Christian and Donny
As this is my first blog, I would like to preface it with a little bit of my background. I am the mother of two wonderful teenage boys. I discovered, many years ago, that each one of them has a unique set of learning obstacles they had to overcome.
Before becoming a teacher I had worked with persons with physical disabilities for 14 years as a PSW, then as a DSW, while studying Psychology and then Education at the University. I was offered the opportunity to teach Life Skills at St. Clair College and loved the experience. I was determined that I was going to become an excellent Special Education teacher. It was around the same time that it was discovered that my sons’ each had a learning disability. That information only made my decision to specialize in Special Education even more salient. Immediately after graduating I pursued my specialist in Special Education and got in contact with the Learning Disabilities Association of Windsor-Essex. I wanted to become heavily involved in order to learn as much as I could about what was affecting our family and to contribute to a great cause.
I have been with LDA-WE for almost 7 years now and have learned so much. I sat on the Board of Directors for 6 years and now my son is the student representative. As well, I have been trained in the Orton-Gillingham Methodology (Dyslexia Remediation) and have been a Learning Support Teacher and Special Education for 9 years.
I am looking forward to sharing information, strategies and advice in the areas that I have had the most experience. My standpoint is not only as a teacher, but as a parent that has been through the trials and tribulations of discovering the challenges of learning disabilities.
How I learned all about ADD/ADHD
I remember the October my oldest son was in Kindergarten. His teacher called us in to discuss our son’s progress thus far. We were invited to sit in the little plastic chairs. She started our conversation by letting us know how much she enjoyed having our son in her class and that he was coming along well in the French Immersion program that we had opted to give a try.
“One thing that concerns me is that Christian does not seem to be paying attention at circle time.” She began. I did not see that coming.
“What do you mean, exactly?” I asked, quite bewildered.
“Well, when we are doing activities like singing or sharing, he is playing with his shoelaces, looking around the room and bothering the friends around him.” She added. I didn’t like where this was going. My son was bothering friends?
“When you ask him a question, does he know the answer?” I asked, now worried that she might be alluding to the idea that my son doesn’t understand what is going on.
“Oh yes, he most definitely understands the questions and is usually able to give an appropriate answer. I’m just concerned about his focus.” She said with a furrowed brow.
I didn’t know what to make of what she was saying. I felt like I needed to defend my son. I was sure this was just a ‘boy’ thing and this teacher was not used to boys. I was in my fourth year of studying Behaviour and Cognitive Neuropsychology and I was positive my son was very clever and had passed all his developmental milestones with flying colours. There didn’t seem to be any issues or red flags, even at the daycare he had attended for many years. Perhaps she just didn’t like him? Questions were flying through my head. All the ideation that was occurring led me to the final conclusion that it was probably her and not my son.
The problem, I discovered later, was that I didn’t know what to do with that information. The missing piece to that puzzle was the next step.
For the next few years Christian had some issues in school, but none of the teachers had any huge complaints about focus or attention – only that he took a long time to get his work done. He was very polite and well-behaved but had a hard time finishing his work in class and would have to bring it home to complete. These times became very difficult because he also had difficulty completing the work at home. I didn’t realize how unusual it was to take such an extended amount of time to complete work.
When Christian was in grade 2, his little brother Donny started JK and a whole different world opened up. I was just finishing up my Bachelor of Education when Donny was finished grade 1 and it had become apparent that French Immersion was not the best choice for the boys. They switched to the district public school to begin their years in grade 4 and grade 2.
Christian’s grade 4 year was a challenge. He had difficulties in math and language, barely passing. His teacher ensured me that Christian knew his stuff, but was having other issues. Now, as a brand new teacher, this was all new to me. As the school year progressed I did begin to notice that he had difficulty organizing his things and initiating tasks. His teacher suggested that perhaps Christian may have an attention problem. I was not very familiar with ADD/ADHD so I began to research. I asked lots of questions to try to understand why it took him so long to finish things. There was a lot of information out there and a lot of different ideas about how it is acquired. The puzzle pieces were coming together though – Christian was a very intelligent student, he just wasn’t starting or finishing his work. After a lot of reading and wondering if this was Christian’s issue, I decided to take him to a doctor (along with his little brother – a subject for future blogs!).
There were very few specialists in the area at the time. I was fortunate enough to get an appointment for Christian with Dr. Sharon Burey. The first appointment with her was an interview with Christian’s father and me, then a second appointment with the boys. After a lot of discussion and review of problematic behaviours Dr. Burey confirmed what was expected… that Christian most likely had some form of ADD. Since he did not exhibit the signs of hyperactivity, it was not included in his diagnosis. Donny was also suspected to have some ADHD (with hyperactivity), but Dr. Burey wasn’t confident that was the cause of his difficulties. She suggested we try medication to see if it made a difference in Christian’s ability to focus and for Donny’s behaviour as well. Although reluctant (very, very, very reluctant), it was a go.
Donny’s trial with medication was very short-lived. It made no difference in either his behaviour or his difficulties (again, a future blog) so it was discontinued after a brief trial. Christian began the medication about half-way through grade 4. It was almost immediately evident from teacher feedback that there was improvement. This improvement was not noticeable at home though. After school Christian would be cranky and often cry. He also was still having difficulties completing homework, although he did have less because he was completing it during the day. After speaking with Dr. Burey about this problem, his medication was changed to Adderall. The change was dramatic this time. Christian was alert and focused at school and was able to complete his homework with very little cueing. The medication was a success! Christian still needed guidance with organization and initiation of his tasks, but he was definitely meeting with more success and gaining confidence in all aspects of his life. His marks had increased from C’s and D’s to B’s and even some A’s.
There was a period of time that his medication was off the market due to concerns. We had to try different types of medication and had some difficulties trying to adjust. However, the medication came back on the market and he continues to take it to focus when necessary.
Later on in school, it was discovered that he also has the added challenge of Executive Functioning Disorder, which can often go hand-in-hand with ADD/ADHD. We have learned many tips and tricks to deal with this learning disability as well and will share in future posts.
Christian has now graduated high school with honours and scholarships and is headed to University to study Chemistry and Physics. We are very proud of his accomplishments. He has learned many strategies through the years to deal with his attention issues. We have discovered that awareness of your own challenges and a great sense of humour are really the most helpful strategies…along with great community support.
I am willing to share and exchange ideas and best practices! Please feel free to share your successes as well.