Archives for posts with tag: ADHD

01_Touchscreen_#infographic_for_school-psych_Page_1Movie director Ron Howard, in his film Parenthood, seats Steve Martin and Mary Steenbergen in front of a dour elementary school Principal.  She lands the first blow. “We don’t think Kevin should come back here next Fall.  I’m going to recommend that he be transferred to a school that offers special education classes.”

Dad risks a guess. “Because he’s so smart?” (Don’t rule it out.) “Well, actually, I mean a class for children with emotional problems,” the Principal continues.  (Seems Kevin’s been pretty anxious.)  In breezes an unwelcome surprise guest: one “Dr. Lucas” who should NOT be introducing himself at THIS stage. But here he is. Ron Howard is crafting very bad psychologist indeed. He has “been observing Kevin for the past couple of months.” (REALLY?)

CUT!    Who hired these Un-Professionals?  Yes, Hollywood DOES have license to show them as seen through these poor parents’ glazed eyes.  But Ron!

WHERE did you get such ethically bankrupt and autocratically insensitive educators?  (Not to mention, badly dressed.)

WHY are you trading on our anxieties about special ed, just for a bit of plot-thickening?

HOW can any psychologist, anywhere, get to observe and assess child without even asking the parents AND make a placement recommendation that looks pretty final?

MOREOVER:  On its own, anxiety is the LAST reason to make the little guy change schools, Ron.  It’s a great reason to keep him right where he is.  Special educators know this. Staff who are familiar to Kevin seek School Psychology consultation. They then support his school adjustment (storeys B & C at right). This in turn supports his achievement (Storey A at right).

Tough on Parents?  Needlessly, in this case. “Mr. Buckman, this is a public school” adds the Principal.  (Really? Why is it just now feeling like a back office of the Mob?)  At its best, but admittedly not everywhere, modern special education can be so inspiring that parents fight to get their kids into it.  Evidence-based teaching practices are the mainstay.  Assistive technologies such as laptops loaded with specialized software, SmartBoards (touch-screen whiteboards) and math apps that let you lay out equations textbook-style, edit and and graph them; are examples of cutting-edge accommodations that help level the playing field for students with unusual profiles.

Flexible, Powerful Teaching and Learning Strategies.  Ontario  students are among the more fortunate, participating in this deep cultural shift.  This movement began with UNESCO’s 1990 Declaration on Education for All.  Best practices are not always expensive.  Even developing countries get more for each education dollar

Look for a school culture that is strongly inclusive.

Two basics apply here.  First, instil in students the shared goal of success for all. Second, proactively build cohesion and problem-solving BEFORE the inevitable bullying emerges.  Restorative Practices, based on Native justice circles, is perhaps the best example.

Where does that leave competition in the classroom?  Lost in the past.  Sympathies to all parents who ever dreamed that their child would be clapped and cheered by classmates for beating them all.  Success is its own reward.   Rare is the teacher who is still stuck in the competition era.  They have long ago lost touch with the system’s growth in values.  Yes, there MUST always be scholarships and medals.  Healthy schools save for those triumphs for commencement; and Most Improved Student is among them.

What does special education really look like today? The answers are as diverse as students’ needs.  From sensitive and brilliant individual programming for the child with autism; to the high-octane stimulation and support offered by a best-practices Gifted teacher.  In every profession there are inequalities in expertise.  But specialist teachers are a highly motivated crew and their upgrading is continual.

So, why do many of us, as parents, still fear even something as mild as a diagnosis of Learning Disability or Attention Deficit Disorder?

We presume that labels limit our child’s academic future and career.  This is upside down, since rights and advocacy have taken hold.  Marks are all that the School Board can transmit to post-secondary institutions. But those institutions now have their own learning support systems.  You are admitted on your merits, THEN you send your diagnosis and apply for Accessibility (Learning Strategist; Assistive Technologies; accommodations).

If stigma makes us maroon the students’ broader abilities by not meeting specific functional learning needs, then we DO limit their futures.  Even school behaviour issues, a parent’s worst nightmare, respond to sophisticated best practices.  So how do we get our heads around the key issues, ask the right questions and make the right moves on our kids’ behalf?

Ask for the big picture.  Educators and administrators are often careful to not overwhelm us with information beyond the immediate scenario.  If you give them permission to explain the broader prospects and options, often you will usually get an enthusiastic response.  “Response to Intervention” (RTI) is now the first-line approach.  In early grades, we have better and better remedial methods that serve a preventative role.  (A best-case example is the Empower Reading program developed at Hospital for Sick Children.)  RTI is special education, writ-small. If it helps, but not enough, then we look at more formal psychological assessment; toward identification as an Exceptional Learner.

Listen to your child without bias.  Their school experience will come across differently to you, as parent, versus what they say to an educator.  Don’t expect them to be necessarily consistent.  Most kids don’t know how to express inner conflict until adolescence or close-on. In time, they will to learn to say, “Part of me thinks essay conferencing is working; and part of me just thinks it’s too confusing.”  (Maybe the’re not said to the same person, either.)  Don’t confront them with their inconsistencies when they are first learning to resolve conflicting views even adults can struggle with.

Understand the Four Levels of Growth.  One way to quickly grasp a child’s needs for special education is to ask questions based on the four-level graphic alongside this article.

Achievement;

Behaviour;

Clinical concerns versus emotional health; and

Development (physical, motoric, cognitive, language . . . )

form a necessary self-supporting structure, similar to the fancifully tall four-storey school building pictured above. (The image here is of very limited resolution. A fully detailed version is available from the author: psychologyisgrowth@live.ca .)  Practitioners of school psychology can tell you which levels are involved; and what the next steps are, at each storey.

Get involved.  Anything you can do for your child’s school tends to be received with true gratitude; and helps build collaboration.  Parent involvement is such a priority that it is one focus of recent amendments to the Education Act (Bill 177; Sept. 2010).

Support your child’s self-concept.  We may come to laugh at stigma but for adolescents it is rarely a laughing matter.  All bets are off, for how teen peer groups will respond to a student’s Identified status. Your teen’s self- advocacy may just have to wait until post-secondary years.  Privacy of his or her identification is impossible to maintain. Ironically,  attempts at privacy would just fuel stigma. Celebrate strengths and recognize needs.  Everyone else can ‘get over it.’

Know your rights.  Educators in general are highly respectful of them.  While it is possible to approve some parts of a recommended programming but not others, DO be careful that you don’t block your child’s broader options by disagreeing with one essential piece.   Be aware that special education ‘labels’ (identification categories) often sound worse than they are.  “Communication; Learning Disabled” is often a sought-after category.  In it, the child is understood to have Average potential or better; but MUST have special education to fulfill it, without undue agony.

In some boards, “Autism” is the only administrative label under which complex multiple needs get help; even if it is not the actual diagnosis.

Look farther afield.  Interventions and supports from agencies like Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario, JVS Toronto, Canadian Attention Deficit Disorder Resource Alliance and private psychological services can each make a substantial difference.  Special educators, psychologists and some psychology-savvy physicians can guide you to them.

Be aware:

Public educators can’t actually recommend private assessment–That creates an impression that the system is broken.  Of course, the system is more cash-strapped than outright ‘broken.’

Like all public resources, it has to priorities the most urgent needs.  Usually the most they can do is respond clearly, when you finally do ask about private psychology.

Include “Psychological Associates” when you search for private services.  Many PA’s have extensive school board experience.  They are fully independent practitioners and diagnosticians, with an MA rather than PhD.  The College of Psychologists certifies and regulates both at the exact same level.

Attend all the meetings.  There are three levels.  (1) A SERT conference explains learning needs and offers options. You may want other professionals there, too.  (2) IEP or Individual Education Plan.  Rubber meets road. This document specifies concrete steps.  Even your homework support can be more effective with IEP guidance. If diagnostics are recommended, results go to a Board committee called (3) IPRC. This provides legally binding  recognition of  rights to special education.

Focus on what’s possible.  Funding levels and staff training spaces are not what administrators and specialists would wish.  If you get frustrated, you can bet they are too.  A dose of reality has to be swallowed every time an IPRC committee weighs a child’s needs against available placements and resources.

Take the long view until your child can. Even our teens have mostly minimal mind share for ‘the future.”  Tossing around the possibilities for program choices briefly but often is a growth experience for them.  School Guidance is really only the second level, built on top of the thoughtfulness that parents instil about this, from day to day.

Be politically aware.  Many Canadian provinces pushe the special-education envelope, whenever they can.  American legislation may be ahead of ours on paper, but our overall resources-in-place are probably ahead of most U.S. jurisdictions.  Some urban areas such as Toronto face special challenges due to complex demands on their education systems.

Finding out more: 

The Ministry’s book-length PDF, Education for All, lays out recent best practices for core math and reading.  Though written for educators in grades K-6, contains overview segments useful to parents.  The follow-up, Learning for All addresses grades K-12.  Autism publications include Effective Educational Practices for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. For attentional disorders and executive function, we are just at the outset of special education rights.  CADDRA and CADDAC are twin organizations which seek to improve treatment and education for students with these highly workable conditions.  While attentional disorders are not recognized by the Ministry as a cognitive learning disorder, they are the next frontier.

© 2012 Ken McCallion, Registered, MA CPsych Assoc

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🔒USE THE CONFIDENTIAL, SECURE PATIENT PORTAL TO ASK A QUESTION🔒

WHEN EXACTLY ARE WE GOING TO DO THIS, AS A FAMILY???

Fitting a full psych-ed assessment into a month of school work can be tricky. Two months, including a Winter break booking, can make a lot of sense. And if your health benefits year renews at New Year’s, double the coverage can reduce your costs to a small fraction of the total.

familiesonline_comBut the bigger reasons for seeking assessment are the lifetime ones. Getting to the root of the problem means giving the student more durable ways to keep up grade level and permanently improve academic skills.

student writing intense HS creative writing2Accommodations and supports in school or on campus can be a new beginning. And they don’t stop at undergrad. Graduate and professional schools all must provide reasonable accommodations for the student who learns dfferently — yet completely.

WHAT DIFFERENCE WILL IT MAKE?

Individually tuned learning strategies, teaching strategies and, where justified, provincial funding for assistive technologies (laptop and learning support software) can become permanent rights. School support teams get to work. Grades, confidence and graduation rates go up.  School Team - flopped - birds eye view iStock_000017019878Large

WHY HAS MY SCHOOL, UNIVERSITY OR COLLEGE NOT PROVIDED AN ASSESSMENT?

Most educators would like to provide more assessments and learning support. It’s good for the learning environment, the future workforce and the economy. Just ask the successful teachers and professors who now practice with a learning disability and are that much better at teaching, for it. Your school trustee or MPP will be interested in your input, on these issues.

IF GIFTEDNESS AND LEARNING DISABILITY HAD AN ARGUMENT, 

NO-ONE WOULD WIN —

And both would wear masks, so they couldn’t be recognized. Bringing them into harmony, so that the student’s strengths shine and he or she copes skillfully with challenges, requires a personalized approach.  Teachers of Gifted classes know this. That does not help the student whose giftedness goes unnoticed. Criteria are strict and there is no back door. But students who need both enrichment and support have a distinct profile, which justifies both.

WILL THIS GO ON THE ACADEMIC RECORD?  

OSAID logo

In a word, “NEVER.” Transcripts do not show the student’s exceptionality. You apply to post-secondary, based on marks alone. If you are already accepted, your university or college must still consider results from a Summer assessment, toward accommodations and learning supports, in all years of study. If you take a university or college course called Learning Strategies or the like, that CAN show up on your transcript, but odds are that it will be surrounded with good-to-excellent marks that put the lie to any notions of limited potential. So unless someone on staff had a liquid lunch, your disability status remains private health information, not for educational documentation.

A December-January assessment can be more relaxed . . .

There are other advantages to assessments that straddle Winter Break:

  • Less juggling around schoolwork, so the student is often more relaxed and ‘into it.’
  • It’s easier to alternate activity & exercise between the 2 or 3 morning sessions.
  • Time to catch up on sleep first may be more available.
  • A relaxed clinic schedule at Beaches includes much Winter break availability.
  • Three-week turnaround enables families to approach the new school term with results.

Even graduate students professional-school applicants can be assessed and get accommodations:

  • LiveScribe_SmartPenSome adult students have succeeded despite severe struggles, but no-one is superhuman.
  • There is no upper limit, in educational level, on the right to accommodations and learning supports.
  • Some assistive technologies, such as LiveScribe Smartpen, didn’t even exist when today’s grad students started undergrad. A SmartPen records voice audio, sync’d line-by-line to your note-taking.
  • Sameness is not fairness, even for future leaders, so give yourself fairness instead.

Ken McCallion, Registered, MA, CPsych Assoc / Queen St E. at Glen Manor Drive, Toronto M4E 2X2

416-698-0999 ext 108 / ken.psychologyisgrowth@live.ca / @PsychIsGrowth

illustration by Paul Lee & Brian Horton, from, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Omnibus, Volume 3, Dark Horse Books, Jan. 2008

🔒USE THE CONFIDENTIAL, SECURE PATIENT PORTAL TO ASK A QUESTION🔒

[Buffy] My former self hates the new Me. –But I LOVE Me.

[Xander] I think you just warped something besides time, there, Buff.

[Willow] A time warp! Exactly! Buffy, that’s how you USED to think your assignments would get done.  Seemed easier than measuring out each day and week like wooden yardstick. Right? Now you know it WORKS! But we have to know exactly HOW stick with that stick!

[Xander] Quit stealing lines and sticking with sticks, Willow. Not your gig!

[Buffy] But she’s right, Xander, and the tricks she taught me should work for guys too. You know the best part? I get to HOLD TEACHERS ACCOUNTABLE. I NEED to start my assignments early. I NEED to pace them toward their due-dates. Now it’s the TEACHERS who are scrambling to get stuff to ME!  THE POWER!! Ooooh, this is better than my last triple kill. . .

GRRRWAAHHSHSH!!!

[Xander] Oh, clever. Slayer passing discretely as a slayer. That’ll throw them.

[Willow] Lay off Buffy, Xander. She’s discovered the FOUR BASIC MISTAKES she was making. And she’s corrected all four. Taking notes, twinkie-eater? Here you go:

1. DON’T wait til the teacher gets around to structuring the assignment. TELL them what times you have already booked to work on it and WHEN you need their deets.  UP FRONT.

2. DON’T wait until you have a large block of time to work on a large assignment. Large blocks mostly get wasted. Then you are even farther behind.

3. DON’T attack an assignment as if it was all one big thing. It’s not. It’s a bunch of hidden sub-goals. You have to do the detective work first. Find all your sub-goals. Put them in the order. Be ready to do the first sub-goal. Right on that day you first get the deets.

4. DON’T lose a single day. Book one hour each day, or second day, to bank some progress. Get intense for that hour. Then lay off. Berween days, it’s still in your head. So you don’t really lose that day either.

[Xander] Cool. Can I get marks for those days off?

[Willow] Get real. My point is this. Never again will you keep forgetting what your assignments are even about. Man, I never had that problem.  But everyone I know practically pees themselves when it happens.

[Xander] Nice to know you’re comfy-dry there, Willow.

[Buffy] Be nice, you two. We’ve got work to do. Best part is this: The kill is SO SLOW. It’s against the Slayer Code to do that to a vamp. Nev-Ver! They have feelings, you know?  BUT ASSIGNMENTS?  NO MERCY!

[Xander] Buff. Chill. You’re sounding psycho. In fact, lemme outa here.

[Willow] You can do it too, Xan. You don’t have to be all vicious like Buffy here. Maybe you go can undercover. Let’s shop for reading glasses. Maybe a visor ‘n’ like-that. Just til you get your courage up. No-one needs to know that you’re Heaven’s Child sitting on the Hellmouth. ‘Cept — come exam time — gotta warn ya — EVERYBODY wants to be your friend. Guys are the worst. And if they can get YOU to help them instead of Buffy or me, WELL! Get ready to play Popularity, Release 2.0, Mister.

[Xander] Okay. But they can get their own Twinkies. Hell! They can BRING the Twinkies!

[Buffy] That’s the spirit!

[Willow] WHERE?! …OH CRAP, BUFFY! DON’T USE THAT…It sounds different, from you.

 

–a ‘Use-Me-Now’ resource for teens, babysitters,

maybe parents:

So how IS a peanut butter and jelly sandwich like mindfulness meditation? “IT’S NOT!”   (…Cue awkward silence . . . ) 

Okay,  but we can imagine. Try this:

Image  

Peanut butter is sticky. So is attention. On purpose, we stick our attention to the thing that we focus on. Just like peanut butter sticks to a slice of bread. If we’re fascinated, it’s hard to scrape our attention off that fascinating thing. –Like getting to the next level of a computer game. If it’s a job we would rather avoid, we have to dig out LOTS of attention, to glob onto it, until we’re done. 

Jelly is floppy. So is relaxation. Ever seen jelly stand straight and tall? Me neither. Sometimes when we first wake up in the morning, we feel just like jelly, all relaxed and peaceful. If we want to get up and do stuff, we have to stretch and flex our muscles, just to un-jellify them.

So let’s say we have two slices of life. (LIFE?) Okay, bread then. Let’s start with bread. And we want to fill the space between those slices with two things: Peanut butter and jelly. It’s a no-brainer that we want good coverage. No big gaps.  So we spread the PB evenly and flop the jelly evenly. Also, we try to keep it on the bread, and not spill globs over the edges.  Same with meditation. Simple! Two slices of life, with a bit of time in between. (Time, space, whatever.) We just spread our sticky attention inside ‘right now’ and try to keep it from spilling over, to other times, besides now. Then we let our floppy relaxation spread itself, all over the same time  as our attention.  

There’s one other way to explain all this.  If you’ve read other stuff about meditation, like the book, Peaceful Piggy, you may have read about letting your breath just do what it ‘wants’ for a while.  For most people, the breath is the easiest thing to pay attention to, without ‘doing’ anything. It’s a way recognize that it’s only this time, only right now, that we’re paying attention to. 

While we’re busy paying attention, we don’t have to actually DO anything.  (WHAT?!) That’s right. Sure, it’s weird to think of paying attention to ‘nothing.’ So it’s not quite totally nothing.  That’s where the breath comes in, because it’s one of the things that our body ‘does’ all the time.  We don’t have to work at it. (Okay, other stuff too, but we’re keeping it polite, here.)  

Here’s where the magic of relaxation comes in.   Ever been so tired that you just HAD to do nothing?  Maybe it was a ‘good’ kind of tired because you played hard or got a big chore done?  That feeling is really close to what meditation feels like. 

‘Noticing’ is an even better word than attention. All we have to do is keep quiet and keep ‘noticing’ what our breath feels like doing, in each moment.  It changes a tiny bit, now and then. That’s got the sticky attention part going. What’s cool is that the floppy relaxation part kind of just spreads itself.  We just let it.

If we notice some particular tense muscle somewhere, hey, flop some jelly on that part — okay not literally. Just let that part relax, especially.  BUT: Just so we don’t fall asleep, we find the most comfortable-but-alert position we can. First time learning this, that might be sitting straight up. It might be in a chair or on a cushion, legs crossed or not. “Is there such a thing as TOO relaxed?”  Well, only in meditation.  If our PB & J sandwich has one whole jar of jelly in it, we won’t get to taste the normal-size layer of PB.

Same principle here: If we’re TOO relaxed, we can’t pay attention. We just fall asleep.  The opposite is kind of disgusting too:  A whole jar of peanut butter in your sandwich means you won’t get to taste the normal-size layer of jelly. (Same thing: If we work SO hard at paying attention, there’s NO WAY we can relax.)

‘Breath’ to the rescue. It’s totally enough, just to keep bringing our attention back to the breath. For sure, our attention will sometimes slop over a bit, to other times besides now (things that happened; things we have to do; things we worry will happen) kind of like a puppy that wants to run here and there to explore. We call our attention back gently and kindly, as we would that puppy.                        . . . Happy breathing!                      

Yours in health and development,

Ken McCallion, Registered, MA, CPsych Assoc

If you have questions or would like to see about an appointment, feel free to use the contact form, below.