Programs to Support Boys with Learning Disabilities and ADHD
Behaviours associated with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) are clustered in and around authority figures and compliancy with behavioural expectations. Robert Land Academy’s program of clear, fair and consistent rules and expectations together with clearly defined consequences to reinforce and encourage positive behaviours has proven itself to be very effective and is in keeping with recognized methods of dealing with this disorder. Enabling success through genuine accomplishments builds genuine self-confidence and does a lot to deal with the frustration and aggression that is often an underlying cause of ODD.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder
The current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders otherwise known as DSM-5 defines Oppositional Defiant Disorder as a pattern of angry/irritable behaviour or vindictiveness lasting 6 months or longer and in evidence when interacting with one or more individuals who are not siblings. A person correctly identified with this disorder must exhibit 4 symptoms from the following categories (1) angry/irritable mood (2) argumentative/defiant behaviour or (3) vindictiveness. Despite common assumptions, ODD children are not aggressive towards people or animals and do not destroy property or show patterns of theft or deceit.
ODD characteristics often include persistent anger, temper tantrums, angry outbursts and disrespect for authority. Other characteristics involve blaming others for mistakes, deliberately annoying others, being easily disruptive and appearing resentful towards others. ODD is frequently found in conjunction with ADHD and in such cases ODD characteristics can become significantly magnified.
Over the past ten years, the number of students applying to Robert Land Academy who have exhibited ADHD characteristics, or have been formally diagnosed, has increased exponentially. Additionally, the trend exhibited by many applicant’s files shows that increasing numbers of students identified with ADHD eventually end up with a diagnosis of ODD. The files describe deterioration in behaviours resulting in increased levels of anger and frustration as students proceed through school with a growing sense of hopelessness. Despite the efforts of the DSM, a significant level of flexibility and personal interpretation is found among professionals who are formally recognized as being able to diagnose ODD and as such it is sometimes helpful to focus on the specific behaviours and the level of intensity accompanying them.
Providing an environment that minimizes distractions and excessive electronic stimulation, emphasizes self care and routine, promotes nutritional diet, exercise and sleep all together create a platform enabling success and a sense of self confidence through genuine accomplishment. Once this process can be set into motion much of the mental energy being expressed in frustration and aggression is seen to be redirected in positive efforts to confront and overcome challenges.
Here’s what the parent of a former student had to say about our program.
“Before he attended Robert Land, we saw a son who had little if any respect for either himself or his fellow-man. Now we see a son who believes in himself and who wants to get involved in the world. This is truly an amazing accomplishment in two short years.”
B. Busch, parent
Under current general usage, the terms Learning Delayed or Learning Disabled are used to explain significant gaps between tested cognitive ability and actual academic performance. Given policies of guaranteed passing in most primary and elementary schools throughout Canada and the U.S.A., and given modifications to curriculum expectations as part of many Individual Education Plans (IEP), many boys are behind in key areas of literacy and numeracy essential to secondary success measured in eligibility to post-secondary programs.
Rather than accommodating these problems where this is translated as perpetuating them, Robert Land Academy’s program corrects these issues by providing additional support, remediation and diagnostic identification of areas requiring attention. This enables boys to repair weakness and go on with firm foundational strengths to subsequent levels.
Learning Disabilities and Disabled Learning
However learning disabilities are defined, it becomes clear in reviewing student files that core areas of Literacy and Numeracy can become systematically weakened as a result of lack of effort, understanding or poor focus. In such cases the gap between where students are in terms of normal grade/age functioning and their actual functioning level can widen to the point where the student is effectively disabled.
Given that junior schools now have adopted a no failure philosophy, many students see no down side in not putting forward effort in school and in not doing homework. :The majority of males now entering high schools are being placed into programs that preclude admission to university programs and many of the more competitive college programs. The result of this is that the majority of students entering universities are now female. Given that many boys feel that school is a waste of time and serves no purpose, the less work and effort that they can put into school the smarter they perceive themselves to be. As they perceive no connection with what they are doing in the present and what they can do in the future, there is no downside in programs that involve less or no homework and little if any effort. They are able to reassure themselves of their intelligence by playing video games and working the system. As the vast majority of schools no longer accept competition as an acceptable component within academics, it comes as a shock to many students when they are forced to confront the reality of the stiff competition for postsecondary programs.
Many of the boys applying to Robert Land Academy show signs of academic underachievement and some of these have serious weaknesses in core Literacy and Numeracy skills. They are unaware that this will have any impact on post secondary options and will regularly talk about wanting to get into programs that could never be accessed in their previous academic programs or with their academic skill set.
The effect of a no failure policy in junior grades has had a disproportionate effect upon boys. Smart boys will ask what they get or do not get as a result of putting in effort in subjects that hold no interest for them or doing work for a teacher they do not like. The fact that grade advancement takes place irrespective of actual achievement is an open invitation for many boys to fall behind. This death of a thousand cuts can lead inexorably to real academic issues and poor performance even when effort if forthcoming. Poor marks are not necessarily reflective of intelligence. However, they can certainly combine with insecurity to pose a genuine threat to learning.
Our experience shows that once boys can identify a purpose behind schoolwork that their desire to overcome problems greatly increases. By diagnostically identifying areas of weakness in Literacy and Numeracy and providing remediation programs, the majority of boys are capable of making remarkable progress. By providing them with meaningful but obtainable objectives combined with a coaching philosophy towards teaching, they are able to progress and gain confidence through the realization that effort yields results and that their abilities are not fixed.
Current generally accepted programs perpetuate and accommodate academic weaknesses and reviews of student files shows that this invariably leads to systemic increase in the gap of learning as students approach the end of secondary school.
As such, Robert Land Academy’s academic program is dedicated to dealing with academic shortcomings in order to address the problem and reopen postsecondary options.
Here’s what the parents of a former student of our school for learning disabilities had to say about our program.
“Your home at RLA was the special place that helped my son find his place in life. He has become the person we always knew he was capable of – and now with this foundation he can forge ahead. Thank you!”
R&J Sone, parents
Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) is a disorder associated with physical awkwardness and motor skills delay which is said to be present in 50% of students diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). The behavioural characteristics have been shown to have responded well to the active program in place at Robert Land Academy. Sports, activities, self-care and routine help to improve fine and gross motor skills and build self-confidence upon manageable building blocks of achievement. An active program with daily exercise and physical activity is conducive to addressing these needs in an effective and natural manner.
High Functioning Asperger / High Functioning Autism / Obsessive Compulsive Disorder/ Executive Functioning Disorder
All of these conditions and their respective clusters of behaviour have been shown to respond to a process of normalization, structure, and consistent consequences that reinforce or discourage inappropriate or self-limiting behaviours. The daily routine, predictability and lack of external distractions associated with Robert Land Academy’s program all tend towards reducing such behaviours while encouraging coping mechanisms that enable students to focus on their areas of strength. Boys are carefully assessed during the interview process to assess individual suitability to the program. When it is felt that students’ needs exceed the program in place they are not admitted and where possible other suggested alternatives are made available to them to pursue.