Youth Helping Youth

Guest Blog Post by: Bev Clarke, Executive Director of LDAWE

As LDAWE programs and services grow, youth involvement… and more importantly, the contribution of youth in our community continues to grow!

Haunted House FundraiserOn October 31, 2015, Adam Wong and DECA students from Sandwich Secondary School will be hosting Haunted House at 1245 Minto, in Lasalle. Months of planning, building, marketing, recruiting actors, and requesting donations goes into creating the Haunted House. This year, Tim Hortons will be providing free hot chocolate and Bull’s Eye Pizza will be donating pizza to be sold by the slice. All those entering the house are asked to give a donation. Proceeds from the event will benefit LDAWE’s Youth Recreation Program.

Recently, youth assisted in a number of ways to ensure the success of our recent Instruments of Change Conference and Gala. Youth sat on the planning committee and assisted with set up and clean up. Madeline Doornaert, a Walkerville Secondary School student, coordinated the musical entertainment and performed. Talented secondary school students (WCCA performers under the direction of Patti Hopper, the Micelli Twins, Lauren Elliott, Natalie Culmone, Georgia Rose) performed throughout the evening.

University of Windsor students enrolled in the Odette School of Business’ Management and Organizational Life Course are required to engage in a fundraising activity to benefit a local charity. LDAWE has been fortunate to receive donations from eight groups of students in the past couple of years.

This year, St. Clair College students in the Educational Support Program Club have selected LDAWE as the recipient of funds raised by the Club.

And last, but not least, the LDAWE has been fortunate to have the voice of a youth on the Board of Directors, as the Youth Consumer Representative. Rachel Baker and Donny Wilcox previously contributed to the Board, and currently, Lucas Lavoie represents youth at the Board table.

Youth Helping YouthLDAWE encourages youth involvement in a variety of ways, as program participants, volunteers, employees, secondary school co-op placements, and as Board members. LDAWE would like to thank all of the youth who have demonstrated a commitment to building a community partnerships that supports the work of the Association and ultimately assists in improving the availability of services for individuals with learning disabilities and ADHD in Windsor-Essex County.

Mindful Living for Kids

UWindsor Blog Post by: Carlin J. Miller, Ph.D

Goldie HawnMindfulness is a hot topic in the media. Football players do it. Hollywood types do it. Kids in Vancouver Public Schools are even doing it. Yet, many people really don’t know what mindfulness training entails. Mindfulness training is about learning to meditate, which means paying attention to thoughts and feelings and behaviours as they happen without getting caught up in them. The goal is to not ruminate over the past or plan for the distant future, because both block our ability to experience what is happening right now. Most of the time, mindfulness is an “anchored practice,” which means you learn to focus on a specific aspect of your experience, such as your breath or the sounds you hear around you. There is no intention to block other thoughts or to change thinking. It really is about noticing.

Mindfulness training might sound very mystical but it isn’t really. It came from a Buddhist practice and was transformed into a secular activity in 1970s by a researcher in Massachusetts who wanted to help people with chronic pain to live more full lives. Since then, Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction and the many related interventions designed for special populations have been taught to hundreds of thousands of people. There are even forms of it for women during childbirth, people undergoing cancer treatment, and survivors of trauma and other potentially overwhelming experiences. Programs also been developed for children in classrooms, parents, and teachers.

Mindfulness in SchoolsOver the last year, my research team and I have been teaching parents and teachers of children with ADHD to meditate in a program called Mindful Living. We hoped that as these adults, who spend time with somewhat more challenging than typical children, learned to be present in their daily lives they would be less stressed and more effective in their interactions. We also hoped they would experience greater life satisfaction and more joy. Although we have only worked with 20 people thus far (too few to present any real statistics), our participants enjoyed the 8-week intervention and many continued to meditate following their completion of the program. It also appears that they are less stressed, more mindful, and have a better understanding of ADHD. We are now working with one of the local school boards to expand this training to more teachers this spring and next fall.

Because so many of our participants suggested these strategies would be helpful for the children and adolescents with ADHD in their lives, we developed a program called Mindful Living for Kids. Our first round of 6-sessions starts on May 13th and the sessions are 1 hour in length. We will have a group for children in grades 3-5 and another for preteens in grades 6-8. Unlike meditation training with adults, this program will be very hands-on with crafts, activities, and movement-based meditation, rather than emphasizing sitting quietly. If you would be interested in hearing more information or having your child participate, please call Dr. Carlin Miller at the University of Windsor (519-253-3000, x.2226).

About the Author:

Carlin Miller is a faculty member at the University of Windsor in the Department of Psychology. As a clinical psychologist with extended training in developmental neuropsychology and school psychology, she has spent the last 20 years trying to improve the quality of life for people with ADHD and learning disabilities. Prior to her doctoral work, she was a public school teacher. She found her passion for advocacy and research through her experience of growing up in a family with multiple people diagnosed with both disorders. In addition to her long resume with many publications and presentations, Dr. Miller has also been meditating for the last decade and brings to her research on meditation the positive experience of trying to live in the present. In addition to her work with the local chapter of the Learning Disabilities Association, she is also a provincial appointee to the Board of Directors of the Windsor-Essex Health Unit. When not at work, she is a mom, a wife, an avid gardener, and someone trying to be the person her puppy believes her to be. 

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

Why Participating in Research is Important

UWindsor Blog Post by: Carlin J. Miller, Ph.D

ResearchAs a researcher, I often have trouble understanding why parents of kids with ADHD would not participate in helping us better understand this disorder. I’m passionate about the process because I know the difference what scientists have uncovered in the past 20 years makes. And, I know how much is still unknown or unclear.

As a parent, I get it. You have limited time and you don’t want to spend the little free time you have filling out forms and traveling to the university. You aren’t sure it will benefit your child. Consider this post an opportunity to find out what is happening in ADHD research at the University of Windsor as well as a chance to better understand the process.

First, let’s deal with the time commitment. We, as scientists, understand being busy. Those of us who are parents experience the same time crunch you have and we don’t want to waste anyone’s time. We try to ensure that every question we ask is pertinent. We try to administer measures that help us better understand ADHD but we are also trying to be helpful to you. Just the same, gathering information takes time.

MindfulnessI can use my own recent project as an example. Our group offered an 8-week program in mindfulness-based meditation to parents and teachers of ADHD last spring. Before they started the program, we had participants fill out forms about their current psychological state and what they knew about ADHD. We also kept track every week of how they were doing at incorporating meditation into their daily lives. At the end, we had another round of questions about their emotions and their ADHD knowledge. Because it was a pilot project with a very small group, the statistical data isn’t very useful, but the information provided by participants helped them track their own progress. I was also making sure that each participant was not in enough distress to need encouragement to see their family doctor. At the end, participants said the program was very helpful and they would recommend it to others. They also reported feeling less stressed, less anxious, and more competent around their parenting. If you are interested in hearing more about this project or participating in the next 8-week program for parents and teachers later this fall, call me at the University (519-253-3000, ext. 2226) or send me an email (cjmiller@uwindsor.ca). We are also in the process of developing similar programming for school-age kids and adolescents to be offered in the late fall and early in the winter.

The mindfulness program is not the only research project on ADHD or related issues at the University of Windsor. One of my undergraduate students is surveying local parents and teachers of preschoolers about the relations among preschooler temperament, parenting style, and risky play. We hope to find that a child’s personality predicts risky play and that parenting style may make a difference in play outcomes. Another student is in the process of developing an online intervention to promote on-task behaviour in university students. A student in another faculty member’s research group will begin a project in the winter to examine handwriting performance in 10-12 year olds who have ADHD and are taking stimulant differences. (You can reach that student, Tom Duda, at dudat@uwindsor.ca.)

Without ongoing research, treatment for ADHD will stay where it is today. By volunteering your time and/or your child’s time as a research participant, you are helping us improve life for many, perhaps even you.

Carlin J. Miller, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Clinical Neuropsychology
Department of Psychology
University of Windsor
http://uwindsor.ca/cjmiller

The night is always darkest…

High school and AD(H)D is like oil and water; you can mix them as rigorously as possible, yet they will always continue to separate.  The trick is to understand they don’t mix as well as other substances.  Teachers, parents, IEPs, and IPRCs are the breads and flours we need to complete this mix.  It takes the right combination of each to get a solid mixture.

When my mom got the call from Mr. Cousineau, she knew that I was finally going to receive the help I needed.  We met with Mr. Cousineau at the end of the school year, probably with a week or so of school left.  It was my grade 12 year, and next year I would be challenging myself with the OAC courses as I prepped myself for university.  Everyone wanted me to transition successfully to university–everyone except me; I just didn’t care.

We sat down with Mr. Cousineau, a tall, beefy, foot-ball-coaching type of guy.  He was calm, and reserved.  My mom sat down, ready to tear into him as a representative of the failed system that left me for educational-death.  Mr. Cousineau made a quick move as he introduced him self:

“Thanks for coming, I’m Mr. Cousineau (I’m sure he used his first name; I just don’t remember it,) and I’m just distraught and so sorry.”

And just in that introduction my mom was stunned to silence.  Now, if you knew anything of my mom, silence does not come cheap for her.  She was raised in a family of four kids, she was used to getting her way, and she was one of two girls in our household of seven.  She yelled, a lot.  This time, she just sat down and as robotic as any other meeting and she said:

“My name is Lynne Wachna, this is my son, Matthew.”

Mr. Cousineau quickly took control of the meeting.  He apologized over and over and explained how turnover in the special education department has led to a bit of unorganization.  He acknowledged that I did not receive the help I needed and took full responsibility, even as a new teacher.  He explained how there was nothing to be done about the past but learn from it to prepare for the future.  Next year he was going to make it his duty to see to it that I get the help I needed.  My mom was at the break of tears.  Everything she needed to hear, he said it.  Finally, a rope was thrown out to our sinking ship.

…Then my OAC year started.  Nothing but heart break for my mother.  Mr. Cousineau was transferred out to another school.  I’m sure it had something to do with budgets (I hope it did.)  Of all points in my schooling career, this I will always identify as having the second largest impact.  With no assistance, and a heavy course load, I quickly fell behind.  Ashamed to show my face in class, I skipped classes on a regular basis.  I started to hang out with the other students that skipped classes, getting involved with drugs and alcohol during school hours.  It was a mess.  It was my OAC year.  I had many highlights that year:

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  • A “0” in English
  • An average of 35% in all of my classes
  • Over 100 total absences
  • OFSAA Swimming Finalist (finished 6th and 13th)

Ya, I know, the last one doesn’t seem to fit.  I see the last part as proof that I wasn’t a loss cause.  There is a lot to share about my OFSAA experience and my medication, but that will be in my blog about my treatment.

I ended that year applying for university and college.  I met with my councilor at school to figure out what programs to apply to.  I wanted to be  a radio DJ, and he had no clue what program I should take.  He had me apply to anything that was drama.  One of those programs was the Drama in Education program at the University of Windsor.  This program had a full day interview requirement for its 2000 applicants (they would end up only picking 20.)  I made it to the interview and was actually selected.  They sent me a letter telling me that all I had to do was pass my OAC year with a 65% average.  I knew I was far from it.  I finished OAC with a 35% and no clue what I was going to do with my life.

My parents continued to push me that summer to upgrade at summer school and to register for a second try at OAC; a sixth year.  The first thing we did was meet with the vice principal, Manny.  My mom and I sat in his office, and the meeting started with a tone.  Manny sat down and told me I couldn’t come back.  He showed me my marks and absences and said I was over 18 and they didn’t want me back.  My mom lost it.  She somehow managed to release the anger inside without having to raise her voice; I had never been so scared.  She cited the years and years of lost education with no resources and no help.  She cited my files and their recommendations from doctors and psychologists.  Manny was stunned.  He swallowed his pride, and offered me a contract.  One missed class and I was out.  That year I skipped about 10 classes for school functions with Manny’s blessing.

I received the help I needed from a great LST teacher.  I received extra time on exams.  Teachers actually worked with me, rather than against me.  It felt so different, and I got caught up in it.  I started to develop into an organized student.  I worked on things like routines, organizational plans, and study plans.  It was great.  I finished that year with an 85% average and my first year tuition paid off in bursaries and scholarships.

Years later, I ended up in teachers’ college.  In my education, a fellow teacher candidate asked me if I would make a presentation about teaching students with AD(H)D.  I shared my story and was asked a burning question.  “Can you tell us some more positive stories, we feel like you have been bashing teachers the whole time and we kind of feel bad.”

To this I replied:  “Well, we’ve come a long way since.  When I was young, good stories were far and few.  My story should show that we are moving in the right direction in special education.”