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We hope that this website supports your journey as you navigate the struggles related to LD and ADHD and build upon your strengths, in order to reach your full potential. Know that you are not alone, and we are here to help you along the way.

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Learn more about LDs and ADHD, and find helpful information and insights on the assessment, diagnosis and management of these learning and attention challenges. 

Self-Advocacy When You are a Newcomer

Canada has a long history of immigration. Millions of people worldwide have chosen, and continue to choose, Canada as their new home. In 2021, more than 8.3 million people, or almost one-quarter (23.0%) of the population, were, or had ever been, a landed immigrant or permanent resident in Canada, according to Statistics Canada. 

Moving to a new country is a challenging step in one’s life, regardless of your background or reasons for the move. Leaving behind everything familiar and adjusting to a new place, people, and society can be daunting. However, you are not alone in this journey. Your resilience and determination will guide you through these challenges. 


In the Beginning

In the early stages of settlement, we focus on fulfilling our primary needs and navigating a new system to find a job or education, depending on the case. Families with children must also learn about the local education system, how to enrol their children and the range and limits of teacher responsibilities. 

If your child has been diagnosed with a learning disability before coming to Canada, rest assured that support is available for you and your family. However, you must be proactive in sharing the diagnosis and participating in the support process, as resources are not always centralized. Nonetheless, numerous resources are available to support you and your child, and we are here to guide you in accessing them. 

Landed immigrants with higher levels of education and language skills generally do not face significant challenges in supporting themselves and their family members in their journey of self-advocating for learning disabilities. However, numerous barriers impact other newcomer families when navigating the system to find services and resources related to learning disabilities. 


What is a Learning Disability?

“Learning Disabilities refer to a number of disorders that may affect the acquisition, organization, retention, understanding, or use of verbal or nonverbal information. These disorders affect learning in individuals who otherwise demonstrate at least average abilities essential for thinking and reasoning. Learning disabilities are distinct from global intellectual deficiency” (Learning Disabilities Association of Canada). This means that a child is able to learn quite well – they are not ‘disabled’ from learning – though their brains process information differently enough that they often encounter difficulties in school settings.


Alberta Family Resource Networks

A good starting point for newcomer parents of young children living in Alberta is to connect with the Family Resource Networks (FRN), which deliver prevention and early intervention services and support for children and youth aged 0 to 18 and their families. Services are offered in-person and virtually to communities across Alberta. In addition to onsite programs, home visitation programs support literacy and the healthy development of young children, and they can come to you at your place. These programs usually have screening tools such as ASQ: The Ages & Stages Questionnaire, a developmental screening tool that pinpoints developmental progress in children between one month and 5 ½ years. Depending on the provider, first language support is also available through program staff or qualified interpreters. 


Community Health Centers

If family programs are not an option for you, connecting to the Community Health Centre in your area is essential. As a parent, you know best about your child, so don’t hesitate to share any concerns and ask as many questions as you need. Interpretation is readily available through Alberta Health Services

Once health staff have assessed the need for a screening, you will be referred to the appropriate health care provider. Be aware of the wait times, which can take several months. Please be patient but remember that you might need to seek help from various sources in this process. You are the advocate for your child, and even though you will find many people to support your journey, you are the one in charge. Your advocacy is crucial in ensuring your child’s needs are met, and we believe in your courage and ability. You lead, we follow.  


Settlement Agencies

As a newcomer, you can access support through settlement agencies, where counselors can assist in completing documents and forms, and can also refer you to community programs, including family counseling. 


We Can’t Wait for an Assessment!

There are instances when family doctors prefer to wait to refer for further assessments. Early intervention is crucial, and you don’t have to wait until your child starts school. You can ask for a second opinion from another doctor, seek advice from a community resource agency or see a private psychologist. Psychology fees can be claimed through workplace benefits plans and your income tax.

Depending on the final diagnosis, you might need to see different kinds of specialists, such as behavioral therapists, speech therapists, learning strategists, psychologists, and so on. You can also access support from a social worker depending on your family’s needs. 


My Child Doesn’t Need a Label

It’s important to note that awareness and perception of learning disabilities vary between societies and are sometimes not widely acknowledged. Due to cultural pressure, some people may choose isolation and denial, and consciously avoid seeking services or diagnosis because they fear their children will be labeled. It’s crucial to remember that if your child has a learning disability, it simply means that their learning process is different, and they need support for learning. In fact, without a diagnosis, they will not be eligible to receive supports at school. Your child with a learning disability is capable and can be as successful as they want to be but they will need your support and advocacy. 

If your child is a preschooler and has been diagnosed, their learning needs can be addressed through special programming at a preschool center. School-aged children can access intervention, accommodations and special programming through the school boards. It’s important to work closely with the educational institution to support your child’s educational journey. Your involvement is key to their success. Your advocacy is crucial to achieving their life goals.


About the Author

Luz Buritica is the Coordinator of Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) at the  Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association (CIWA). Originally an engineer in Colombia, she joined the HIPPY program as a Mom a year after arriving in Canada. The program had a positive impact on her life, helping her daughter develop cognitive skills through simple and enjoyable activities. After two years as a HIPPY mother, Luz became a Home Visitor, supporting and empowering other families. Her experience led her to become a team leader and take on the coordinator position in 2015.

CIWA supports immigrant and refugee women, girls and their families. They offer more than 50 programs that can support individuals with settlement needs, language and employment training, family matters, seniors’ services, career and entrepreneurship, and mental health.

Self-advocacy is a term that is used quite often within the context of learning disabilities and ADHD. Generally speaking, self-advocacy refers to the ability to know what you may need in a particular situation and the ability to ask for what you need in that moment. With both learning disabilities and ADHD, knowing what you need may not always be obvious and knowing how to ask may be easier said than done. As an educational psychologist, part of my job is to help clients become more skilled and confident with knowing when and how to ask for what they need. An important aspect of self-advocacy is developing insight into your own strengths and challenges, which can be learned through the psychoeducational assessment process. 


How Assessments Help with Self-Advocacy

Psychoeducational assessments can serve a variety of purposes. They can provide a profile of the individual’s learning strengths and challenges, identify any learning disabilities or other barriers to learning, and clarify what strategies or programming the individual may benefit from. As an educational psychologist, I have observed how the knowledge that is gained from a psychoeducational assessment can empower my clients to advocate for themselves at school, work, in the community and in their personal relationships. 

An assessment provides a diagnosis or explanation as to why an individual struggles with learning or managing aspects of their life, which can empower the individual to ask for what they need to be successful. However, it is important to note that self-advocacy not only requires knowing your diagnosis, but it is also important to have a firm understanding of how your diagnosis impacts you in daily life. For example, ADHD can cause stress for some people in social settings if they struggle with impulsivity (e.g., interrupting during conversations). When I deliver assessment results to my clients, I also provide information about the diagnosis, how we currently understand it through research, and generally what types of strategies and supports have helped others with the same diagnosis. 

When you receive any diagnosis from any medical practitioner, you should be allowed to ask questions about the diagnosis, how it impacts you now, how it may impact you in the future, and what resources and supports are available to you. Sometimes, there is not enough time at one appointment to discuss assessment results and next steps for supporting you or your child, so ask the practitioner if you can meet with them again in the near future with any additional questions you may have. 


Disclosing the Diagnosis and Asking for Supports

Another important topic that I discuss with my clients after providing them with assessment results is issues related to disclosing the diagnosis to others. Learning how and when to disclose your diagnosis is an important part of self-advocacy. It allows you to take control of your personal information and how it will be used to access supports and accommodations at school and work. 

Because each client has their own unique background, I discuss the pros and cons of disclosing their diagnosis in various settings specific to them, such as school versus work versus with family members. When you complete an assessment with your practitioner be sure to have a discussion with them about disclosing your diagnosis to others and how that may impact you. For example, ask your practitioner how disclosing your diagnosis at work may be beneficial for receiving certain accommodations (e.g., speech-to-text programs). Being thoughtful about how and when you disclose your diagnosis is critical for self-advocacy. 


Having Realistic Expectations for Self-Advocacy

When I work with families, I often discuss the importance of parents helping their children to develop self-advocacy skills as they mature. However, I also point out that self-advocacy is not easy for most of us, and it can be even more difficult for youth who have difficulties with executive functioning. Learning disabilities and ADHD often involve challenges with self-monitoring, planning and thinking about future outcomes. It is important that parents also understand that their child may not always know when they need to advocate for themselves or how to do so. 

Having a balanced approach with youth who are still developing their executive functioning skills is important. Parents and teachers can help youth to gain confidence to ask for what they need, but also provide support and guidance at times when youth struggle to know what they need and how to ask for it. For example, a parent or teacher may notice that a student is struggling to stay focused on their schoolwork. They could ask the student, “I’ve noticed that you might be having some difficulty staying focused right now, what do you think would be helpful for you?” and in this way, help to remind them of existing strategies they can choose from. This balanced approach becomes particularly important in high school as academic demands increase along with expectations for increased independence. 


Self-Advocacy is a Life-Long Process

For children and adults with learning disabilities and/or ADHD, self-advocacy is a life-long process. Receiving a diagnosis is only the beginning of the journey. Self-advocacy is how you use the diagnosis throughout your life to access supports, accommodations and resources so that you can experience success and a good quality of life. For parents, this may mean frequent communication with their child’s teachers to ensure that classroom strategies and supports are put in place. For adults, this may mean asking for access to a particular technology that will allow you to complete your work duties more accurately and efficiently. As you grow and learn more about how a diagnosis impacts you, your ability to self-advocate will strengthen and contribute to more positive outcomes in your life.  


About the author: Krista Forand, M.Ed., Registered Psychologist, of Compass Psychology, practices in Calgary and is a member of the Network’s Supports for Adults Action Team.  “Krista’s training and experience have primarily focused on working with youth and adults who, due to challenges with learning, attention, and social skills, have had difficulty achieving their potential. As a psychologist, she provides thoughtful and comprehensive psychoeducational assessments including learning assessments. This helps clients understand how they learn, process information and how they can help themselves achieve their goals.”

Did you have accommodations in high school?

Extra time on tests, a quiet testing space, extensions on assignments, or the use of assistive technology like speech-to-text software or a screen reader, are typical accommodations in high school classrooms. You may have had teachers who were understanding and supportive of your challenges with disabilities, whether physical or invisible like ADHD, Learning Disabilities or anxiety, and accommodated to varying degrees. However, it’s likely that the entire process of asking for and receiving those accommodations, which culminate in a formal, signed Individual Program Plan (IPP, IEP or LSP depending on your school board), was accomplished solely by your parents and teachers through rounds of calls, emails and meetings, with little input from you. 


That is not how it works in post-secondary.

Accessing academic accommodations and support at the post-secondary level is significantly different to the way in which you received academic accommodations and support in high school. One of the key differences is that in the post-secondary landscape, the student plays a key role as a self-advocate. The student, not the parent, has the responsibility to initiate and be involved in the academic accommodation process. Many high school students with disabilities can feel especially overwhelmed by both the transition to post-secondary itself, as well as to their new role as a self-advocate. This sudden transition from being just a recipient of accommodations to now orchestrating them, can be both challenging and stressful.


What is the Duty to Accommodate?

In the post-secondary environment, increased independence and privileges are balanced by increased personal and academic responsibilities. The provincial legislation that establishes the Duty to Accommodate on the post-secondary institution includes a whole array of rights and responsibilities held by all the key stakeholders, including the students themselves. In some ways, accessing accommodations and supports at the post-secondary level is easier, and the range of ways to reduce learning barriers, more comprehensive and consistent than in high school simply because the legislation governing the processes is different. But it all begins with you, the student, being confident enough to start that ball rolling.


What do I need to say?

Consider how comfortable you are with the following skills:

  • contacting the accessibility office either by phone, email or in-person
  • meeting with an accessibility advisor
  • discussing the impact of your disability
  • describing which accommodations best support your learning
  • approaching an instructor or professor to discuss your accommodations
  • explaining accommodations to group members on collaborative projects
  • advocating for yourself when difficulties arise


These communication skills are critical to your success as a student with a disability.  If you did not have the opportunity to develop or hone these in high school or in some other setting prior to transitioning to post-secondary, then you need to practice them. Work with your parents or friends to role-play through various scenarios. Perhaps the guidance counsellor, learning support staff or one of your teachers at high school will set aside some time to work with you. Reach out to academic or self-advocacy coaches for practice sessions.

Become comfortable with talking about what you need to be a successful student.  You have the right to accommodations, you have the responsibility to ensure them.


About the Author:  Dr. Ana Pardo is passionate about empowering high school students with disabilities to advocate for themselves at the post-secondary level. She is the head of Academic Accommodation Advising – Bridge the Gap and has spent the last thirty-five years of her career examining disability, diversity and equity issues. Most recently, she has been the Director of Access and Inclusion Services at Mount Royal University and was previously the Director of Accessibility Services at the University of Calgary.

About The Learning Disability
& ADHD Network

The Learning Disabilities and ADHD Network is a collaborative of a broad group of organizations and individuals in Calgary, which is operated through Foothills Academy Society.

Members of this long-standing Network regularly present at conferences, provide workshops and courses, undertake research projects in the field, collaborate with each other on various initiatives, and jointly create content for the website. Most importantly, 

we are people whose lives have been touched by Learning Disabilities & ADHD, and whose life’s work it has been to support individuals with learning and attention challenges.

Disclaimer: The Learning Disabilities & ADHD Network does not support, endorse or recommend any specific method, treatment, product, remedial centre, program, or service provider for people with Learning Disabilities or ADHD. It does, however, endeavour to provide impartial and, to the best of our knowledge, factual information for persons with Learning Disabilities and/or ADHD.