Informational articles

Wakefield Brewster delivering a spoken word performance.

Calgary’s Poet Laureate, besides delivering a visceral spoken word performance, was open about sharing his struggles with addiction, mental health and relationships throughout his youth and as an adult with ADHD.  Though he is now many miles away in a better space, it was a potent reminder that early identification and support can make a huge difference in the trajectory of a life.

Wakefield Brewster delivering a spoken word performance.
Wakefield Brewster

This same message was clear throughout the documentary film “The Disruptors”, which followed five families with ADHD. Despite initial disbelief, misunderstandings and many trials, parents came to an important turn on the ADHD journey (though some sooner than others), aptly summed up by expert Dr. Russell Barkley, “Accept the child you have, and not the one you thought you wanted…and focus on the relationship.” Easier said than done, but not impossible and ultimately the best strategy. And though this film focused on ADHD, many of the same experiences resonated with families of children with Learning Disabilities.

Professional help in the shape of psychologists, therapists, literacy coaches, doctors and knowledgeable educators and agencies exist to make ADHD & LD journeys better ones. Some of that help was available through our information table hosts and our expert panel answering questions from the audience.

A special Thank You! to our table hosts:

CanLearnCADDACCalgary AcademyFoothills AcademyRundle AcademyAmicus RecreationSAITMount Royal University and St. Mary’s University.

Hope to see you next year!

A smiling father and son in sunglasses both sit on a yellow ATV, on a blue background. Image text says, "IPPs: Roadmap to Success"

A Roadmap to Success at School

Fall is upon us, school has started and it’s time to create IPP’s, aka IEPs (Individual Education Plans) and LSPs (Learning Support Plans). If your child has learning challenges, there should be one of these coming home soon.

What are IPPs?

IPPs (Individual Program Plans) are plans for success for children facing challenges at school. Like the GPS we use on our phones and in our cars, we enter our starting point and the destination, then our GPS shows us the best route to get to our destination.

IPPs are similar. You and your child’s teacher know what your child is currently capable of or their struggles. Together you determine the next best steps for your child’s educational goals.  Like a GPS, an IPP outlines a plan for the best educational route for your child. Instead of turns on street corners, an IPP has strategies that form the route or plan to help your child reach those goals.

When do IPPs arrive?

The earlier in the school year the IPP journey begins, the more it’s likely to lead to success. Remember that every month is equivalent to at least 10% of the school year.  If your school has not already initiated an IPP meeting, contact your child’s teacher to find out when you can expect it.  From the start, be clear that you and your child want to be part of the plan and supportive members of the IPP team.  If the IPP is not ready yet, ask if the teacher will use the year end IPP from your child’s last grade. That one should have lots of information about your child’s learning and it can be a great place to start a new IPP.

Communication is the key to all working relationships. Let the teacher know that you would like to communicate regularly every four to six weeks. You and the teacher can agree to meet in person or to communicate by e-mail. Try to make arrangements that suit both of you. After each meeting it’s a good idea to send a thank you note highlighting the points of discussion.  This way you have documentation of what was said at the meeting.  While it’s nice to meet in person, e-mail messages can also do the job.  As well they provide automatic documentation. School administrators and teachers can transfer over the course of the year.  By documenting all your communication, you won’t have to start from scratch every time there’s a change of staff.

To Whom do IPPs Belong?

Children’s IPPs belong to them!  The responsibility for IPPs belongs to the whole team, parents, teacher and the child.  But only one member of that team can do the learning – the child.  When children are included in the creation of their IPP they feel that they have a voice in their own learning.  Allowing them some say in the plan often leads to more ‘buy in’ on their part and more willingness to try out the strategies.  Listen to what your child thinks about their education. Knowing what is most important to them may provide you with some amazing insights!

Typically, it is the teacher who writes the IPP.  But it should reflect the input of the IPP team including the parents, the teacher and, wherever possible, the child. However, for children, attending an IPP meeting can be overwhelming.  Unless they really want to go, talk with them at home before the meeting and let them know you’ll share their ideas with their teacher.

Adults react differently in different situations; children do, too.  You and the teacher see your child in entirely different settings.  You see your child at home, at sports events, music lessons and with friends and other family.  The teacher sees your child in a classroom with other students, group activities and recess.  It’s incredibly valuable if you and the teacher can share your points of view, knowing that together your observations provide a broader view of your child’s abilities and needs.

Contents of an IPP

An IPP should tell you how your child is functioning now and how they should be functioning in the near future.  Like route finding on the GPS, there are often several ways to get to where a child needs to be at school.  The strategies the teacher implements are the routes they will follow as they move toward their goals.

Your child’s educational-psych assessment likely has a list of strategies specific to the success of your child.  From those strategies, the team can pick and choose those that are currently most relevant.  Choose the most important ones. Let your child experience success with those. Later, move to the next most important strategies.  This way the IPP won’t be overwhelming for your child, the teacher or you.  It will remain a dynamic, working document.

Once strategies are decided, the IPP should be clear about which professionals will implement them, when and how often they will occur.

IPPs are working documents!  They should change as your child’s skills change.  Once a goal is reached, it should be documented and a new goal set.  Don’t forget to celebrate these milestones with your child.  For children struggling with learning, each minor step is a major success.  Remember to let your child know that you are proud of their progress.

What if you think an IPP doesn’t match your child’s needs?

Once an IPP is created, it is signed by the teacher, you and, when possible, your child.  Your signature indicates that you agree with the contents.  But if you don’t agree with the IPP as it’s written, don’t sign it!  Instead write a note next to where your signature would be explaining why you can’t sign it.  If you and the teacher can’t work out the issue, it’s time to ask for a meeting with the principal and the resource teacher.  If there is still no solution, ask the principal to request support from area or district strategists or specialists.

Use it! Don’t lose it!

Lots of work goes into creating and maintaining an IPP.  It’s a tool you, your child and the teacher can use to keep goals in sight.  Don’t put it in a drawer and ignore it!

Share the IPP with your child in a way that they can process the information.  Be sure they know what goals they are working toward and what strategies will help them get there.  Occasionally, ask if they think the strategies are working for them, if they feel they’re making progress or if they feel the strategies need to be adjusted.  The more that children feel their IPPs are about their success, the more power they feel they have over their own learning.

Keep that working document working!

Regular reviews are important!

Remember that many strategies take time to work for children so reviews should probably be at intervals of several weeks. Sometimes strategies need to be changed to meet the changing needs and skills of your child. Reviews don’t have to be another in-person meeting; an email check-in is sometimes all that’s needed.  This way you can keep the IPP current.

An IPP is a plan for your child to get where they need to be at school just like your GPS gives you the route to get where you are going.  Your child is the driver; the only one who can do the actual learning.  You and the teacher are navigators and the co-pilots.  Working together you can use the IPP to plan the best route to your child’s success.

In conjunction with October Learning Disabilities & ADHD Awareness Month, the Network is hosting a special free event for parents and adults in the LD & ADHD community!

Get Your Free Ticket!

Featuring:

A POWERFUL PERFORMANCE

Candid of Calgary's Poet Laureate, Wakefield Brewster.
Wakefield Brewster

Wakefield is Calgary’s Poet Laureate and a Spoken Word Artist. “I have been an active Poet, Participant, Producer and Promoter in Canada’s Poetry and Spoken Word Communities since my very humble beginnings in Toronto in 1999.” Since 2006, Wakefield has made his home in Calgary where he “is an advocate for literacy and his vehicle is poetry.”

“I have taken Poetry hostage from the stage, kicking and screaming, and I have effectively wrestled it to the floor, where all of the People are standing—ALL of the People.”

If you have never experienced a performance by Wakefield, get ready to be electrified!

2022 ADHD HIT DOCUMENTARY FILM

The Disruptors (1.5 hrs)

“The Disruptors takes an immersive look at our approach to ADHD that debunks the most harmful myths, and examines the flip side of this trait that ultimately offers a revelatory understanding of the diagnosis, and real hope for millions of kids, families and adults with ADHD.”

A PANEL OF EXPERTS

After watching the film and a refreshment break, our panel of Calgary experts on LD & ADHD will discuss key themes and answer questions from the audience.

Dr. Gabrielle Wilcox, PsyD, NCSP, RPsych

Dr. Wilcox is an Associate Professor in the School and Applied Child Psychology at the Werklund School of Education at University of Calgary. She is also a member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute and the Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research and Education. Dr. Wilcox started her career as a school psychologist for challenging students with disabilities and then followed her interests into the field of clinical neuropsychology. Her current research focuses on improving our understanding of how to support student learning and preparation for post-school requirements. Specific areas of research which contribute to this include neuropsychology for intervention, mental health in schools, transition planning, and university-level instruction, especially in clinical reasoning.

Full Bio

Dr. Brent Macdonald, R.Psych. (AB, BC, PE, NS, NT)

As the lead psychologist of the Macdonald Psychology Group, Dr. Brent is a registered psychologist in Alberta, British Columbia, PEI, Nova Scotia, and the Northwest Territories and provides assessment and counselling services, both online and through onsite clinics, in all of these jurisdictions. He has over 20 years of experience working with individuals with a variety of complex learning profiles. He has taught at the junior and senior high level and was the assistant principal at an independent school for students with learning disabilities. Dr. Brent is a sessional instructor in the Departments of Psychology, Health, Community, & Education, and Continuing Education at Mount Royal University. He is also an adjunct assistant professor with the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary.

Full Bio


Andree Hodge

Andree is the Vice President and a founding member of Decoding Dyslexia Alberta, established in 2019. Decoding Dyslexia is a network of parent-led grassroots movements across North America focused on raising dyslexia awareness, while supporting and empowering families to advocate for their dyslexic children. As two of her three children have dyslexia, Andree understands and supports families as they struggle, like she did, especially in the early days of diagnosis. While trying desperately to find the appropriate support, understanding, and intervention needed for her children to succeed at school, she started researching online and now brings her knowledge to educators and families. Andree contributes regularly to her Dyslexia YYC FB page (since 2016) sharing the research she finds. She encourages parents to advocate fiercely for their children’s needs at school, and leveraging her own extensive experience, Andree’s goal is to help parents/caregivers navigate the school system and effectively seek out supports and interventions that are available.


Wakefield Brewster

Wakefield is 2022-2024 Calgary Poet Laureate, a long-time Spoken Word Artist, our event’s electrifying performer, but also an adult living with ADHD. That hasn’t stopped him as he has been known as one of Canada’s most popular and prolific Performance Poets and is 3-Time Calgary Poetry Slam Champion & Team Captain. He has spoken across Canada, in several States, and makes countless appearances on a regular basis. Wakefield is also a published poet, a member of the Canadian League Of Poets, the recipient of a number of honours, the owner of Wakeful Wellness, sits on various boards and is a community advocate for literacy, mental health and wellness.

Full Bio

INFORMATION BOOTHS

Browse the tables and speak to staff from Calgary LD/ADHD organizations, check out schools that specialize in LD/ADHD and learn about research opportunities you or your family could participate in.

Event Details:

Free To You:

  • Free tickets at EventBrite
  • Free parking at Telus Spark (Once you have registered for your free ticket(s), you will be sent a parking code to enter at the parking meter by the front entrance of Telus Spark)
  • Free snacks and refreshments

Click here for free tickets!

Come with your questions, enjoy the entertainment, learn from the panel and leave with answers!

As the summer winds down, a new school year will soon begin. How can families with children who have Learning Disabilities get off to a good start?

We all know that school can be tough for those with LD and their families. Reading, writing and math may not be some of your child’s strengths. Now is the time to reflect on last year’s experiences and approach the new school year with success as the goal.

As you have likely discovered, not all children connect with every teacher or every environment, just as we as adults don’t connect with everything that crosses our path. But we can still find ways to help make the year a positive experience.

Practicalities: Mapping The School

Is it possible to tour the school before classes begin? This can be especially helpful if your child is moving to a new school. However, a quick review for those returning to the same school but a different homeroom can also be very helpful to calm anxieties about the new school year.

  • Where are their classrooms or homeroom relative to the school entrance that they will be using?
  • Are there multiple entrances/exits?
  • Where are the washrooms located?
  • Where are the library, gym and lunch areas or cafeteria, if applicable?
  • Can a staff member map out the best routes for how to get to classes throughout the day if classes are on multiple levels or wings?
  • If the school is large, can you get a floor plan to draw on? Code it with colours or symbols, take a picture for handy reference.

All About Lockers

Not just for junior or senior high anymore, some elementary schools now have lockers for older students, too.

  • If your child will be dealing with a locker, where will it be relative to their class or homeroom?
  • How do locks work?
  • Can they bring their own lock or will one be assigned by the school? If assigned by the school, can it have a combination that is easy for your child to remember?
  • How does your child learn to keep their locker organized? (Avoid the Locker Landfill Syndrome: Making a Tidy Locker Work for You)

Choosing Your Child’s Class

Can you have input into whose class your child is in? Especially during the early grades, many principals are open to chatting with you about classroom options. If possible, arrange to talk with the principal before school starts and classroom lists are finalized. Listen carefully to how they describe the various teachers’ instructional styles and classroom settings.

  • Is it a split grade class?
  • Does this teacher have a lot of experience working with complex learners?
  • Whose personality and teaching style would be the best fit for your child?
  • Are there other children in the class that your child knows or works well with? Remember that requests should be based on what is best for your child and not simply who a favorite teacher might be or what class your child’s best friend will be in.

As your child enters middle or high school, there are often fewer teacher choices that a parent can help to make, but we can still have a positive impact on how the year can go.

When Can You Meet With The Teacher?

Many schools offer a Meet the Teacher night in early or mid September and it is a perfect opportunity to introduce yourself to your child’s teachers. If it happens before classes start, even better.

  • What are each teacher’s expectations with respect to assignments, testing and grading? Listen and consider how the teacher’s approach is going to fit with your child.
  • Can you ask for a private meeting? This is the best way to share information and help the teacher understand how your child learns and some of the challenges that they have.
  • How can you best reach the teacher throughout the year? Email? Zoom? By appointment only?

Respect the response times that teachers outline. Many teachers are involved with afterschool activities and programs, (and have a life of their own in the evenings!) so a 24 or 48-hour response window may or may not be reasonable. If you have a concern that needs a quick response, be clear about that when you leave a message. Better yet, if you are seeing signs of an escalating problem, don’t wait until it blows up into a major concern. Share it in a timely manner so that it can be addressed before it becomes a huge issue.

Until Next Time

Take advantage of EVERY opportunity to meet with the teacher.

  • Attend the parent/teacher meetings following each report card or progress sharing event.
  • Be prepared with a list of questions and concerns, and deal with big concerns first.
  • Ask for a second meeting if needed. Teachers have a set time for each meeting in order to meet with all the parents. It’s important to respect the time block that you have, just as you would like others to, so a second meeting may be necessary.
  • If concerns arise between reporting times, don’t hesitate to schedule a meeting. The sooner issues can be addressed, the better it is for all.

Teachers as Partners

In terms of sharing information, and for the year to be successful, parents and teachers need to work as partners. Teachers see your child in a classroom setting. You see them at home. Often the two environments reflect very different behaviours. The teacher may see a child that sits quietly in class, who appears to be busy but struggles with new material. You may see a child that regularly comes home in tears, is overwhelmed with work that needs to be completed and does not want to go to school on Monday mornings. This is important information to share so that parents and teachers have a complete picture of what is happening.

Your Unique Home Dynamics

My experience was that the more I could share with the teachers about what I was seeing at home, the better we could work together as a team to support my child’s success. Any number of factors that involve strong emotions or changes to daily routines can divert a child’s focus away from school. Consider sharing information that could impact learning such as:

  • A parent that travels a lot for work
  • Aging grandparents that are ill
  • Other siblings with significant needs such as babies or ones with physical disabilities
  • Your child starting new sports programs or lessons
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Getting or losing a pet
  • Parents getting separated, divorced, married or becoming a blended family

What About IPPs?

A document that details the accommodations that your child will receive in class because of their LD is called an Individual Program Plan (IPP), Individual Education Plan (IEP) or a Learning Support Plan (LSP) depending on the school division you are with in Alberta. Pay attention to those IPPs as they can have a major impact on your child’s learning experience.

  • How soon after school starts will IPPs be developed?
  • At what point can you contribute to the process?
  • How often are they reviewed?
  • How old does your child need to be before they can participate too?

As your child matures, they should be an important voice in IPP development as they need to know what strategies and accommodations they are supposed to receive, but also to identify which ones they are likely to cooperate with. As they come to understand their IPPs, they will learn to advocate for themselves and ask for the supports that they require and are entitled to. This doesn’t happen overnight, or even within a single year of school. It’s a building process over a number of years that needs to be nurtured and practiced.

Will All This Effort Really Make A Difference?

Absolutely! Our kids with LDs can go on to be successful post-secondary students and adults, as I know from personal experience, and our partnership with teachers through their school years is a critical factor in making those college and university goals a reality.

About the Author:

Lorrie Goegan, B.A., B. Ed, Cert Sp. Ed., is a longtime parent mentor and a past speaker at numerous provincial and national LD conferences. She is also the parent of an adult daughter with LD.

PEERS Social Intervention

The Strengths in ADHD Research Lab at the University of Calgary is pleased to offer a FREE intervention program to youth with ADHD and their families in the Calgary area.

The Program for the Education and Enrichment of Social Skills (PEERS) for Adolescents

PEERS is an evidence-based and empirically-supported interventions program designed to help motivated teens learn how to make and keep friends. Teens are taught and shown important social skills, and are given the opportunity to practice these skills during socialization activities. While teens are in their own session, parents/caregivers have their own facilitated sessions where they learn how to assist their teen by expanding their social network and providing feedback through coaching during weekly socialization homework assignments.

The program is designed for adolescents ages 13-18 (PEERS) with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder who are themselves motivated and interested to participate. Involvement includes parent/caregiver and teen attendance at all sessions. Each session is 1.5 hours and is held weekly at the University of Calgary.

The Strengths in ADHD Research Lab offers PEERS on a NO COST BASIS as it is a part of a research study. In order to participate in PEERS, both teens and parents must be willing to participate in research by completing surveys at pre-intervention, post-intervention, and at a 6-month follow up.

Overview

  • PEERS for adolescents is an evidence-based social skills intervention for motivated teens in middle and high school who are interested in making and keeping friends and or handling conflict and rejection.
  • Teens and parents attend 14 weekly group sessions for 90 minutes per week.
  • Teens are taught social skills through didactic lessons and role-play demonstrations, and practice these skills during group socialization activities.
  • Parents attend separate sessions simultaneously and are taught how to assist their teens in making and keeping friends.
  • Teen and parent research participation is required to participate in the intervention.

Teens will learn about:

  • Developing and maintaining friendships
  • Conversation skills
  • Entering and exiting conversations
  • Electronic communication
  • Using humor appropriately
  • Organizing get togethers
  • Being a good sport
  • Handling disagreements
  • Changing a bad reputation
  • Handling teasing and bullying

Application

Participant requirements:

  • Teens must have a diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Teens must be 13-18 years of age
  • Teens must have friendship problems
  • Teens must be interested in attending the program voluntarily
  • Parents must be willing to participate

** PEERS is being conducted as part of a research study; thus, to participate all participants must be willing to participate in research (e.g., completing questionnaires).

The Conjoint Faculties Research Ethics Board (CFREB), University of Calgary has reviewed and approved the research. The CFREB is constituted and operates in accordance with the current version of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS). Ethics ID: REB21-1355

How can I apply to participate?

Please contact: adhdkids@ucalgary.ca

Dates and Location:

Start date: September 14, 2022

Duration: 14 weeks, ends December 14, 2022

Planned Terms: Wednesday evenings from 6:30 – 8 pm.

Location: PEERS groups will take place at the University of Calgary in the Education Tower.

Kristen is a Doctoral Student in School and Applied Child Psychology at the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary and practices as a Student Clinician at CanLearn Society.

“Having LD should never define who they are.”

School can be very challenging for a child with LD so, come summer, look for opportunities that allow your child to explore and shine in other areas.

New Activities

Take advantage of those warm, sunny days to spend time outdoors. Does your child love to play basketball or ride a bike? Now is the time to develop those skills, either through formal programs or simply as a family or with friends. This is a perfect time to introduce new activities that haven’t been tried yet… such as learning to swim, kayaking or golf. It’s so important that kids with LD have the opportunity to discover the strengths that they have.

This is also a perfect time to take advantage of the pathways and trails that exist in many neighbourhoods as well as exploring interesting nearby communities. Lots of information can be found online that provide families with suggested walking or biking routes and other excursions. With high gas prices this summer, finding a favourite new nearby park or ice cream shop is a cost conscious way to enjoy a day outdoors. Letting your child plan the trip or create a map for the outing builds important skills as well as confidence.

Also, watch for local festivals and special events at galleries, libraries, community centres, etc. to further expand your children’s opportunities to develop new interests and skills. Not everything activity has to cost money.

Getting out and about is also a good way to combat some of the emotional stress that your child may have been experiencing this past school year. School can be very stressful, especially for our children with special needs, and time spent reconnecting to nature is so important.

Reconnect

So is reconnecting with family and friends. Friendships can often be particularly challenging for children with LD and COVID has created further barriers to those social interaction opportunities. With things reopening again and restrictions being lifted, this is a great time to have your child reconnect with friends they haven’t been able to spent time with during the pandemic.

More Ideas

Do you have a future scientist or astronomer in your family? The back yard is a great spot for some of those messy science experiments that kids love so much. The library or online sites can provide lots of ideas for experiments. And, star gazing at night may inspire a curiosity about the wider universe.

Outdoors is also the perfect venue for a variety of craft projects. Dollar stores and local craft stores have lots of reasonably priced materials for a budding sculptor, wood or paper project builder or Picasso. Water based paints are a safer choice than acrylics or oils, making for easy clean up after a project is done. Kids can simply experiment with the materials or follow along on youtube demos. And, crafting “plein air” means that the paints and other materials dry quickly.

What about starting a garden? Even those in condos can grow pots of plants or vegetables. There are a variety of seeds available at many local stores or you can stop by a garden centre that is now clearing out this year’s stock. We always look for brightly coloured flowers or plants such as strawberries or tomatoes that offer a quick, and often repeated, harvest.

Growing vegetables or fruits can also lead to learning to cook or bake, both important…and fun!… life skills. Following recipe instructions reinforces reading and math measurement skills without it seeming to be work. Best of all, there is the reward of something delicious to enjoy at the end.

Reading, too

And, in our family, reading skills are not ignored over the summer. Even though reading may be a real challenge for your child with LD, it is a skill that needs to be maintained…even while on vacation. During this time away from school where there was often a more structured reading program or book selection, focus on what your child would like to read. Re-reading an old familiar book that they enjoyed or sharing potential new favourites as a family read-aloud activity can bring new enjoyment to the reading process.

Summer definitely is not a time to simply survive before school resumes. Instead, you can make it a time to try a whole host of interesting activities while creating new family memories and, in the process, a lot of added confidence in your child with LD.

About the Author:

Lorrie Goegan, B.A., B. Ed, Cert Sp. Ed., is a longtime parent mentor and a past speaker at numerous provincial and national LD conferences. She is also the parent of an adult daughter with LD.