people around him.

It also happens that right around the time I read Mr. Casey’s blog, I was also reading Malcolm Gladwell’s recent book,  David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.  It’s a book about “what happens when ordinary people confront powerful opponents of any kind, from armies and mighty warriors to disability, misfortune, and oppression”.  Gladwell proposes that facing difficult challenges can produce greatness and beauty, and that being an underdog can change us in fundamental positive ways that we fail to appreciate.

In his chapter called “You Wouldn’t Wish Dyslexia on Your Child, or Would You?”,  he suggests that dyslexia may in fact be what he calls a “desirable difficulty”.  He cites a recent study which found that about one third of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, innovators, and visionaries have dyslexia.  Now, the conventional way of seeing this is that these are simply remarkable people who heroically “overcame” their disability to find success.  But…”the second, more intriguing possibility is that they succeeded, in part, because of their disorder–that they learned something in their struggle that proved to be of enormous advantage.”

This advantage, as Gladwell sees it, comes in a number of forms.  Dyslexics are forced to develop compensatory skills in order to survive. This kind of compensation learning, though much more challenging than conventional learning, can result in a brain that is hardwired to process information in profoundly different ways from the rest of us—ways that could provide distinct advantages in certain environments.

Secondly, people with dyslexia are often outliers, a common trait in successful entrepreneurs.  They are able to think outside the box, to imagine things that others cannot (Walt Disney comes to mind), and to fearlessly challenge their own preconceptions.  Further, they have the courage and willingness to take the kinds of social risks that are necessary to bring their ideas into the world.  Gladwell suggests that when an ordinary person (David) spends a lifetime confronting dyslexia (Goliath), a skill set can be forged which turns out to be a significant advantage when harnessed in the right way, potentially resulting in something extraordinary.

Finally, in the middle of all of this reading,  I heard an interview on CBC radio with an entrepreneur from Calgary, who was challenging the conventional notion that people with autism are unemployable.  He felt that this perceived disability also brought with it a skill set that would make individuals who had it highly productive employees if placed in the right environment (The Autism Advantage).   He knew that many people with autism are capable of intense focus, are comfortable with repetition, and have an incredible memory for detail – precisely the skill set that is in high demand in our rapidly evolving technology-based economy.  So he trained potential employees, educated potential employers, and matched them up with tremendous success. In other words, he thought outside the box, looked at the situation with a different focus, and allowed the potential and opportunity hidden there to be revealed.

We encounter situations every day where our perceptions are blocked by old expectations, unless we make a conscious decision to challenge those perceptions and  to see differently.  Marcel Proust said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”.   All of which is to say that, even when it comes to disabilities, when we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.  And just maybe…our society changes with them.

____________

(The LDAWE has been recognizing potential in employees with a variety of disabilities for quite some time;  read about it in Danielle Gignac’s blog article,  Torn Post-It Notes).

Not everyone is able to see hidden stereogram images, and many of us can only see them with a bit of practice.  Click here for 3D viewing instructions.

And if you are unable to see the 3D image in the above stereogram (and you’re tired of trying) click here for a simulated solution.

Stepping Stones

I am incredibly fortunate to work with amazing people at LDAWE.  We are lucky to be able to hire amazingly compassionate, talented, and knowledgeable people.

Many people have asked me what we look for when we hire someone.   Mainly, we look for people that appear to be genuinely interested in working with people with disabilities.  Experience is helpful, but we are also willing to train someone if they appear to be a good fit for our organization.  We are also an equal opportunity employer, which means that we provide employment opportunities to people who have disabilities as well.

It’s important to know that we only hire people on a part-time basis.  There are only 2 positions at LDAWE that are full-time (my position as Resource Manager and my boss’ position as the Executive Director).

The main positions for which we hire are:Reading the Paper

  • Adaptive Technology Trainers
  • Administrative Assistants
  • Job Developers / Coaches
  • Lead Facilitators
  • Program Facilitators
  • Tutors

The level of experience necessary, the number of hours, and rate of pay vary depending on the position.  When hiring, we typically hire students or recent graduates in the following fields:

  • Psychology
  • Education
  • Social Work
  • Child and Youth Workers (CYW)
  • Developmental Support Workers (DSW)
  • Educational Assistants (EA)

Many of the people we hire are using these positions as a stepping stone on the way to their ultimate career goal.  While this may upset some companies, it is actually part of our plan.  We want to be able to expose as many people in the above mentioned fields to learning disabilities (LD) and ADHD.  We give our staff members first hand experience and provide them with insight, tips, and strategies for how to best help people with LD and ADHD reach their full potential.  We hope that as they continue on their career path they use the skills they learned from LDAWE.

As a result, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I have had the opportunity to work with many compassionate, talented, and knowledgeable people over the past decade.  I am often very sad when some of them move on to work for other companies.  However, knowing the difference they are going to make in the lives of people with LD and ADHD throughout their careers makes it all worthwhile.

The Advantages of AD(H)D

During my studies at the Faculty of Education (formerly, teachers’ college,) I watched a video about AD(H)D that stuck with me.  It wasn’t a very interesting video, no special CGIs, nor any fun music.  This was a video that, much like many other “educational films,” was likely produced in the 80s or 90s.  The picture was old, the sound muffled, and the clothing out of style; how anyone else would remember this video from the other hoards of brain-eating educational monsters is beyond me –but I did.  It was a simple spoken sentence that made me think.  A straight-edged, take-no-nonesense suit, with dark, moosed hair parted on the side, looked at the camera and explained that people with attention deficit do not have a deficit of attention at all, but rather too much attention to everything.

It’s true.  I can’t remember how many times I’ve had my mind on a million things at once.  My mind then started to focus on that one sentence and what it meant to me.  I started to think of all the times that I’ve multi-tasked, or have seen things others don’t notice.  I remembered the times when I became overly focused, almost obsessed with one thing.  I was looking at AD(H)D wrong the whole time.  I can pay attention, I just struggle with focusing my attention.  Why didn’t they coin it FD(H)D?

With just that one class, I began to reinvent how I approached my AD(H)D.  I saw it more as a super power than a limitation.  I began to notice how my mind has been using it all along.  When I drive, I’m never just watching the car in front of me.  I’ve got an eye on the car slowing down in front of him, the speeding passer approaching from my left, the pedestrian about to jaywalk, the blinking hand telling me that my green light is about to turn, and train that is about to cross in the distance.  I see my path clearly and quickly.  I hit the gas to get out before the car on my left passes me, honk my horn at the pedestrian to stop their would be jaywalking, make it through the light, signal to pass the slowing car, and make my right turn so that I may cross the trains path on the overpass as to avoid the delay.  After having got myself out of a would-be jam, I’m now upset because I heard over the radio that my team just gave up a goal as I was passing that slow car.

In basketball I used my mind to drive the ball.  I’d dribble up the court, weaving around my opponents until the moment where I see a trap being set under the hoop, so I drop a no-look pass to my teammate as they cut in from behind me.  My mind allows me to track all the players on the court with ease.

AD(H)D and many other disabilities do not need to be seen as a disadvantage.  If we look at each disability with an open mind, we can begin to see how we can use our abilities instead of limiting ourselves and others.  Now knowing the abilities (or super powers, if you will) of someone with AD(H)D, I know just how I want to use them.  Maybe I should feature them in a play, as acting requires attention to the entire scene, not just the person they are speaking to.  Maybe I should teach them to conduct an orchestra so that they may focus on every part being played.  Maybe I need to give them roles as supervisors, able to monitor large groups to ensure that everyone is on task.

I grew up in an educational system that was just starting to evolve.  Teachers were still handing me books, and forcing me to read rather than allowing me to explore my text book.  I would often read ahead to the more interesting parts of my history text book.  This drove my teacher mad.  She would insist that I learn what everyone else is learning, despite how horribly boring it may be.  I would fail her class; years later I would, however, go back and learn what she wanted me to after learning about how it related to more interesting parts of history.

I encourage my students to work at their own pace.  I tell the students what they are responsible for learning, and let them chose which chapter to start on.  Sometimes I let students share work; one student studies chapter 1, the other chapter 2, then they give each other the answers to the chapter questions.  Many students (and teachers) would consider this cheating, I find that it actually encourages students to ask questions about clarification and understanding; questions that lead to a deeper understanding.

In my work as a supply teacher, I was called in one day to teach an English class.  This class was reading Percy Jackson and the lightning thief on computers.  Each were at different parts, some were even reading just the paper book itself.  I opened one of the paper books, and read a part of the final battle, which I leave you with:

My senses were working overtime. I now understood what Annabeth had said about ADHD keeping you alive in battle. I was wide awake, noticing every little detail.

I could see where Ares was tensing. I could tell which way he would strike. At the same time, I was aware of Annabeth and Grover, thirty feet to my left. I saw a second cop car pulling up, siren wailing.
Spectators, people who had been wandering the streets because of the earthquake, were starting to gather. Among the crowd, I thought I saw a few who were walking with the strange, trotting gait of
disguised satyrs. There were shimmering forms of spirits, too, as if the dead had risen from Hades to watch the battle. I heard the flap of leathery wings circling somewhere above.

Living with Dyslexia – Part II

Living with Dyslexia – Part II

How do I Teach my son to Read????

Near the end of Grade 4 my son Donny was seen by a psychologist at the school. He was officially diagnosed with a reading disorder, or Dyslexia.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) defines Dyslexia as a brain-based type of learning disability that specifically impairs a person’s ability to read. These individuals typically read at levels significantly lower than expected despite having normal intelligence. Although the disorder varies from person to person, common characteristics among people with dyslexia include difficulties with phonological processing (the manipulation of sounds), spelling, and/or rapid visual-verbal responding.

Of course I was relieved to hear from the psychologist that my son was above average intelligence and he only had difficulty with symbol/sound relationships. He also has the extra challenge of having Dysgraphia, which seems to be more challenging now than the Dyslexia.

Knowing that this was our obstacle made the task seem much less daunting, however I still had a 9 year-old that was not able to read. I was panicking inside.

The psychologist’s recommendations listed many useful strategies to deal with Dyslexia, including the use of a computer, an IEP to address his learning needs and the Orton-Gillingham Method as a means to remediate reading. I had never heard of the Orton-Gillingham Method and as a teacher, my interest was especially peaked. I did quite a bit of research on Dyslexia and different ways to address the challenge.

Through a little research I was able to receive training in the Orton-Gillingham method. There is a learning centre located in our city that offers free training to students with Dyslexia. However, the waiting list for this centre is quite lengthy due to high need. I volunteered to offer my time tutoring in exchange for training (this is only one of many ways to become trained in the methodology).

My son attended the centre for two years and graduated from the program. I was very proud of the success that he achieved through the program and believe wholeheartedly in the method.

Image

So – What it is all about?

Image

Samuel Orton

The Orton-Gillingham Method was named after Samuel T. Orton (1879-1948) and Anna Gillingham (1878-1963), early pioneers in reading and language mastery. They conceived of a program that was language-based, multi-sensory, structured, sequential, cumulative, cognitive, and flexible – exactly what students with reading disorders need to be successful in learning.

The most important aspects of the program are that the approach is the multi-sensory. The learning must be:

  1. Visual
  2. Auditory
  3. Kinesthetic
  4. Tactile

Below is the detailed description of the Orton-Gillingham approach, as provided at the Academy’s website.

Personalized

Teaching begins with recognizing the differing needs of learners. While those with dyslexia share similarities, there are differences in their language needs. In addition individuals with dyslexia may possess additional problems that complicate learning. Most common among these are attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity (ADHD).

ImageMultisensory

It uses all the learning pathways: seeing, hearing, feeling, and awareness of motion, brought together by the thinking brain. The instructor engages in multisensory teaching in order to convey curricular content in the most understandable way to the student. The teacher also models how the student, by using these multiple pathways, can engage in multisensory learning that results in greater ease and success in learning.

Diagnostic and Prescriptive

An Orton-Gillingham lesson is both diagnostic and prescriptive. It is diagnostic in the sense that the instructor continuously monitors the verbal, non-verbal, and written responses of the student in order to identify and analyze both the student’s problems and progress. This information is the basis of planning the next lesson. That lesson is prescriptive in the sense that will contain instructional elements that focus upon the resolution of the student’s difficulties and that build upon the student’s progress noted in the previous lesson.

Direct Instruction

The teacher presentations employ lesson formats which ensure that the student approaches the learning experience understanding what is to be learned, why it is to be learned, and how it is to be learned.

Systematic Phonics

It uses systematic phonics, stressing the alphabetic principle in the initial stages of reading development. It takes advantage of the sound/symbol relationships inherent in the alphabetic system of writing. Spoken words are made up of individual speech sounds, and the letters of written words graphically represent those speech sounds.

Applied Linguistics

It draws upon applied linguistics not only in the initial decoding and encoding stages of reading and writing but in more advanced stages dealing with syllabic, morphemic, syntactic, semantic, and grammatical structures of language and our writing system. At all times the Orton-Gillingham Approach involves the student in integrative practices that involve reading, spelling, and writing together.

Linguistic Competence

It increases linguistic competence by stressing language patterns that determine word order and sentence structure and the meaning of words and phrases. It moves beyond this to recognizing the various forms that characterize the common literary forms employed by writers.

Systematic and StructuredImage

The teacher presents information in an ordered way that indicates the relationship between the material taught and past material taught. Curricular content unfolds in linguistically logical ways which facilitates student learning and progress.

Sequential, Incremental, and Cumulative

Step by step learners move from the simple, well-learned material to that which is more and more complex. They move from one step to the next as they master each level of language skills.

Continuous Feedback and Positive Reinforcement

The approach provides for a close teacher-student relationship that builds self-confidence based on success.

Cognitive Approach

Students understand the reasons for what they are learning and for the learning strategies they are employing. Confidence is gained as they gain in their ability to apply newly gained knowledge about and knowledge how to develop their skills with reading, spelling, and writing.

Image

Emotionally Sound

Students’ feelings about themselves and about learning are vital. Teaching is directed

toward providing the experience of success and with success comes increased self-confidence and motivation.

Reading Systems Based on the Approach

Commercial Reading Systems that use the Orton-Gillingham approach are listed below. If your school or tutor uses one of these, you’re probably in good hands:

  • Barton
  • Wilson
  • Multi-Sensory Teaching Approach
  • Language!
  • Project Read
  • Recipe for Reading
  • Spalding
  • Orton-Gillingham (in addition to being an approach there is also an actual OG reading system based on the approach. Essentially it’s the latest version of the program Anna Gillingham invented! )

 Along with these commercial systems, there are also many individuals that tutor students privately using this training method. I have found it to be very effective in small group instruction at school and especially in smaller groups privately. I have used this methodology to teach dozens of children how to read and have personally seen the effectiveness!

Check out this great blog suggesting some great books about Dyslexia.

ADHD: Approaching Discipline as a Teacher

Frustration 1
How should the teacher approach discipline?

I have to admit this subject has always been a difficult one for me as an educator. On one hand I understand the implications of ADHD and understand that behaviors that typically require some sort of discipline in a school setting stem from impulse and behavior issues that the child does not necessarily have full control over. On the other hand, how can a teacher like myself allow these behaviors to go unchecked and set a bad example for the rest of my students that I:
a) am a pushover,
b) expect and encourage disruptive behaviour, or
c) am oblivious to the environment in my own classroom.

So then how do we as educators overcome this double edge sword?

First, teachers need to understand that often, children with ADHD don’t always realize why they’re in trouble. For example, when the teacher tells Sarah not to interrupt and she says, “I didn’t,” it sounds like she’s being argumentative or making excuses. In fact, Sarah may have no idea she was interrupting. So from her point of view, she can’t understand, first, why she was accused of something she didn’t do, and second, why the teacher won’t let her defend herself.

In one study, a group of non-ADHD children and those with ADHD were given fictional scenarios of disruptive behavior and asked to explain what was going on. A significant difference emerged: Most children thought that the child in the example could have controlled his behavior if he chose to; those with ADHD thought the fictional child couldn’t control the behavior, and they identified outside forces that provoked it–for example, “His friends bug him all the time.” (source-From The Attention Deficit Answer Book: The Best Medications and Parenting Strategies for Your Child by Alan Wachtel, M.D. Copyright � 1998)

From the perspective of someone with ADHD, this view makes perfect sense. They know that in many cases they themselves can’t control their own behavior. So it’s not surprising that they feel persecuted when a teacher, parent, or peer blames them for their actions. If you got blamed because it happened to pour rain at your soccer game you’d feel persecuted too!

In the classroom, I think the teacher must walk the fine line between responsibility and blame. It’s important for the teacher to impart a sense of responsibility to the child for his actions, and to help him understand the consequences of those acts–but to do it in a way that doesn’t make the child feel persecuted.

It’s a tough challenge. One way to approach it is by acknowledging the difficulties while expressing confidence in the child’s ability to overcome them and offering a concrete strategy for doing so. For example, the teacher might tell a child, “I know it’s hard for you to sit still on the bus. I think it will be easier if you sit next to me so that I can remind you to sit down.” Even though the outcome may be the same, that approach sends a much more positive message than simply telling the child to sit next to you on the bus.

How have you approached discipline in the classroom/and or at home for undesirable behaviour? Do you feel that acknowledging your perspective has allowed you to accept disciplinary measures more readily and to learn from them and not take offense?