LinkedIn   Facebook   RSS

Category Archives: ADHD Education

ADD Alternatives

When it comes to ADD, alternative approaches are no longer considered outside the treatment toolbox. On the contrary – experts are now saying that medication, if used, should never be the only treatment. “Diet, nutrition, exercise and sleep all play important roles in how the brain works,” says Dr. Edward Hallowell, author of Driven to Distraction.

The following options are appropriate for those who use medications and those who don’t; they can be effective for people new to ADD and for seasoned veterans who are familiar with the ways of the attention challenged. You can get professional consults for things like behaviour therapy, but you can also start using many of the ideas on your own. Remember that not every strategy or combination works for every family – it’s very much a trial and error process, so best to go slowly. Choose one or two to start, then make more changes as it makes sense for you.


Behaviour therapy is very structured and based upon rewards and consequences. A therapy plan requires extremely clear and concise achieveables, and can be a challenge to carry out at home – expect some kinks in the process. Parents can have trouble when they set too many rules, apply the plan inconsistently, communicate unclear expectations, dwell on negative and give up to soon.

Whether you do behaviour therapy or not, a predictable routine is a great place to start and something you can implement on your own. See how much it helps to establish a regular schedule for meals and activities, followed by a nightly bath and a regular bedtime to ensure plenty of rest.


With a lack balanced nutrition, anyone can look like they have ADD – when we don’t eat right, we can become distracted, restless and impulsive. So it makes sense that people with ADD absolutely need proper nutrition, not only to avoid the perils of bouncing blood sugar, but to fuel the brain with everything it needs to function well.

The best advice says avoid junk food – and anything that comes in a box, bag, wrapper, package or tube. Include protein with every meal, along with veggies, fruits and complex carbs. Boost servings of blueberries, almonds, cashews, walnuts, broccoli, salmon, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, watercress, avocado, cumin, turmeric and meats – these foods are like premium gas for the brain. Another option to investigate: food sensitivities and allergies. Remove any dietary irritants found.


B vitamins, especially B-6 seems to increase dopamine, which improves alertness. Zinc, iron and magnesium help to synthesize dopamine, and fish oils help with mental focus and cognitive function. Check into ginkgo and ginseng as well – they act like stimulants without the side effects. And, as always, the picky eaters at your house may benefit from a good multivitamin.


Exercise is good for everybody, but it’s especially good for those with ADD. Like medication with side effects, exercise boosts the brain’s levels of dopamine, norepinephrine and seratonin – all chemicals that affect focus and attention. It helps to develop resilience and persistence, and physical activities involving complex movement cause helpful connections to form between neurons in the brain. Combine activity with time outside – walking the dog, bike riding, walking to school, sports. Studies show that as little as 20 minutes daily can help reduce ADHD symptoms.

Making the Leap

The transition from high school to college or university can be a big one!
Here’s how to help your student shine.

Hot on the heels of every finish (like your kid’s high school graduation) comes a new and exciting (and sometimes terrifying) transition – like that same kid starting college or university. Get ready, because here they come – all those new freedoms and responsibilities that make post-secondary education the learning experience it truly is.

It’s such a big change: up to now, 80% of your student’s academic life has been controlled by teachers and authority figures. In college and university, 80% is controlled by the students themselves. Just think – no one will remind your son or daughter when assignments are due or tests are coming. No one will particularly care if they miss class. Timetables look much lighter than they actually are. Cramming won’t work anymore – there’s just too much to learn. It will take a new set of skills to succeed, and focus, time management and active study skills are absolutely essential.

At the same time, much to their endless delight, you won’t be as able to monitor your kid’s progress if they are living away. But even if they are close to home, you need to remember that they are entering a learning environment that makes students themselves responsible for their lives and their learning. But even though natural consequences (like zeros for late work) are built in the system, there are still things you can do to encourage the kind of growth and responsibility your fledgling college or university student will need for this new phase of life.

One place to start is to put numbers on time management. Instead of beating the “study, don’t party” drum (which is so very uncool, and invites nothing but a glazed-over expression) ask your offspring to estimate how many hours they will spend on television, computer, music, games, sports, socializing, then how many hours for homework, job, extracurriculars, volunteering. Ranking their day from most hours to least hours give a clear picture of priorities. From there, you can encourage adjustment as required.

Beyond that dose of reality, you can also pass along the following tips to help your student balance responsibilities:


  • Eat properly. Protein – eggs, cheese, meat – helps boost focus and memory.
  • Set a healthy sleep routine and stick to it.
  • Join clubs and sports and campus life.
  • Exercise is essential for energy, focus and memory.
  • Stick to routine – work Monday to Friday during the day and play in the evenings and on weekends.
  • Think beyond the moment – set goals for the semester and the year.


  • Register with the centre for disabilities – they approve the BSWD bursary, extra time for exams and note takers
  • Before the first day, map your classes so you know where to go when.
  • Post key dates (tests, papers, assignments, exams) on your brand new “semester at a glance” wall calendar (which you just hung above your desk).
  • Count on at least two hours of work for each hour of lecture time per week. Most classes include two hours of lecture and one hour of tutorial or lab work. That means
    six hours beyond class time – and that’s for just one class.
  • Sit close to the front in lectures.
  • Build rapport with professors – visit during office hours.When you need help or an extension, they will
    know you are trying hard to succeed.
  • Don’t expect to simply recite information. Be ready to apply what you have learned to new situations or
    to solve new problems.
  • Tests and exams will often be multiple choice and short answer questions – these are trickier than
    high school exams.
  • Check for previous tests and exams – often available at the library.Essential learning rarely varies
    from year to year.
    • But perhaps the best thing you can do is express your trust and confidence that your son or daughter is perfectly capable of meeting the challenges ahead and you have abundant faith in their ability to make good decisions on their own. Coming from a proud parent, what could be more reassuring… and motivating?

Harness the Power of Video Games

Harness the Power of Video Games

How many times have you told your child to go and play a video game? I suspect never — the issue is more than likely the opposite — you can’t get them to stop to playing video games. If these games are so engaging and motivating perhaps it makes sense to explore the reasons why this is so and extract what lessons we can from them. Think about how your child gets involved in these games… they can play for hours postponing food, drink, bathroom breaks, accomplishing difficult tasks despite failures and setbacks in their single-minded quest. Imagine if this same focus and perseverance was applied to other tasks such as school work and music lessons. I believe there are lessons we can learn from video game playing to understand how to engage drive and motivation.

Daniel Pink in his book, “Drive” outlines that for tasks to be motivating and drive us forward they need to have three key factors:


  • some degree of choice and self-control
  • feel that the goal is attractive


  • task must be challenging without becoming overwhelming
  • provide immediate feedback
  • it must tap into that desire to get better and better at something that really matters
  • only engagement can produce mastery
  • there is nothing so sweet as the feeling of accomplishment that comes from doing a challenging, worthwhile task


  • the task serves a bigger purpose and can tap into an inner emotion

Bottom Line:

  1. does it attract me
  2. is the energy I will have to put forth realistic
  3. will I be successful

When I talk with gamers about the appeal of gaming, they tell me what keeps them going level after level is something like this…” everything I do in the game lets me know immediately if something I did works or not. I either fail or succeed.” There is immediate feedback and immediate cognitive rewards. The appeal of video games is clear to see. Every game includes the ingredients for motivation…. Attractive, Realistic amount of energy and chances of Success are good. In video games, as the players work through the levels and the gameplay, they begin to understand the essence of the game and what works and what doesn’t. Every misstep teaches them what not to do again. They are always clear on their endgame, on what constitutes achievement and they are allowed to develop their own strategies to reach it. Mastery is clearly established in the feedback loop which is immediate and definite. Transferring the motivational theories found in video games to an academic setting is a challenge but nevertheless possible.

Human motivation is a complex subject, but what may be derailing many of our students could be quite simple: the lack of clear short-term goals with purposeful objectives and the absence of immediate feedback and reinforcement. All human behavior is motivated. Even the child who appears to be unmotivated is actually motivated. A student’s refusal to do homework may actually be motivated by fear of failure, fear of embarrassment or perfectionism. Homework should have components of choice — when, where and with whom. The feedback loop has to be closely tied to the work’s completion so adjustment and corrections can be made in order for lessons to be learned.

If attractiveness, effort, and ability to accomplish the goal are present, the student will likely be motivated.

Here are a few suggestions:

Autonomy +Attractiveness

  • Give choice about where and when homework will be done
  • Encourage doing homework with a friend (study buddy)
  • Encourage variety about where homework can be done — kitchen, dining room table, public library
  • Allow them to use music with ear buds to block out distracting noise
  • Music should not have lyrics
  • Provide challenges with a timer

Mastery + Effort

  • Assist in breaking larger assignments and study efforts into smaller segments
  • This term is closing in very quickly — study notes should be made now (little by little)to avoid unrealistic effort and being overwhelmed in June
  • Always allow for free time and rest — studies have proven that long stretches of studying only decrease the retention and effectiveness — retention is improved when studying is done in 30 minute intervals with short exercise breaks in the middle — use the free computer app BREAK PAL
  • Check to be sure the tasks are clearly understood
  • Give feedback as soon as possible

Purpose + Goal

  • Find areas of natural passion and talent
  • Discuss times when they have had the perseverance to overcome obstacles and use those ingredients
  • Break goals into smaller, more achievable units so feedback and recognition is more immediate

Harness the Power of Video Games
To support your student in using the attractive features of video games to complete their homework between now and the end of the school year, problem solve ways they can make their homework appealing — have a study buddy, work in a new location, time the work, begin with some exercise, do the work for a defined period of time and then relax. Clarify that they understand what to do, what is expected and that they have the materials to do the work. Discuss with them times in their past, perhaps in sports, when they have worked hard and achieved that sweet feeling of success.

Try playing with word equations such as:

Completing homework + _________________= good report card.

What missing ingredient can they add?

ADHD Working Memory Issues

‘He seems to be constantly day-dreaming. And when he’s not day-dreaming, he’s being distracted by something. He never listens!’

This is a common complaint from school teachers as they attempt to explain how a normally bright child in their classroom behaves during a typical school day. The child’s poor attention may be caused by working memory problems.

Is working memory a better predictor of academic success than IQ?

Recent research studies suggest it is because memory is closely linked to learning. Forgetfulness is a characteristic that makes students look like they’re lazy or they lack motivation, or they simply just don’t care but the reality is, it is a classic characteristic of poor executive function skills. Delayed executive function skills often accompany a diagnosis of ADHD and or LD. Dr. Russell Barkley states that these students are 3 to 5 years delayed in the development of their executive skills. Academic tasks influenced by executive functions can include organizing materials, getting started on school work, remembering homework and text books, memorizing facts, writing essays, solving complex math problems, being on time, controlling emotions and planning for the future. This has a huge negative impact on learning and behaviour when you consider a 14 year old beginning secondary school student may have the executive skills similar to an average 11 year old in grade 6! These students require much more direct supervision and monitoring than is normally provided for their age group.

Remembering is a far more complex task than we often realize. In order to successfully remember, students must:

  • pay attention
  • ignore distracting interruptions
  • store information
  • find information
  • quickly retrieve it
  • act upon the information

Working memory is only one portion of the executive skills but a highly critical piece for academic success regardless of IQ potential. It is a student’s ability to hear the teacher’s instruction, go into their long term memory and retrieve what they already know about the subject, connect the new information to the old, keep out distractions from the environment and then manipulate the problem and respond appropriately. Working memory can only hold a certain amount of information; when this is overloaded it is extremely difficult to ignore distractions. Imagine the ADHD student reading quietly to herself, struggling with mechanics of decoding the words, processing lengthy sentences, retrieving vocabulary meanings and applying appropriate meaning to the passage when the PA announces band practice — all of a sudden, she finds herself thinking of music and all memory of the reading has vanished!

Working memory is linked to reading comprehension and written expression as both are very complex processes. Working memory enables the processing and recording of information here and now. Long-term memory in turn is a theoretically unlimited memory store that holds and organizes everything we know and can do. Consequently, writing essays, drafting book reports or answering questions on tests or homework is often very challenging for these students. For example, when writing essays, students often have difficulty holding ideas in mind, acting upon and organizing ideas, quickly retrieving grammar, spelling and punctuation rules from long-term memory, manipulating all this information, remembering ideas to write down, organizing the material in a logical sequence, and then reviewing and correcting errors.

Abilities that are affected by poor working memory are:

  • remembering and following instructions
  • memorizing math facts and spelling words
  • performing mental computations
  • completing complex math problems such as algebra
  • remembering one part of an assignment while working on another portion
  • paraphrasing or summarizing
  • organizing and writing essays
  • learning from past behaviours
  • judging the passage of time accurately
  • examining or changing their own behaviour
  • preparing for the future

Ideas that may be helpful are

  • Create checklists and “to do’ lists (externalize memory)
  • Estimate and keep track of exactly how long tasks take to complete
  • Break long assignments into small chunks and assign time frames for completion
  • Use visual calendars (4 months at a view) to track long term projects and assignments
  • Write the due date on the top of every assignment
  • Ask for written directions
  • Organize the study space so all materials are easily accessible
  • Minimize distracting clutter
  • Schedule time to review and organize
  • Prepare for upcoming changes in routine and activities
  • Keep to routines as much as possible – automatic behaviours do not over load memory

When you understand these unseen disabilities, you are in a position of strength and have compassion to support and assist your child.

Remember “Your child’s experiences in school will have a lasting impact upon their future. School success is very therapeutic!”

Myths About Distractibility and Solutions That WORK


Myth: Tapping pencils, doodling, and rocking back and forth in the chair equals distraction.

Truth: We now know that children attend better when they move around or are given something to hold or touch. Provide sensory input to help the child to focus. Stress balls, chewing gum, and weighted lap pads provide an outlet for the ‘fidgeter’. In addition, a recent study found the twistable Tangle Toy Jr. ( helped students to sustain effort and complete assignments accurately. Movement is also essential. Allow work to be done while standing up or pacing the room.

Myth: Students should quietly study in their room.

Truth: Distractible students do best when an adult checks in periodically. Choose a place away from the household action but close enough for you to monitor, such as the dining room. Assist your child with getting started on the task at hand. Have him set a timer for a short period of time with the goal of working consistently. By checking in when the timer rings, you’ll be allowing him independence and creating accountability at the same time. A portable ‘study zone’ with all materials (paper, pens, highlighters) in one place, is also helpful for students who always seem to be searching for supplies.

Myth: If a student wanted to pay attention, he could.

Truth: Kids that struggle to focus are consistently inconsistent. One day they can concentrate perfectly, and the next day is a battle. Their distractibility can be neurobiological in nature and they must be taught effective coping mechanisms.

Rather than nagging, use positive reinforcement and effective rewards. Try a ‘mystery motivator’ – after your child is on task for an allotted period of time, he can choose a reward card from an envelope (15 minutes extra on Wii, 10 minute later bedtime, etc.). The suspense of working towards an unknown prize is quite powerful for many.

Additionally, research shows that placing a mirror in your child’s work space will help him monitor his own attention. Your child is likely to refocus if he looks up and sees that he’s off task. As an added benefit, keeping a mirror in the workspace was found to improve the accuracy of assignments.

What to Do If You or Your Child Is a Perfectionist

Make a Schedule and Time Limit for Homework Completion

Learning strategies

Many perfectionists are also procrastinators. Why? They fear failure and put off starting until they are “in the right frame of mind”. Help your child by setting a beginning time as well as an ending time in sufficient advance of deadlines so that they are able to chunk their work into small pieces. This reduces the fear of failure and gives ample time for those perfect ideas to percolate. Teaching routines is important but help them to understand that their habits should not be so rigid that they can’t be changed.

Allow for Down Time – Do Not Over Schedule

Having no down time can overwhelm children. Feeling overwhelmed can spiral perfectionism out of control. Many kids with perfectionist tendencies can cope on their own while others only need a few events to trigger great anxiety. Having too much on their plate can instigate these feelings.

Respond to Worst Case Thinking

Perfectionists are color blind: they see the outcomes in black and white. Their attitude is all or nothing. Help them to consider alternative outcomes such as: “What would happen if the teacher didn’t agree with the points in your essay?” Discuss the possible outcomes from varying perspectives. They will see that imminent disaster will not occur.

De-emphasize all A’s

Instead of only focusing on the mark, comment on the amount of effort that went into achieving the grade. Help kids to understand that they can feel satisfied when they feel they’ve done their best, not necessarily the best! We all know good marks are necessary for the competitive admission policies to university and college but study habits, perseverance and work ethic are more important life skills than the number of A’s.

Mistakes are Learning Opportunities

If work is perfect all the time, kids are not challenged. Explain that there is usually more than one way to do most things. Give specific praise.

Model Healthy Excellence as well as Coping Skills when Dealing with Disappointment

Take pride in the quality of your work but don’t hide your mistakes or be constantly self-critical. Model the lessons you learn from mistakes. Humour always helps. Congratulate yourself when you’ve done a good job by letting your children know that your own accomplishments give you satisfaction.

Good, Better, Best – Trouble With Perfectionism

Good, better, best
Never let it rest,
’til your good is better and your better best


Excellence is OK! We all want our children to strive for excellence. Quality work is a reasonable goal but perfectionism goes beyond excellence. It leaves no room for error. Since mistakes are unacceptable, perfectionism leads to unrealistic goal setting, feelings of inadequacy, sensitivity to criticism, persistent anxiety as well as procrastination.

What’s the Trouble with Being Perfect?

Perfectionism is an interesting conundrum. On the one hand, what could be wrong with someone wanting to do the very best job possible? However, the trouble with perfectionism is that it often leads to procrastination.

Take the writing of this article as an example. It has been on my “TO DO” list since early January. A newsletter on the topic of perfectionism, after all had to be perfect! Self-doubt crept in… Was I up to writing the perfect newsletter?? I didn’t think so. The more I thought about it, the more I worried about writing perfect sentences. I was seeking the perfect punctuation and prose in perfect sequence while also ensuring that everything was spelled perfectly. Eventually, I became aware that my inability to find the right words was impeding my ability to gain any writing momentum. I was so busy worrying about writing the right thing that I never got to write anything.

So here it is – days before I leave on holiday, I no longer have time to worry about perfection, I just have to do it! The cost of perfection to me was anxiety, self-doubt and certainly stress! Wouldn’t it have been better for me to capture the main thrust of my ideas and just written the newsletter?

This dilemma exists for students as well. Parents sometimes ask me about perfectionism while several others wished they had the problem! However, perfectionism is a double-edged sword. Grades and homework might be stellar but at what cost – anxiety for the student, stress for the parent and disruption everywhere.

If we do nothing and then pull out all the stops at the last minute and then think oh well we could have done better if we had more time. What a dangerous loop!

Classroom Modification Teaching Strategies

  When you see this behaviour Try this solution
Classroom setup Easily distracted by classroom activity or by activity through the door or windows Seat student front and centre away from distractions
Is unaware of personal space, reaches across desks to talk to or touch other students Increase distance between desks
Acts out in class to gain negative attention Seat student near good role model
Assignments Is unable to complete work within given time Allow extra time to complete assigned work
Does well at the beginning of an assignment but quality of work decreases toward the end Break long assignments into smaller parts; shorten assignments or work periods
Has difficulty following instructions Pair written instructions with oral instructions
Distractibility Is unable to complete work within given time Allow extra time to complete assigned work
Complains that lessons are boring Seek to involve student in lesson presentations
Is easily distracted Cue student to stay on task with a private signal
Turns in work with careless errors Schedule 5 minute period to check over work before turning in homework or tests; Teach students how to proof read and edit
Behaviours Fails to see point of lesson or activity Increase immediacy of rewards and consequences
Blurts out answers or interrupts others Acknowledge correct answers only when hand is raised and student is called upon
Needs reinforcement Send daily/weekly progress reports home
Needs long-term help with improving behaviour Set up behaviour contract
Organization & Planning Can’t keep track of papers Color code each subject then buy binders, books etc that match each subject. Buy accordion folder labeled for each subject for loose pages if child is in rotary subjects and can’t carry binders.
Has trouble remembering homework assignments Provide student with assignment book; supervise writing down of assignments’
Loses books Extra set of texts at home
Restlessness Needs to move around Allow student to run errands or stand ay time while working
Has difficulty focusing for long periods of time Provide short breaks between assignments; Thinking object in pocket to fiddle when needed; Quiet timer (hour glass)
Moods/socialization Is unclear as to appropriate social behaviours Set up social behavior goals with student and implement reward program
Does not work well with others Encourage cooperate learning tasks
Is not respected by peers Assign special responsibilities in presence of peer group
Has low self confidence Compliment positive behavior and work; give student opportunity to act in leadership role
Appears lonely or with drawn Encourage social interactions with classmates; plan teacher-directed group activities
Is easily frustrated Acknowledge appropriate behaviour and good work frequently
Is easily angered Encourage student to walk away from angering situations; spend time talking to student

Why Study Habits Are Important

Why Study Habits Are Important

Our son started to struggle at school in grade 2. The local public school felt that his struggles at reading and writing were the result of pressuring high achieving parents and perhaps if we relaxed, his learning would come along just fine. However, the academic timeline puts children into grades. Achievement and self-esteem do matter. Therefore we took matters into our own hands and had a private psychological assessment done. The conclusion was he had several learning disabilities as well as attention deficit. According to the assessment, not the teacher, at the end of grade 2 he was already 2 grades behind, and the school had no plan to help him catch up in the missing skills; all they could provide was a 40 minute group remedial class a few times a week.

We decided to send him to private school where he would have a small class, no behavioral distractions and a structured curriculum. Reasonable daily homework was part of the daily expectations from grade 3 to grade 8. The teacher marked it, and it was always accounted for. Assignments were corrected, and corrections mattered, so incorrect ways of doing things were never allowed to continue.

What was the value of this structure you may wonder? The resounding answer is discipline, the ability to set priorities and complete tasks; the old-fashioned notion that work comes before play and that true success is earned at the end of a job done well.

These steady work habits slipped somewhat when he reentered public high school at grade 9 due to the inconsistency of the public school homework pattern. There was either no homework or too much. My observation is that over worked teachers frequently, do not return the assignments in a timely manner, so the students miss out on the essential feedback necessary to learning. As a result, these students are unable to manage their time, set priorities or even realize the value of education in their life.

Our son is now in first year of University, and in conversation last night he told how his residence was emptying out already, with kids who could not cope with the work load of university. They were not prepared for the work load and independence. They had not been taught how to set priorities, manage time and work independently. A recent news report suggested that only 25% of those who enroll in university or college complete their courses. Whether or not that statistic is totally true I don’t know, but, I do know the drop out rate is very high! That is scary! Good study habits lay the groundwork for successful work habits as an adult.

LD/ADHD Memory Tips

Improving memory

LD/ADHD and Working Memory

We all worry about failing memories and rely upon organization and mnemonic tricks to help us stay on top of everything. However, your learning disabled child will struggle even more. I’m sure there are times when you must think they are purposely ignoring you or they got distracted. In truth, it might be their memory that got in the way.

LD and ADHD students often have a weak working memory. This memory is different from the immediate short term memory. Working memory is the ability to hold something in one’s conscious thought and manipulate and use it at the same time. Students who have slow processing speed and written language difficulties also struggle with working memory. Working memory allows students to follow directions, to remember a question while raising their hand to answer it, and hold on to the new information they need to apply to the work. In reading, working memory aids our comprehension, making it possible to organize and summarize the text and connect it to what we already know. In writing, it lets us juggle the thoughts we want to get on paper while keeping the big picture in mind.

LD/ADHD Memory Tricks

  • Make certain they have a quiet study space that is theirs. The material they need to learn must be the most interesting thing around.
  • Aim for comprehension before memorization.
  • Learn using as many senses as possible. We retain:
    – 20% of what we read
    – 30% of what we hear
    – 40% of what we see
    – 50% of what we say
    – 60% of what we do,
    – 90% if we involve 3 or more senses
  • Mnemonic devices such as :
    – Visualization
    – Mind Maps and chunking information into meaningful categories
    – Rhyming Sentences (every good boy deserves fun)
    – Acronyms (HOMES for the Great Lakes)
    – Rhymes and alliteration (30 days hath September…)
    – Jokes
  • Don’t study for longer than 1 hour at a time – take SHORT BUT REGULAR BREAKS . Studies have proven that we remember more of what is studied at the beginning and end of a session so have as many beginnings and endings as possible.
  • Start to prepare early as the brain needs time to consolidate the information. Cramming works for very few.