Challenged Hope

Grandmother raising Grandchildren with FASD in Hamilton Ontario Canada


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FASD Teens and Substance Abuse

Teens with FASD often struggle with interpreting the body language and expressions of others. This became apparent to me through my youngest grandson’s inability to sense threatening behaviour or, at the least, the depth of the threat; often seeing the behaviour as comical, or engaging. This struggle also reveals itself through his misinterpreting the positive intentions of those in the medical field or police force. Often, in social settings, he mistranslates the social cues of his peers causing strife or offence among the group. Because Teens with FASD struggle in this area they are more likely to be influenced by unsuitable peers and as a result get into criminal activities or substance abuse.

Contacting your doctor for preventative strategies is always a good idea. There are also websites that offer strategies should you need help:

 

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What Is Specialized School Programming: High School?

Today, I had an appointment, along with other parents, to tour a specialized classroom that my two eldest mentally disabled grandchildren might be attending when they begin high school. I have to say up front that I was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiastic way in which we were welcomed by the staff of the program, plus, their efficiency in answering our questions about specialized programming, and also their interest in transitioning disabled children from high school into inter-dependent adult living including the workforce.

At the time of writing this, a decision has yet to be reached as to whether this will be the high school my grandchildren will be attending, so I have to withhold my excitement for now, but for readers who are curious about specialized programming in high school, the following notes I quickly scribbled, while trying to keep up with the discussion, might be of interest.

At this school:

  • There are three classes in the specialized programming: Comprehensive, Autism, and Developmentally Delayed. The tour I attended was for the Comprehensive Program.
  • In the Comprehensive Program, the graduation age is twenty-one.
  • In all three classes combined there is a total of ten Educational Assistants.
  • The Comprehensive Program is geared to students with a minimum grade one or two reading level, plus simple math. Below that, the student would be placed in the Developmentally Delayed program.
  • The students work from the same timetable daily which is important as mentally disabled children prefer structure with as less change as possible, although activities do vary minimally, such as: during cooking class the students will learn to make different meals each time.
  • The students learn life-skills. For example: cooking, shopping, socializing, hygiene, fitness, transportation (taking a bus from A to B without losing their way).
  • Many people (which, before this tour, included me) don’t realize that mentally disabled children can be musically proficient, so I was pleased to learn that specialized programming encourages the student’s skills and confidence through performances in front of other students and parents.
  • Communication between parents and teachers is important to the staff and so daily agendas containing pertinent comments regarding the child’s day are used, plus telephone communication on a regular basis is encouraged.
  • Although registered in specialized programming, students could be assigned an IEP to ensure their individualized needs are continually being met (See post: What is an IEP?).
  • The students are constantly supervised during the school day and travel with a member of staff whenever they leave the classroom (e.g. going to the school cafeteria for lunch, and helping the student to make change while paying for lunch).
  • The staff encourages one-to-one friendships between the students. This particular school has a Best Buddies program to help utilize that goal. There are also after-school activities designed to generate friendships between students such as school dances.
  • When a student helps with necessary work such as clean-up, they receive a freebie snack.
  • The students are encouraged to participate in co-op placements with businesses in their area, resulting in many students finding positions in the workforce upon graduation.
  • I asked if bullying of the challenged children by the mainstream school children was more frequent than bullying of non-disabled students, and was met with a chorus of denials by the staff who assured me they are constantly aware of possible bullying and keep on top of any potential victimizing situations.

If you live in the Hamilton-Wentworth district of Ontario, please go to http://www.hwdsb.on.ca for further information about specialized school programming.

UPDATE: 

I’m extremely pleased to report that my two eldest grandchildren with mental disabilities have been accepted into a Comprehensive Class: Living & Learning Program at a Secondary School for September 2013.

I took my two grandchildren on a recent tour of their new classroom, so they could meet the Teacher and Educational Assistant, and also their fellow students. The classroom will be their home until they are twenty-years of age, during which time they will learn much needed life skills for independence and will get support and help for securing workplace experience and hopefully future employment.

After we had been introduced to everyone in the class, my grandkids were taken on a tour of the school by several of their classmates, during which time the teacher explained to me the various program elements offered in her class, which include:

Functional Literacy:
A reading program which includes a combination of independent reading, guided reading, and shared reading. Materials include – novel studies, magazines, maps, library books, pamphlets, calendars, etc. Writing program includes reading responses, journal writing, resumes, filling out forms, etc. Speaking opportunities include oral presentations, sharing work, role-playing, etc.

Functional Numeracy:
Foundational skills are practiced through hands-on math manipulative, role-playing, environmental numeracy (looking at bowling scores, grocery receipts, menu items, etc.) worksheets and computer drills. Topics include: money, telling time, number sense (adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing), estimating, weather charts and temperature graphs, shopping, time management, etc.

Vocational Skills:
All students learn job readiness skills such as: resumes, interviewing, positive attitude, problem solving, etc. Senior students participate in Transitional Work Experience Program (TWEP) where the EA takes 1-3 students to a job placement. Students in the past have worked at: Fortinos, Little Caesar’s Pizza, Dollarama, Blockbuster Video, local public schools, and Value Village.

Physical Skills:
Students learn about healthy living and improve motor skills through swimming, bowling, outdoor recreation, physical education, games and leisure activities.

Daily Living Skills:
All students participate in daily classroom jobs such as: preparing food, washing and drying dishes, setting-up the agenda, putting chairs up and down, etc. Class activities include how to ride buses safely in the community, preparing healthy meals, washing clothes, healthy relationships, etc.

Pathways Plan:
Students learn about transitions by using a daily agenda and monthly calendar.

Instructional Practices include:

  • Individualized planning based on student needs
  • Combination of independent and group work
  • Use of hands-on materials
  • Experiential learning through “doing” – Field Trips

This class is an excellent environment in which, over the next several years, I am sure, my grandchildren will thrive and learn skills designed to provide them with a solid foundation for life as adults with disabilities.

Some times, amazing things do happen!


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Kids Mental Health

With all the help from the Internet these days, you’d think it would be relatively easy to find pertinent information on the subject you are searching for. However that depends on two things: the phrasing of your search, and the reliability of the search engine to supply you with a list of web sites appropriate to that phrasing. One of my problems when browsing is trying to think of alternative phrasing when the first one didn’t bring up the results I had anticipated, yet you would think if I’m trying to find information on kid’s mental health, it wouldn’t take too much of a push to realize that typing the phrase – kid’s mental health – would lead me in the right direction! Hmm, why didn’t I think of that before? Too simple, I guess (the phrasing that is!).

But this realization didn’t dawn on me until I was in the corridor of a residential care unit waiting for a social worker to meet up with me and spied, pinned to the bulletin board, a flyer offering help to parents and caregivers of children with mental health problems. Their posted website is http://www.kidsmentalhealth.ca. When I spotted it, I could help but let out a quiet groan of exasperation over the absurdity of my not thinking of searching such an obvious phrase – but it happens.

If you are looking for information for your mentally disabled child in Ontario, kidsmentalhealth.ca is well worth a visit with information for parents and families, professionals, and children and youth. The reason I like this website is because it answers a lot of questions parents might have regarding the mental health of their children. As I’ve said before, in various posts, this is something vital for parents as when we suspect our child might be suffering from a mental disability it’s difficult to know where to start. The website offers direction through listing signs and disorders of mental disabilities, FAQ’s parents might have and answers to them, where to get help and what to expect from mental health services, plus much more. It’s the kind of website worthy of a sigh of relief at having found pertinent basic facts and appropriate help available regarding mental health issues. A definite thumbs-up in my book!

Another website definitely worth a mention is ementalhealth.ca/hamilton. Click Find Mental Health Help, then choose from the generous selection of mental health conditions and topics in the A-Z list. I selected Developmental, Intellectual Delay and Disabilities and many services, help and support for the Ontario region popped up. This website is just the kind of thing we caregivers raising disabled children benefit from.


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What is an Intellectual Disability?

Just this year, all three of my mentally disabled grandchildren have undergone Psycho-educational testing with a result of two of them being diagnosed with an Intellectual Disability, and the third with a specific learning disability. This diagnoses means that the children are likely to learn and develop significantly more slowly than other children of the same age.

According to Community Living Ontario, at communitylivingontario.ca, an Intellectual Disability is:…a disability that significantly affects one’s ability to learn and use information. It is a disability that is present during childhood and continues throughout one’s life.  A person who has an intellectual disability is capable of participating effectively in all aspects of daily life, but sometimes requires more assistance than others in learning a task, adapting to changes in tasks and routines, and addressing the many barriers to participation that result from the complexity of our society.

When the Psychological Report was compiled and a diagnosis made, many aspects of my grandchildren’s lives and abilities were taken into consideration, i.e.,

  • Reason For Referral (in their case to review their learning strengths and needs for programme planning)
  • Background Information
  • Observations during the assessment
  • Document Reviews of previous assessments and school reports
  • Interviews with the child and myself
  • Assessment Measures which include professional Developmental Tests
  • Behaviour Testing
  • Memory and Learning Testing
  • Individual Achievement Testing

For my grandchildren, I suspect, the testing felt long and arduous as it was completed over several appointments, but each one managed to complete the task, and as a result the older two were placed in a specialized school program for children with learning disabilities. See posts: What is Specialized School Programming? and What is Specialized School Programming: High School?


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Child and Adolescent Services of Hamilton, Ontario

According to the http://www.hamilton.ca website, Child and Adolescent Services is an…

  • Outpatient Children’s Mental Health Centre funded by The Ministry of Children and Youth Services. Our staff includes Child and Youth Workers, Clinical Therapists, Psychometrists (specialists in psychological testing), Marriage and Family Therapists, a Psychological Associate and Social Workers. Together, we have a wide variety of skills and experience.
  • We offer family therapy, individual counselling, play therapy, psychotherapy, psychological testing and consultation to community agencies and facilities. Our Forensic Unit offers services for those in trouble with the law (assessments for fire setters, sex offenders, Young Offenders and post dispositional treatment for Young Offenders). We also offer specialized treatment services for trauma and dissociation.
  • The programs at Child and Adolescent Services are designed to meet the unique needs of our clients. Our staff start with the basic premise that all families have strengths and resources. Our goal is to identify these unique strengths and resources, and to support families who are working towards a positive future. We believe in the uniqueness of individuals and their right to discreet, confidential services.

We value each person as an important and unique individual as perceived by self and others.

  • The family is the natural place of the child while affirming the child’s need and right to interact with the community and to be safe in all environments.
  • Respect the rights of others to hold values and beliefs different from those we hold ourselves.
  • Treatment, research and prevention which utilizes several disciplines and partnerships within the community and beyond.
  • Good morale and the contributions of all staff and others involved with clients.
  • Child and Adolescent Services’ strategic involvement in the community (planning).
  • Clients have the right to be involved in planning their services and have rights to information where appropriate.

As a grandmother raising grandchildren with ADHD, FAS, Intellectual disabilities, and behavioural disorders, I am guilty of being overly confident of their ability to make sound choices, and of being naive about what the future might bring. For some strange reason, when I took custody of my grandchildren, I thought our future together would be bright despite the fact that their birth mother (my daughter), and their fathers suffered from equally or more severe disabilities as the children themselves, so when one of my grandchildren, on becoming a teen, began showing signs of being severely out of control, I put it down to adolescence when I should have been much more aware of the confusion disabled adolescents might suffer as they enter their teen years.

As a result of my grandchild’s actions, the police became involved and he was charged with criminal activity. We as a family were subsequently directed to Child and Adolescent Services of Hamilton, Ontario, for assessments and counselling. Now, I have to admit, after all the emotional turmoil I experienced when seeing my grandchild arrested, charged, and incarcerated, I wasn’t looking forward to being reminded how bad a parent I was by any counselor, so I’m pleased to report that the staff at the Child and Adolescent Centre couldn’t have been more understanding, which certainly took a load of unnecessary guilt off my mind. Fortunately, after a lengthy physiological assessment by C & A, the court decided that the my grandchild should not be placed in custody and was, instead, placed in foster care and assigned a probation officer.

If you live in the Hamilton-Wentworth area and feel you could benefit from the help of Child & Adolescent Services, please call Contact Hamilton at 905-570-8888 or go to www.hamilton.ca and click on Public Health & Social Services, then choose Child & Adolescent Services from the list.