Programs to Support Boys with Learning Disabilities and ADHD

Supporting ADHD

Overview

Robert Land Academy is a private boarding school offering programs for boys that have proven themselves effective in dealing with boys diagnosed with ADHD.

ADHD

Many parents are deeply concerned when their son is suspected or confirmed with a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). It should always be remembered however that all boys exhibit behaviours associated with ADHD and that it is the degree and the extent of these behaviours that result in a formal diagnosis. In addition to, or in place of medications prescribed to deal with these symptoms, there are recognized strategies to deal with the problems associated with these behaviours.  Robert Land Academy’s program, while benefiting all boys generally, also specifically addresses the majority of the recognized approaches to constructively address the problem.

Medications:  Robert Land Academy has a physician attending the school twice a week and two nurses who serve rotating shifts.  Boys entering the Academy with prescriptions will have their medications administered by staff and monitored by medical professionals.  In some cases, medications may be reduced or eliminated through the attending physician in collaboration with the student’s family.

As in the case with all prescription medications, parents are advised to be aware of possible side effects and to discuss these with their physician.

Article – Toronto Star: “ADHD drugs suspected of hurting Canadian Kids”

Diet:  Many experts maintain that poor diet, irregular eating patterns, and certain foods contribute to ADHD symptoms.  Robert Land Academy’s daily diet includes three wholesome meals with fresh fruits and vegetables, juice, milk, chicken, fish, non-processed foods and whole wheat bread.  The diet eliminates chocolate, candy bars, soda pop, sugar based drinks, and deep fried foods.  As maintained in Dr. Keith Conners’ book entitled Feeding the Brain:  How Foods Affect Children, diet is not only important for healthy brain development but also affects behaviour and levels of hyperactivity.

Exercise:  All experts promote regular exercise as a part of any fitness program.  Apart from promoting health and good circulation, exercise can have a very positive effect on ADHD symptoms.  Diet and exercise have a profound effect on the metabolism and this, in turn, can have an effect on ADHD symptoms.

Sleep:  Many boys do not get a full 8 hours of sleep each night due to sleep disorders, poor diet or the distraction of having ready access to smart phones, text messages, social media and the internet in their bedroom.  It is obvious that insufficient sleep can have a dramatic effect on attention and academic performance and can contribute towards or exaggerate ADHD symptoms. Robert Land Academy’s program ensures that boys receive a minimum of 8 hours of sleep every night.

De-stimulation:  It has been shown that the use of video games, computers, electronic devices, some forms of music and television can result in a hyperstimulated state that makes concentration very difficult.  Many parents note that when boys go to the cottage or attend a summer camp that their ADHD symptoms are substantially reduced or disappear.  The elimination of electronic stimulation and the reorientation of the individual around natural biorhythms of rest, diet, exercise, and relaxation has profound effects on ADHD symptoms.

Academic Delivery for ADHD Students:  Common accommodations and suggested practices in special education programs for ADHD students involve the following:

  1. Small class sizes
  2. Preferential Seating (i.e. near to the teacher)
  3. Chunking (i.e. teaching lessons in discrete portions and testing accordingly using methods such as quizzes)
  4. Prompting:  eliciting responses and participation from students as opposed to allowing them to not do so
  5. Regular Testing and Feedback:  self-explanatory
  6. Highlighting Board Notes (i.e. using good board notes that help identify the main points of the lesson)
  7. Elimination of unnecessary stimulation in the working area

The academic program at Robert Land Academy employs all of the above as a part of the regular academic delivery.

Looking at the acknowledged approaches in advocated special programs for ADHD students, it can be seen that Robert Land Academy incorporates all of the suggestions in what can only be described as a holistic approach to the problem.  Experience over years has shown that Robert Land Academy’s program work, boys respond in an overwhelmingly successful manner and that ADHD symptoms are lessened and controlled by the student or eliminated over time.

It is also to be noted as boys approach the end of high school, the ‘cash’ value of many course and the marks earned from them taken on a new meaning when regarded as entry tickets to programs and investments. The belief among many boys is that if they do not find school work to be inherently fascinating, that they have no obligation to put effort into it. As such, the material is either useless or the teacher is at fault for not having made it interesting. The realization that post secondary programs have flexible standards changes boys attitude towards their studies by providing a new meaning to achievement relative to their goals.

Opposition to authority and being strong willed are often ways in which spirited boys attempt to identify themselves as adults who can stand up for themselves. Testing the limits and adult authority have been long standing characteristics of adolescent development. Environments without consequences and clearly defined limits can exacerbate these tendencies to the point where they begin to seriously hinder development. An environment characterized by structure, consistency, fairness and authentic authority and leadership has proven effective in redirecting these energies along constructive lines.

Feedback

Here’s what the parent of a former student had to say about our ADHD school program.

“As a concerned parent, it was so disheartening to watch helplessly as Sean’s amazing potential evaporated in our modern, unstructured educational system….I am so proud of the effort Sean has put into all aspects of the RLA program and I am very happy for Sean because he is now experiencing healthy, positive success as a result of his positive efforts.”

Dr. T. McKay, parent

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Supporting Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

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Overview

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.

 

Feedback

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

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Supporting Learning Disabilities (LD)

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Overview

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.

Feedback

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

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Supporting Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD)

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.

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Other Disorders

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.

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