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.

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.

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.

Toys and Games- How Children Learn

phonemic awareness girlLearning disabilities, as most of us know have an effect on a child’s brain in the way they receive, process, store, respond to and communicate information, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities.(This means children with learning disabilities can have a hard time in areas such as coordination, motor skills, memory, information processing, speech and language development, reading and writing and math skills. While some learning disabilities may not be identified until middle grades, young children often exhibit early warning signs. If learning disabilities are addressed in the early stages, lifelong disabilities can become much more manageable. It is well documented that children learn best through play, and because of the holiday season, toys have been in my mind lately. I believe educational toys can provide opportunities for children to develop the tools they need to become successful learners despite their disabilities.

Every child is unique and it would be unfair to group a child into a category based on their specific L.D. Alone, however certain L.D categories share characteristics that can be worked on use of educational toys and play.

Dyslexia and Dysgraphia for instance affect reading, writing, spelling and composition. Items like Foam letters that a child can stick to the wall while taking a bath or magnetic ones for the fridge are perfect for early learners. Children ages 3 to 5 will learn letter recognition, spelling. also letter tracing stencils help children learn fine motor skills associated with letters and writing as well and can also be a great learning tool. Older children may benefit from family games such as ne of my childhood favorites: Scrabble Jr. Or a simple game of hangman to promote memory and letter sounds to try and figure out the missing letters. Obviously the game of toy you choose must reflect the child’s capabilities, it is essential they are optimally challenged but do not become too frustrated. this is after all supposed to be an enjoyable experience, one that will hold their attention and be rewarding in itself for it to be successful. It is important that a patient adult guides the child throughout these games and offers support and reassurance to minimize frustration.

Dyscalculia on the other hand affects grasping mathematical concepts like computation, time and money. Plastic or real money is a great tool to use for games like ” playing store” where the child wishes to buy or sell an item and the adult requires the exact change. (a fun way to make this interesting is to use real coins and allow the child to keep the profits if he or she is correct) using different denominations is also a great variation. Simple dice games (including many common board games) can be used to teach basic addition and introduce learners to odds, probability, logic and critical thinking.

People with Dyspraxia have difficulty with fine-motor skills, including coordination and manual dexterity. Toys that require assemblage can provide great learning tools with the reward of a finished toy at the end. Those toys with screws, can be put together with a manual screwdriver, learners will use their fine-motor skill to piece together these movable puzzles. To increase use of manual dexterity, let children use their fingers to turn the screws instead of the drill or screwdriver. Adult discretion is obviously implied in these activities, safety and reasonable level of challenge should be the first thing considered when choosing the appropriate activity.
I also want to add that encouragement and praise for good effort weather or not the child is fully ‘successful’ is important. The whole idea is that toys and games can make learning and practicing skills that need extra effort become fun and enjoyable for them that they motivate the learner to do them on their free time as a fun thing to do. Either way the learner is being exposed to the process and some degree of improvement is always a good possibility.

Does anyone have a favorite Game or Toy that has helped them or someone they know develop a skill?
How much does the level of enjoyment an activity provides, affect how long you stick with it?

 

The Big Ask…

MoneyI have mentioned in one of my previous blog posts, “My Biggest Secret,” that one of my least favourite parts of my job as Resource Manager of LDAWE is the fundraising portion of the job.  Don’t get me wrong… I love it when people give us money, donate in-kind items, or attend fundraising events.  What I don’t like is having to ask people to do it.  I would rather write a grant proposal or negotiate a service contract instead of asking people or companies for donations.  Despite my hesitations, I of course do ask people for donations (I do want to keep my job, after all).

However, despite our best efforts, funds raised through donations and fundraising comprise a very small portion of our overall annual revenue (4.4%).  I often ask myself why this is the case when learning disabilities and ADHD affect 10% of the population.  I have come up with the following thoughts:

  • The majority of the clients we serve are low-income.  Many are in receipt of Ontario Works, Ontario Disability Support Program, the National Child Benefit, etc…  While they may greatly appreciate the service we provide, they are not in a position to make a donation to the Association.
  • Learning disabilities and ADHD are not sexy or cute.  We don’t get to put pictures of cute little puppies, kittens, or babies on our marketing material.
  • Learning disabilities and ADHD are invisible.  Some people still try to argue that they don’t exist, and that the person is just lazy or had bad teachers/parents.  To them, I say they should sit in on one of our programs… they’d realize within the first 5 minutes that learning disabilities and ADHD do exist.
  • Sadly, there is still a stigma around having a disability.  This means that we often can’t get permission to use pictures/videos of our actual program participants or clients to show what happens in our programs or to share our success stories/testimonials.  This also means that we haven’t been able to find any of the highly successful Windsorites (we know many of you are out there!) that are willing to disclose their learning disability or ADHD and potentially become a champion for our cause.

Giving Tuesday CAMany of you probably heard that Tuesday, December 3, 2013, was the first annual Giving Tuesday in Canada.  Where Black Friday and Cyber Monday are about getting deals, Giving Tuesday is about giving back to your community.  This movement celebrates giving and encourages more, better, and smarter giving and volunteering during the giving season.  We would love it if you would consider making a donation to help people with learning disabilities and ADHD in Windsor – Essex reach their full potential.  Donations can be made safely and securely online, through CanadaHelps.

Finally, I would like to thank our core staff members and volunteers who attend our fundraising events and make donations whenever you can.  I know it’s not easy going back to your same family members and friends ask them to pledge you for the annual walk-a-thon or to buy tickets for a fundraising event.  Please know that your efforts are greatly appreciated by not only myself, but all of our clients and program participants.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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.

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So – What it is all about?

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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.

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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.

Living with Dyslexia – Part One

There is so much to say when you are raising children with the gift of Dyslexia. There is truly something unique, creative and almost mystical about individuals born with this “learning disability.”

donny

I have been blessed with two beautiful boys, both of which have Dyslexia. However, Donny has faced the most challenges due to the degree with which Dyslexia has affected his life. Donny is my youngest boy and is going to be seventeen in a couple of weeks. I am very proud of him and the distance he has come, especially considering the challenges that he faces.

Donny had such difficulty learning how to read and write, yet was so bright in all other areas that it was very apparent there was an issue. I was amazed that someone so creative, bright and motivated to explore life could have such difficulty learning. He was diagnosed with Dyslexia and Dysgraphia by the school psychologist by grade four. This was mostly due to teachers that helped work to make him successful and partially from learning that advocating for your child is essential in order to help provide them with what is necessary for success in not only school, but life as well.

Part of the key is not only advocating for your child, but teaching your son or daughter how to advocate for themselves. I have always been one to hit the books when faced with an issue. Once learning my son had these challenges, I became engrossed in literature, blogs, webcasts, courses and any other piece of information that would help me to learn more about how my son’s brain functioned.

The most important part of the journey has been what my son learned. I have always kept him informed and updated on the exact challenges he was facing. We would talk about the problems he had and discussed how he could work to solve them. Donny was aware of his IEP and what it meant for his learning and has realized that he must learn to advocate for himself as he gets older. Donny does not let his learning disability get in the way or see it as a burden. He realizes that there are limitations to what he can do without some assistance, but with that knowledge he knows that he is an intelligent young man that can accomplish great things.

fish

I’ve touched only briefly on actually living with Dyslexia (and Dysgraphia) in this blog for a reason. I wanted to stress the success that Donny has experienced because he knows about his learning disability, the strategies he must use to overcome the challenges, and what steps he has to take to ensure that he has his needs met respectfully. I want to stress this because I remember the hopelessness I felt before we knew what was giving Donny a hard time. Once he was diagnosed, I again felt helpless because I wanted him to become an independent and successful individual and didn’t know the extent of his challenges. His Dyslexia is severe, yet he has persevered. I want to send that message.

The experiences Donny has acquired, due to his openness to share,  have empowered him. He now serves as the student representative for the Learning Disabilities Association- Windsor Essex and speaks openly about his challenges. Donny and I were just featured on the CBC radio program The Bridge, talking a bit about life so far. Please take a listen.

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