Informational articles

a hand holding a transparent brain on a dark sparkly background

It’s Not Just Autism

The term neurodiversity has increased in popularity in recent years and is frequently seen on the internet, especially on social media. Neurodiversity, or being “neurodiverse,” is used to describe autistic individuals or autistic behaviours. While autism is one type of neurodiversity, it is not the only type. Judy Singer, an autistic woman, created the term neurodiversity to describe how people experience and engage with the world differently due to brain differences. This includes people with ADHD and learning disabilities (LD), as well as autism and other neurodevelopmental differences like Tourette’s.

One of the reasons she coined this term was to celebrate individual differences and to encourage broader society to acknowledge how we all benefit from the unique perspectives of neurodivergent individuals. The concept of biodiversity, the diversity of all animals and living organisms on earth influenced her in this. Neurodiversity recognizes the similar importance of different types of brains for a thriving human society.

Neurodiversity includes everyone. The idea is not another category to divide people but a way to encourage inclusivity. Individuals with neurodevelopmental disabilities such as ADHD, LD, or autism have differences in their brain functioning that make it difficult to access certain aspects of society. This can make them feel excluded and unvalued. In contrast, neurodiversity highlights the importance of including these individuals as equal, valued members of society. Doing things differently than the current norm is not necessarily bad.


It’s Not A Flaw

Research supports that neurodiverse individuals’ brains function differently; however, neurodiversity is not a medical term or a diagnosis. It is a social term. The neurodiversity movement has helped to shift to a more balanced view of neurodevelopmental differences that highlights both strengths and difficulties of neurodiverse people. We especially appreciated the description by Aiyana Balin, an autism care professional and disability rights advocate, that the neurodiversity movement does not deny that these disorders are disabilities in our current society, but it does combat the view that they are flaws or something that diminishes their value or personhood.

It is about understanding differences in patterns of strengths and difficulties that neurodivergent individuals experience. We can use this perspective to encourage a more flexible approach to supporting neurodivergent people. Individual differences play an important role in a thriving society, making it essential to include and welcome diverse individuals. If everyone is expected to think and act in the same way, we limit creativity and miss opportunities for growth and perspectives that may help us to find innovative solutions to problems.


It’s More Than Just Challenges

When someone is diagnosed with ADHD or learning disabilities, we often focus on the challenges they experienced. This makes sense because individuals typically seek out information or receive an ADHD and/or LD diagnosis because challenges have interfered with their ability meeting their goals. Understanding these challenges is an important aspect in determining supports, but focusing only on the difficulties can leave us with an overly negative view of ADHD and learning disabilities that can negatively affect people with these disabilities. Taking a neurodiverse approach allows psychologists, teachers, parents, and the individual themselves to simultaneously support their needs and celebrate their strengths. Additionally, a neurodiverse perspective can help challenge stigmas about ADHD and LD. Celebrating neurodiversity does not downplay the challenges they face, but it provides a more balanced view.


It’s Got Positives

Unfortunately, it can be hard to find information about specific strengths in those with ADHD and LD. A small study by Sedgwick and colleagues interviewed adult males with ADHD to understand common positive aspects of ADHD. These adults with ADHD viewed their strengths as including adventurousness, energy, divergent thinking, and hyper-focus. The participants felt that having ADHD increased their creativity because it increased the number of ideas they had and helped them think “outside the box.” They explained that having ADHD also made it easier to take risks to try new experiences. While some individuals with ADHD will agree with these findings and see these strengths within themselves, others will not. This is only one small study so it can’t capture everyone’s experience. Just like most things, having ADHD is not a universal experience. It is complex with many possible combinations of strengths, symptoms, and behaviours. 

There is even less research focusing on strengths for those with learning disabilities, but one study examined character strengths of students with LD and demonstrated that those students exhibited love of learning, honesty, fairness, appreciating beauty, and excellence. Even though they are likely to struggle with specific aspects of learning, they also have strengths that can support their learning and to contribute to the broader classroom.

Because of limited research on the strengths of individuals with ADHD and LD, these positive characteristics are not often ignored. However, personal accounts can also focus attention on strengths and encourage a neurodiverse perspective of LD and ADHD. This can provide a more balanced view of brain differences and potentially reduce the stigma around having ADHD or LD. Philip Shultz, a Pulitzer Prize winning author, has a learning disability in reading (often referred to as dyslexia). In Shultz’s memoir “My Dyslexia” he explores his strengths and struggles with dyslexia and how it influenced him as a writer. Jessica McCabe, a popular ADHD YouTuber, created a video celebrating her 10 favourite things about having ADHD. She listed creativity, enthusiasm, spontaneity, and resiliency as some of the positive aspects of her ADHD. Thousands commented in agreement of these ADHD strengths and shared ADHD-related strengths of their own. Shultz and McCabe’s experiences are only two examples of how ADHD and LD brain differences can have positive effects. Neither of these individuals denied the challenges they faced because of their differences, but they also understood their strengths and how ADHD or LD shaped who they are.


It’s Just a Difference

Having brain differences, like LD, ADHD, or autism, is not a personal flaw or failure. Neurodiversity helps us to remember this by directing us to respect and value differences in brains as a vital part of our society. The next time you hear or read the term neurodiversity, remember that while it includes autistic individuals, it encompasses others including those with LD and ADHD. Neurodiversity empowers us to be proud of the uniqueness that we all contribute to our world.


East Indian Mom with long dark hair, a confused look on her face, shrugging her shoulders with her hands in the air. The title is Disability Coding in High School: What do I need to know?

What’s the right question? How does special needs coding work in Alberta schools, what can it do for your child with a Learning Disability or ADHD, and what do you need to know about high school graduation and transition to college or university?


Alberta Education Disability Codes

First, let’s talk about codes. Education disability codes are unique to Alberta (other provinces do not use this system and have other processes to determine eligibility for additional support). 54 is for a Learning Disability, 58 is for a medical disability, which can include ADHD but not always, and if your child happens to have both a LD and ADHD, they may be coded with a 59 for a Multiple Disability.  Codes are supposed to be applied to a student’s file by the school administration based on an assessment by a qualified professional such as a psychologist, psychiatrist or physician.  They can’t be applied based on a teacher’s reading or math assessment or because you as a parent want them to be; there must be a proper assessment.


Do I share the assessment?

Since the coding relies on an assessment, and if you paid for that assessment, you are able to decide whether or not to share it with the school. Sometimes, parents don’t agree with everything an assessment discovers because they have seen their child perform some behaviour that they didn’t perform for the examiner.  And it’s true, this is a snapshot and won’t capture every detail about your child’s functioning. But a well written assessment report also presents the findings in ranges to cover the possibility that there may typically be more (or less) than what your child accomplished during the testing sessions. This is also why some psychologists like to do classroom visits, interview the parents and teachers, and send surveys and behaviour rating scales to both since they have much more information and insight to offer.  

If you agree with most of what the report presents, share this important information with the school. Teachers are not mind-readers, and rather than experimenting to figure out what exactly is preventing your child from learning as easily as others, help them along by sharing the findings. The assessment report will detail what your child does well,  what they struggle with, how to help them and if their struggles are severe enough to qualify for the designation of a specific learning disability or ADHD.  Not sharing the results will mean your child will not get the support they need to succeed.


IPP Accommodations vs Modifications

Once the school applies the appropriate code, the next step is to create an Individual Program Plan (IPP) sometimes also called an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or a Learning Support Plan (LSP) depending on the school division you live in. Regardless of what it’s called, it’s a roadmap of how your child will be accommodated so they can learn more easily and show progress.  Let’s clarify what an accommodation versus a modification is, though. An accommodation means your child will meet regular curricular outcomes but perhaps the information is presented differently by the teacher or the child can use alternate methods of showing their learning. They might also use a screen reader if they have reading difficulties, speech-to-text software if their printing is problematic, or a behaviour chart with rewards, a wobbly stool instead of a chair, more frequent brain breaks, extra time on exams, a separate testing room, noise-cancelling headphones, etc. The important point is that they are learning the same information and skills as the other children in their class.  

A modification, on the other hand, is a significant change in what your child is allowed to learn because they are deemed not to have the capacity for it; they are NOT going to learn the same curricular outcomes.  This is the difference between learning your multiplication tables in another format, versus not learning them at all. If your child has a LD, they should only be getting accommodations, not modifications.


Are there benefits to coding?

Coding comes with services and supports. Firstly, it’s the classroom accommodations, but depending on the type and severity of your child’s difficulties, it could also include pull-out sessions for extra instruction, the services of an aide, speech-language or occupational therapy, assistive technology, special furniture, or even smaller classes with more targeted instruction specifically for LD students. These supports and services do depend on the capacity of the teacher and the school to provide them, but they can only provide them with a code and an IPP.  This is true whether your child is in Grade 4 or Grade 11.


Is Coding Really Necessary in High School?

Unfortunately, some parents have erroneously decided that having a code in high school is detrimental to their child’s current and future success. Since no parent would want to remove supports that help their child’s progression towards achieving a high school diploma and graduating (and their continuing journey to college or university), there are obviously some myths breathing life into this idea. Let’s unpack each one and see what is actually happening. 



  1. Having any kind of disability code will prevent admittance into post-secondary. False. The Alberta coding system is only for students in Kindergarten to Grade 12.  Post-secondaries don’t use codes at all.  So if your teen had a code in high school, it doesn’t transfer anywhere after they graduate.  If your young adult wants accommodations for their LD or ADHD after high school, they need to apply at their institution’s accessibility office and start the process from the beginning.  They need their assessment report to prove they have a learning difficulty or ADHD (though every institution has different requirements as to how current it needs to be so check their websites), and they can choose to show their IPP for past accommodations (or not), but codes mean nothing anymore.
  2. Coded students only get high school diplomas that don’t qualify for admittance to a post-secondary.  Nope.  An Alberta High School Diploma is based on required courses to be completed and credits earned, not whether the student was coded. However, earning a high school diploma isn’t an automatic guarantee of post-secondary acceptance either. Institutions have specific requirements for their programs and it’s certainly possible that your teen didn’t choose the correct courses. For example, the high school diploma only requires a 20-level Math (usually Grade 11) to graduate, but a post-secondary engineering program will require a 30-level Math for application.
  3. The Certificate of High School Achievement is the same thing as a High School Diploma. Big NO. The certificate requires fewer credits, and fewer courses of a far less academic nature to be completed (-2, -3, -4 courses).  This certificate is for students who really struggle in academic subjects and are steered towards more occupational type experiences.  However, this doesn’t mean that it’s a simple transition to technical programs like at SAIT, either.  You can check with a high school counsellor to determine if your teen is on their way to a Certificate or a Diploma.
  4. Students with disability codes are not allowed to take -1 courses.  Wrong. -1 courses are the most academic ones a high school can offer but that in no way precludes a student with a LD or ADHD from taking them.  However, if your teen was diagnosed in high school, rather than elementary or even junior high, they have probably struggled (quietly) for a long time and have missed developing strong academic skills along the way.  It will make a -1 course more challenging but not inaccessible. They could decide to get extra help through a school learning strategist, tutor or academic coach.  They could take fewer courses per semester to give them more time to learn the material and make it up with a summer course.  They could decide to take a -2 course to gain more basic skills and then move up into a -1 so they have the requirements needed for their post-secondary future.  This route will also extend their high school years to 4 but at least they will have a full high school diploma and a post-secondary future to pursue.
  5. They shouldn’t need codes, IPPs, accommodations or supports by high school anymore.  Not true.  A Learning Disability or ADHD are life-long conditions and how they impact your child will change as your child grows, matures and experiences life. High school will be full of new challenges and though their code might not change, their IPP, accommodations and supports should.  What worked well in elementary (having a scribe) may be unnecessary in middle school (now using speech-to-text software) but will require formal testing accommodations for Diploma exams in Grade 12. More importantly, this is an excellent time for your teen to gain skills in advocating for themselves which they will need to do in college or university.  Once they turn 18, they are now considered an adult and your role as a direct parental advocate in their education comes to an end. Your teen in high school will still need to learn as much as they can about how to manage their disability which is best done with guidance and support.

Ultimately, coding in high school can continue to be advantageous to your teen, so this is not really the issue.  Rather, it’s figuring out which course progression will lead to the desired graduation results, and which accommodations will best support those results for your teen’s future success.

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!



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!



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.”



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


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.