Challenged Hope

Grandmother raising Grandchildren with FASD in Hamilton Ontario Canada

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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, 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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Appropriate Stages Of Child Development

When my grandchildren were young, I realized they were not developing mentally as most children do, and looked on-line for a list of age appropriate development stages but, for some reason, was hard pressed to find one. But just the other day, I came across this one at and thought it might be helpful to other caregivers:

 Parents are often the first to notice that “something doesn’t seem right.” If you are aware of the common signs of learning disabilities, you will be able to recognize potential problems early. The following is a checklist of characteristics that may point to a learning disability. Most people will, from time to time, see one or more of these warning signs in their children. This is normal. If, however, you see several of these characteristics over a long period of time, consider the possibility of a learning disability.


  • Speaks later than most children
  • Pronunciation problems
  • Slow vocabulary growth, often unable to find the right word
  • Difficulty rhyming words
  • Trouble learning numbers, alphabet, days of the week, colors, shapes
  • Extremely restless and easily distracted
  • Trouble interacting with peers
  • Difficulty following directions or routines
  • Fine motor skills slow to develop

Grades K-4

  • Slow to learn the connection between letters and sounds
  • Confuses basic words (run, eat, want)
  • Makes consistent reading and spelling errors including letter reversals (b/d), inversions (m/w), transpositions (felt/left), and substitutions (house/home)
  • Transposes number sequences and confuses arithmetic signs (+, -, x, /, =)
  • Slow to remember facts
  • Slow to learn new skills, relies heavily on memorization
  • Impulsive, difficulty planning
  • Unstable pencil grip
  • Trouble learning about time
  • Poor coordination, unaware of physical surroundings, prone to accidents

Grades 5-8

  • Reverses letter sequences (soiled/solid, left/felt)
  • Slow to learn prefixes, suffixes, root words, and other spelling strategies
  • Avoids reading aloud
  • Trouble with word problems
  • Difficulty with handwriting
  • Awkward, fist-like, or tight pencil grip
  • Avoids writing assignments
  • Slow or poor recall of facts
  • Difficulty making friends
  • Trouble understanding body language and facial expressions

High School Students and Adults

  • Continues to spell incorrectly, frequently spells the same word differently in a single piece of writing
  • Avoids reading and writing tasks
  • Trouble summarizing
  • Trouble with open-ended questions on tests
  • Weak memory skills
  • Difficulty adjusting to new settings
  • Works slowly
  • Poor grasp of abstract concepts
  • Either pays too little attention to details or focuses on them too much
  • Misreads information

Have your child evaluated

Ask school authorities to provide a comprehensive educational evaluation including assessment tests. Tests for learning disabilities are referred to as assessment tests because they evaluate and measure areas of strengths and weaknesses. A comprehensive evaluation, however, includes a variety of procedures in addition to the assessment tests, such as interviews, direct observation, reviews of your child’s educational and medical history, and conferences with professionals who work with your child. Either you or the school can request this evaluation, but it is given only with your written permission. Since you are one of the best observers of your child’s development, it is important that you be an active participant in the evaluation process. If you don’t understand the test results, ask questions!

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What is a Learning Disability?

For the longest while, I thought a learning disability meant that a child didn’t do well in school. Not until I began browsing the Internet, did I discover it’s a neurological disorder that can affect not only a child’s ability to read, write, spell and do math, but also their powers to reason, recall, and memorize which, obviously, are all linked to education, but can also negatively affect their daily activities.

As a grandparent raising grandchildren with learning disabilities, due to this disorder, I witness the challenges they face each day. A learning disability can’t be cured so the child must learn to live within specific boundaries handed to them through this condition, but with love and support the child can reach his full potential.

For a child with a learning disability, it’s important for them to know their strengths and be aware of their weaknesses. Caregivers can work with the child’s school and experts in mental health to offset the difficulties the child faces each day. As I browsed through the Internet I came across this list of learning disabilities at

Common learning disabilities:

  • Dyslexia – a language-based disability in which a person has trouble understanding written words. It may also be referred to as reading disability or reading disorder.
  • Dyscalculia – a mathematical disability in which a person has a difficult time solving arithmetic problems and grasping math concepts.
  • Dysgraphia – a writing disability in which a person finds it hard to form letters or write within a defined space.
  • Auditory and Visual Processing Disorders – sensory disabilities in which a person has difficulty understanding language despite normal hearing and vision.
  • Nonverbal Learning Disabilities– a neurological disorder which originates in the right hemisphere of the brain, causing problems with visual-spatial, intuitive, organizational, evaluative and holistic processing functions

If you believe your child suffers with any one of the above learning disabilities, it’s time to communicate with the staff at your child’s school and contact your family doctor. Help is available.

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What is ADD/ADHD?

I’m not a doctor, so I can’t comment on this subject professionally, but I did browse many websites for information and, because all my grandchildren suffer with ADD/ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder), I have certainly had experience dealing with it. ADD/ADHD can cause children (or adults) to be inattentive, impulsive and/or hyperactive above and beyond what is considered by those in the medical field to be “normal”. ADD/ADHD can negatively affect your child’s learning, interaction with teachers, classmates and friends, and their social interactions as a whole.

There are several ways to combat ADD/ADHD. First it’s important to recognize the symptoms in your child. Is he/she more likely to blurt out comments or interrupt other inappropriately? Does he/she squirm or fidget in their seat as if never able to keep still? Have they been labelled as lazy, or out of control? Does he/she seem inattentive or excessively daydreaming? Does he/she show these signs in all areas of life – school, home, and at play? If so, a discussion with your family doctor would be a good first step. He/she will want to rule out other possibilities, such as: A medical condition; Traumatic event(s) which could be causing undue stress; Learning disabilities; Depression, or a Behavioural disorder. Then, if he/she decides there is a possibility your child has the symptoms, you will probably be referred to a consultant who specializes in the disorder.

Apparently, this disorder starts before the child is seven years of age, but not all kids with ADD/ADHD are hyperactive but can be inattentive and appear as if daydreaming. Because children with the disorder find it difficult to stay on task, they might appear disorganized. Plus a noisy disruptive environment makes it harder for them to stay focused as opposed to a quiet, calm surrounding.

The inattentive child often:

  • Appears not to hear or listen when spoken to.
  • Has trouble paying attention to detail.
  • Gets quickly bored with activities.
  • Often misplaces things, forgetting where he/she put them.
  • Makes careless mistakes without realizing.
  • Has trouble finishing projects.
  • Is very easily distracted.
  • Is impulsive, calling out or interrupting at inappropriate times.
  • Has difficulty following instructions and carrying them out.

The hyperactive child often:

  • Fidgets or squirms in their seat, unable to keep still.
  • Often leaves seat at an inappropriate time.
  • Be impulsive and lash out verbally or physically.
  • Runs and climbs objects that other children wouldn’t climb.
  • Talks non-stop.
  • Has trouble relaxing, wants to always be moving.
  • Can’t relax.

The impulsive child often:

  • Invades others’ space.
  • Interrupt others’ conversations.
  • Be un-diplomatic.
  • Ask irrelevant questions during an ongoing conversation.
  • Ask very personal questions or ridicule others’ personal behaviours.
  • Are prone to moodiness or aggressive behaviour.
  • Can’t take turns or wait in line.
  • Is subject to tantrums or outbursts.
  • Can’t take time to find solutions to problems.

It’s imperative this disorder be treated for, if left unchecked, it can cause many struggles in the child’s life, especially in adulthood. Children with ADD/ADHD often get into trouble at school and in the neighbourhood. Because of their disorder they find it difficult to make friends causing them to feel lonely or rejected.

If you do receive a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD for your child, you can work with your doctor to provide a personalized treatment plan that meets your child’s specific needs. Effective treatment for childhood ADD/ADHD includes behavioural therapy, parent education, social support, and assistance at school. Medication may also be used, but should never be the sole treatment.

As a grandparent raising grandchildren with ADD/ADHD, due to their “controlling” nature, life can become frustrating. I have found consistency, organized habits, structure, praise, rewards and consequences, and concise communication are all key to keeping control. I also discovered that solid communication with the children’s school helped keep us all on the “same page” so the children knew the rules would be the same in both situations and not become confused.