Learning Disability & ADHD Management

For parents seeking help for your child who may be struggling with learning and/or attention issues, we guide you through the process to work in partnership with schools and other professionals to support your child.

Early Identification & Intervention

Indications that children are struggling with learning, attention, or behavioural issues may be noticed by families and others during your child’s early years, when children are 3-5 years old.

Research indicates that early identification and intervention can make a big difference in learning and behavioural outcomes, particularly for a child who may have more severe learning, attention, or behaviour issues.

The trick is to determine if the characteristics you are observing are typical for a child at that developmental age or if they are behind their peers in certain milestones, and how severe that delay may be.

The first thing to do is to share your observations with your family doctor or pediatrician.

Management of Learning Disability

Identification

Screening: Check to see if your school district has a screening process in place to identify students during their kindergarten year who may be behind their age peers in developmental milestones.

CBE Early Years Assessment Pamphlet: The Early Years Assessment – Teacher Assessment (EYE-TA)

Information from this Early Years Assessment is often used to identify children who may be having difficulty and who may need further support or evaluation. It is used in the Calgary Board of Education schools to assess kindergarten students’ development in the following areas:

  • Awareness of Self and Environment: A Child’s understanding of the world and his or her ability to make connections with home and community experiences.
  • Social Skills: a child’s ability to interact positively with peers and follow classroom rules.
  • Approaches to Learning: a child’s attentiveness during classroom activities.
  • Cognitive Skills: a child’s basic math and pre-reading skills and his/her ability to solve problems.
  • Language & Communication: a child’s understanding of spoken language and his or her ability to express thoughts and feelings.
  • Physical Development:
    • Fine Motor Skills: a child’s ability to perform small movements that require hand-eye coordination.
    • Gross Motor Skills: a child’s ability to perform large movements that involve arms, legs, and body.

Here is some information about Early Childhood Services provided by the Alberta Government, school districts, and community agencies in Calgary.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) – Speech and Language

If you are concerned about speech or language issues, you can access a free language assessment through Alberta Health Services.

Alberta Government: Family Support for Children with Disabilities (FSCD)

The FSCD program works with eligible families to provide support and services based on each child and family’s needs.

Alberta Government: Early Childhood Services

Calgary Board of Education (CBE)’s Early Childhood Services (ECS)

CBE offers Early Development Centres. A child would require an AHS assessment to access the program.

Calgary Catholic School District’s Early Childhood Services (ECS) and Early Childhood Special Education

The Calgary Catholic School District is committed to the planning and delivery of high quality special education supports and services that will allow individual children with special education needs to maximize their learning and achievement within an optimal learning environment. In this context special education refers to the education of children with mild, moderate, or severe disabilities/delays and/or those who are gifted and talented as determined by Alberta Education’s Special Education Coding Criteria.

Struggling at School

If you think your child is struggling with learning and/or attention issues, what should you do?

Here are some signs you may notice at home:

  • Struggles to complete homework assignments independently
  • Avoids school work at home and/or at school
  • Is easily upset when school or certain subjects are discussed
  • Uses negative self-talk, (i.e. “I’m stupid”, “Everyone is smarter than me”)
  • Worries about going to school
  • Is often sad on school nights
  • Has regular stomachaches and/or headaches

LD & ADHD Potential Indicators Chart

The LD & ADHD Potential Indicators Chart provides information about Potential Indicators, or Red Flags, at different grade levels, for both LD & ADHD. You and your child’s teacher may be noticing these red flags in different settings and tasks. These difficulties may be reflected in the classroom, work and homework assignments, assessments, and report card marks and comments.

Talk to your pediatrician or family physician to rule out any underlying health issues. Explain your observations and the teacher’s observations and ask them to rule out any medical conditions that may be affecting your child’s learning. Ask about:

  • vision
  • hearing
  • poor sleep
  • food allergies, etc.

Build a connection with your child’s teacher from the start of every school year. When you have a concern, phone or email the teacher and ask for a meeting.

What could you ask at the meeting?

Some questions for the meeting with the child’s teacher:

  • My child appears to be struggling with _______.  Is this age/grade appropriate?
  • How can you support them to get better at this?
  • How can I support them to get better at this?
  • How and when will we know that our support is working?
  • What resources do you have in class to support my child?
  • What resources do you have in the school to support my child?
  • What can I do at home to support my child?
  • Who else can we involve in this conversation if needed?
  • How often should we communicate?  Do you prefer email or phone calls?


Following the Meeting:

Send a ‘thank you’ note email after the meeting listing the concerns you discussed and outlining your understanding of the steps you and the teacher have agreed on. Teachers and administrative staff can change over the course of a school year, so this will provide a record of all your communication.

Here is a word doc version; Questions to Ask Your Child’s Teacher, that you can adapt, print, and bring with you when you meet with school staff.

Once you have shared your observations and issues that may be impacting your child’s learning, then together with the school identify the current challenges and make a plan to address them. Schedule specific review dates to check on progress every few weeks.

If a child struggles in an academic area, expect him or her to need support on an ongoing basis to catch up and maintain progress.

If progress does not occur as expected after a reasonable period of time, the next step is to meet with the school team to investigate the reasons why the child continues to struggle. This is the time to decide on the next steps to support your child.

School Supports and Diagnosis.Flow Chart gives you a visual of the process to get supports for your child in school.

You may want to supplement classroom support with  services in the community. Go to Find Help Children to get suggestions for how to find appropriate support services for your child or teen.

If you have a young adult you are concerned about, you may also want to go to Find Help Adults for suggestions.

If your child continues to have significant learning and/or attention issues after he has received targeted support and intervention, then a psycho-educational assessment may be an important next step in understanding your child’s learning profile.

Ask your school how they can support you if your child needs a psycho-educational assessment by a registered psychologist. If your school is unable to provide a timely psycho-educational assessment, you may want to pursue this independently.

The Psychological Association of Alberta (PAA) lists psychologists. Be sure to find a psychologist with expertise in doing a psycho-educational assessment. For more in-depth information about assessments and how to find a psychologist, go to About LDs & ADHD

Once the assessment is complete, be sure to meet with the assessment psychologist so that they can help you understand the results of the assessment. These assessments are in depth and contain a great deal of information. The information in a psycho-educational assessment usually provides strategies that can be followed at the school.

Make an appointment with your child’s teacher to go over the results of the assessment. This might be a good time to ask for the school administration to sit in on the meeting, as they often have access to further support.

Special Education Coding

Understanding the Diagnosis

If the assessment identifies a diagnosis, then it is important that you understand the diagnosis. The first step is to review the assessment report with the professional who assessed your child.

If your child is diagnosed with a Learning Disability, your first step is to review the psycho-educational assessment report closely with the educational psychologist and then the school. The report explains the diagnosis and any related challenges or conditions. It provides a detailed description of your child’s learning profile, including strengths and weaknesses. The recommendations in the report describe strategies to support your child at school and home, which is helpful information for both teachers and parents. Be sure to ask questions if you are unclear about anything in the report.

Physicians are often involved in diagnosing ADHD because it is considered a medical condition that can be treated with medication prescribed by physicians.

ADHD in children may also be diagnosed within the context of a psycho-educational assessment. People may decide to have a psycho-educational assessment to get a full learning profile and to determine if there are other learning difficulties that occur along with ADHD. It is common for individuals to have both a Learning Disability and ADHD.

If you choose to have a medical assessment by a physician and a psycho-educational assessment by an educational psychologists, then you will want to review the report with both professionals.

When a Student is Assigned a Code

Once parents have shared a child’s diagnosis with the school, the school district is required to inform Alberta Education of that diagnosis. Alberta Education sets regulations that school districts must follow to support diverse learners, including students with Learning Disabilities and ADHD. In order to access these supports, a code is assigned to your child based on the diagnosis.

Alberta Education – Special Education Coding: Children with a Learning Disability or ADHD may receive a Special Education Code 54, 58 or 59. This means that the child is eligible for an Individual Program Plan or a Learning Support Plan. These plans are a collaborative effort between a child’s teachers and parents, and are designed to target a child’s specific learning needs at school.

Learning Disabilities refer to disorders which may affect how people take in information, organize information, remember information, and how they understand information.

Different types of Learning Disabilities in kids include:

  • Oral language (e.g., listening, speaking, understanding);
  • Reading (e.g. decoding, phonetic knowledge, word recognition, comprehension);
  • Written language (e.g., spelling, written expression);
  • Mathematics (e.g., computation, problem solving).

Children with ADHD may be identified in this category because ADHD is a medical condition.

Students who have more than one diagnosis would qualify for this code. For example, if a student has both an LD and ADHD they may be identified in this category.

This code is for a more severe diagnosis that impacts a student’s learning to a greater degree. Some examples might be: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or a severe behaviour condition such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) or Conduct Disorder (CD)

Alberta Education Documents

Listed below are links to Alberta Education documents that you may want to review if you have a children with a Learning Disability and qualifies for individual program planning.

Alberta Education supports students, parents, teachers, and administrators from Early Childhood Services (ECS) through Grade 12.

Alberta Government – Standards for Special Education. The Standards for Special Education help ensure the education system meets the needs of all learners and that all learners have access to high quality education. Special Education requirements apply to Grades 1 to 12 in all public and separate school boards, excluding charter schools.

Unlocking Potential: Key Components of Programming for Students with Learning Disabilities

Why Share the Diagnosis with Your Child?

“Stupid, “lazy”, “dumb”. 

Those are labels, too and harmful to your child.  If your child hasn’t already heard these words from their peers (repeatedly), your child has likely thought of themselves in these negative ways.

As a parent, you should not worry that when your child learns they have a Learning Disability or ADHD, that they will feel different, less able, or less smart than their peers.  

Your child already feels different and less able and less smart because they are trying hard and not succeeding.  They are watching other children learn easily what seems difficult for them. 

So, having their Learning Disability or ADHD explained, will likely be a relief.

When a child (and a person of any age!) has an opportunity to understand how their unique brain processes information, learns, and remembers, it is like a mystery hidden deep within that is finally revealed to them.

When a child learns that there is a scientific reason for why some areas of ‘learning’ and ‘doing’ are challenging for them, they feel huge relief to discover that they are not ‘dumb’ or ‘just not trying hard enough’. They can separate the Learning Disability or ADHD from themselves and stop blaming themselves.

A psycho-eductional assessment also reveals where their natural strengths and aptitudes are. This can give them the confidence to adapt their approach to learning and to explore new areas of interest.

Psychologists make recommendations to families and school staff about specific strategies they can use to remediate or compensate for the student’s learning difficulties and also strategies that can be used to capitalize on their strengths. School staff, families, and students can use this information to develop an Individual Program Plan (Learner Support Plan). All of this information empowers the learner to take control of their own learning and be more likely to meet their potential.

Words used to discuss a Learning Disability with a younger student will be different than those used with an adolescent. Be sure to use words the student can understand and pronounce and have the student repeat it back to ensure understanding. Only give as much information as you believe the student can handle.

It does not all have to be discussed in one sitting but rather may come up spontaneously in response to situations that occur at home or at school. It will be a process for the child to understand his or her unique learning profile. For children who may struggle to accept their difficulties, professional counselling may need to be accessed.

Demystify the diagnosis by clarifying and correcting any misinformation (i.e., that they are “stupid”).

Emphasize strengths so that the weaknesses or challenges do not become the prime focus. Be sure to let the child know that they can learn, but may learn differently in some areas. When discussing strengths, give concrete examples and avoid false praise. When discussing weaknesses, provide a specific number to prevent the child from feeling overwhelmed.

Make it clear that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. It can be comforting for the child if parents and others discuss their own personal challenges and how they approached the challenges in a constructive way.

Provide this information in a positive and open way. Be sure your child knows that they have a support system available to help them succeed, and that they can ask questions about the diagnosis without fear of judgment.

After assisting your child to understand their disability, then your eventual goal is to help them advocate for themselves. This will be an ongoing process that will evolve as they mature and develop greater self-awareness. This is an important developmental process as once your child turns 18 and is considered an adult, they will be advocating for themselves at post-secondary and eventually with their employer. Here are a few suggestions for developing self-advocacy skills in your child or young adult.

Practice communication skills. This includes teaching about providing appropriate eye contact when speaking, how to ask for help, and how to be properly assertive in making a request.

No matter the age of the student, it is important that they can describe their disability in easy-to-understand language. For example, “I have slower processing speed, so I need more time to complete assignments, but I will get it done.”

Involve students in meetings with teachers and parents regarding the development of the students’ Individual Program Plan (Learner Support Plans), as well as for transition planning.

Parents and teachers should discuss with the student the strategies and accommodations that can be put into place for them and the reason for each. For example, “You can use the assistive technology, Text-To Speech, to help you read your social studies textbook.” Over time, students will have a good sense what strategies and accommodations work well for them and advocate for themselves.

For older students attending post-secondary education institutions, prepare them for meeting with the Disability/Accessibility Resource Centre. More information can be found at Adult Learning.

It is important not to downplay the fact that they will still likely experience frustration in their school or work environment from time to time. Reinforce to them that if they are feeling anxious, distressed or overwhelmed, to ask for help.

Help may be in the form of greater academic support, through the school or outside tutoring. Emotional support, such as counseling, may be needed at different times in their lives. If they develop the tools to cope with stressful situations, they will become more resilient. Resiliency means the ability to cope with challenges and stressful situations in one’s life.

Individual Program Plans (IPP)

After the Alberta Education has assigned a code to a student with a specific diagnosis, based on a psycho-educational assessment, then the school team will create an intervention document that supports that student’s specific learning needs. The interventions will be based on the recommendations in the assessment, the parents’ and teachers’ knowledge of the child, and the school’s available resources.

Three terms can be used to describe the intervention document at school but they all mean the same thing:

IPP – Individual Program Plan

IEP – Individual Education Plan

LSP – Learner Support Plan

  • Alberta Education uses IPP
  • Calgary Board of Education (CBE) uses IPP
  • Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) uses LSP
  • Rocky View School District uses IPP
  • Other school districts may use IEP

 
On this website, we will use the term ‘IPP’

An IPP is an intervention document the school develops which provides a plan for the supports available for a student.

An IPP document communicates:

  • The student’s current skill level.  This can be both academic and behavioural skills.
  • The intervention(s) planned to help the student improve that skill level.
  • The support planned to compensate while a skill level is developing.
  • The tools and a schedule for assessing whether the intervention is effective.

The Individualized Program Planning document by Alberta Education

  • Involve your child (depending on the their age). When students participate in creating their own goals, they are more likely to remain engaged. This develops self-advocacy skills and provides a sense of empowerment.
  • Goals need to be achievable and measurable.  Unrealistic goals lead to frustration and disappointment.
  • Parents are essential members of a student’s learning team. Parent suggestions and observations should inform the IPP.
  • The school will hold regular IPP reviews during the course of the year. However, any time you have questions about your child’s progress, you can schedule a meeting with the teacher.
  • Informed consent is a process in which the parents confirm that they understand and agree to an activity that is directly related to addressing a student’s special education needs.  Be sure you understand what the IPP is offering your child.
  • If you have concerns about an intervention, but you are willing for your child to give it a try, add your concerns with your signature and request a date for review. However, do not sign something you cannot agree with.
  • If something needs to be changed, discuss it with the teacher. If you cannot come to a reasonable agreement about the IPP, ask to have the school administration involved.
  • Occasionally, disagreements cannot be resolved in the school setting. In such a situation, go to your area or district supervisor for advice and support. If you remain concerned, you may have to contact Alberta Education. The process for this is described on page 14 of the Alberta Education document, Standards for Special Education.

As the IPP is being implemented throughout the year, you are working together with the school to support your child.

In Alberta the overarching approach in public schools is to support diverse learners within an ‘inclusive setting’. As well as this umbrella term, you will hear about various classroom approaches, strategies, accommodations, and interventions that might be used to support your child. We have provided descriptions of these approaches in School Support for Diverse Learners.

Keep in mind: Each child’s learning profile is unique and will evolve over time. During the course of his/her school career and in different classrooms and settings, the kinds of support and strategies used may be different.

In your role as your child’s advocate you will want to maintain a constructive partnership with your child’s teachers and schools. As your child matures, they will have greater awareness of the learning strategies that work best for them and will participate more actively during IPP meetings.

School Support for Diverse Learners

There are different kinds of support provided to neuro-diverse learners in the classroom. The type of supports may vary depending on the needs of the students, classroom approaches utilized by schools, school districts, and private schools – and also the age/grade levels of students. Described here are the approaches and strategies your children are most likely to receive in an Alberta classroom.

Inclusive Education

Inclusive setting/inclusion means your child will remain in their regular classroom but be supported by specially designed instruction and support.

“To support children and students in attaining the goals as stated in the Ministerial Order on Student Learning, school authorities must ensure that all children and students, regardless of race, religious belief, colour, gender, general identify, gender expression, physical disability, mental disability, family status or sexual orientation, or any other factor(s), have access to meaningful and relevant learning experiences that include appropriate instructional supports.”

For more information about Alberta’s Education’s policy on Inclusive Education, go to : https://www.alberta.ca/inclusive-education

Universal supports – incorporated in the environment for all learners, such as flexible learning resources and technologies, differentiated instruction and positive behavior supports.

Targeted strategies or interventions – for learners who need more specialized learning opportunities or access to more specialized expertise

Specialized/Individualized supports – that directly relate to individuals’ learning needs.

  • Instruction and support in a grade-level classroom
  • Individualized instruction in smaller groups
  • A specialized classroom or setting
  • One-on-one instruction
  • A combination of all of the above

Response to Intervention

Tier 3

Students lag 1 or more years behind peers and require intensive individualized intervention. 1-5% of students.

Tier 2

Students lag well behind their peers and require some form of additional intervention. Strategic intervention with smaller group of students is needed. 5-15% of students.

Tier 1

Students learn at roughly grade level or above. Classroom instruction is based on research-based strategies. 80-90% of students.

Tier 3

Tier 2

Tier 1

Response to Intervention

Provided are descriptions of some of the approaches that schools may use to support diverse learners in the classroom.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is based on three main principles:
1. Give learners different ways to learn information through multiple means of representation
2. Give learners different ways to demonstrate learning through multiple means of expression
3. Tap into learners’ motivation and interests through multiple means of engagement.”

Accommodations and supports are provided throughout the instruction so that all students are able to access learning through a variety of ways, and individuals with specific learning needs are not highlighted as the supports are available to all students.

Alberta Ed Resource:Alberta Education – Inclusive Education – Conversation Guide for the Video; Making Sense of Universal Design for Learning

Differentiated Instruction can enhance teachers’ abilities to provide instruction that meets the different learning needs of all students in their classrooms.

A differentiated Instruction approach builds on teaching practices such as:

  • Knowing who students are as learners
  • Choosing multiple instruction strategies
  • Offering students multiple options at each stage of the learning process
  • Organizing flexible groupings
  • Using ongoing classroom assessment to inform instruction

Alberta Ed Resource: Using Differentiated Instruction to Support ALL Learners

“Response to intervention (RtI) uses a 3-tiered pyramid to identify strategies, supports and intervention that address students’ academic and social-emotional needs.”

Alberta schools are using RTI in flexible ways. For example, RTI pyramids may show how many students might require interventions at each level of intensity, how intense the support is at each level or where the support at each level might originate.”
2020:  Note that you may also hear the term, Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS).

Alberta Ed Resource: Response to Intervention

As described in the Response to Intervention section, for those students who have demonstrated the need through ongoing assessment and are on an IPP, schools may provide more targeted strategies and comprensive instruction to students to improve the skills they are struggling with. The terms you may hear to describe this targeted instruction is  Remediation or Intervention.

It is very important that assessment informs the strategies and targeted intervention utilized, and that the instruction is provided using an evidenced-based program and qualified staff.

Families; for information about instruction your child may receive in specific subject areas, go to Academic Subjects.

Educators; for information about providing Remediation/Intervention, go to the Educators section.

An accommodation is a change or alteration to the regular way a student is expected to learn, complete assignments or participate in the classroom.

There are three types of accommodations:

1. Environmental accommodations: may be related to the resources and materials the student uses or to the layout and use of classroom space.

Examples: alternative seating, assistive technology and other adaptive devices, allowing use of manipulatives, using carrels or tables for students who need a quiet spot free from distractions.”

2. Instructional accommodations: are changes to the way information and concepts are presented or practiced to ensure that each student has the opportunities and support he or she needs to learn.  This may involve modifying teaching strategies or learning activities in a variety of ways. Examples: providing copies of notes, alternative reading materials, varying the amount of materials to be learned or practiced, breaking instruction into steps, demonstrating or modelling a sample of the required task.

3. Assessment accommodations: Some students require accommodations that allow classroom assessments to measure and communicate student growth and achievement clearly and realistically. Examples:  extra time, oral tests, reducing the number of questions, providing a reader or a scribe, administering the test in a separate room free from distractions.

Assistive Technology for Learning (ATL), known commonly as Assistive Technology (AT), supports a student’s learning. It does not create an advantage for the student, but simply allows the student to access learning equitably like any other student.

Alberta Education provides the following definition of Assistive Technology for Learning (ATL):

‘Assistive Technology for Learning (ATL) is a subset of a broad range of technologies that enhance students’ learning. ATL is defined as the devices, media and services used by students to actively engage in learning and to achieve their individual learning goals.

Like other technologies, ATL ranges from simple tools to complex systems. It could be as simple as providing a pencil grip for writing or as complex as a computer with software for reading and learning. In practice, all technology can be described as assistive technology—it assists everyone in doing something better, easier or faster.’

Alberta Education oversees a range of supports and services for students with Learning Disabilities, ADHD, and other diagnoses in the Public, Separate, Charter and Independent K-12 education systems.

The Alberta Government (Alberta Education) acknowledges the importance of local autonomy, flexibility and choice in meeting the diverse learning needs of students. That means there might be some variability in how school districts deliver those supports to diverse learners.

There are 3 public school districts within Calgary and the surrounding area and they are all required to provide a continuum of support to students with Learning Disabilities and ADHD.

When you are considering the most appropriate school and classroom setting for your child, you may also consider one of the private schools that specifically serve students with Learning Disabilities and ADHD.

Public School Districts in Calgary Region

Calgary Board of Education
CBE has 240 schools across Calgary. Your child is designated to a school based on their home address. The school may be in your community or in another community, depending on space and the program your child is enrolled in. CBE provides appropriate programming for students with exceptional and special needs in all of their community schools. They also provide programming at various sites across CBE to meet specialized needs of some  students.

Calgary Catholic School District
CCSD is the largest Catholic school district in Alberta, serving more than 58,000 students in 116 schools located in Calgary, Airdrie, Cochrane, Chestermere, and Rocky View County. Students with diverse learning needs should register at their local school. Through a referral process, a student’s diverse learning needs are identified and discussed in order to help determine how best to support that student. The child, once assessed, may then be assigned to another appropriate school.

Rocky View School District
Rocky View Schools serves residents to the west, north and east of the City of Calgary. The areas include: Airdrie, Chestermere & Area, Cochrane & Area, Crossfield & Area, and Springbank & Area. The jurisdiction provides educational services to over 25,000 public students in Kindergarten to Grade 12 through 51 schools.

There is a range of private school options for students with disabilities; some specifically serve only students with Learning Disabilities.

These Designated Special Education Private Schools (DSEPS) are independent schools that have been given special approval and funding by the Minister of Education, where the sole purpose of the school is to serve students who are identified with a mild, moderate or severe disability. The funding provided by the province is added to by the private tuition paid by parents.

DSEPS in Calgary that target their support for students with Learning Disabilities are Foothills Academy, Calgary Academy, and Rundle Academy.