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16 Aug, Tuesday
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Montreal Families

Centre offers help to kids with learning disabilities

School can be a minefield for children who have a learning disability, behaviour problems or mental illness. Academic work may not get done, putting a young person at risk for failing or dropping out. As well, children may become socially isolated because they don’t have skills to make friends.

For more than a decade, many of these kids and their parents have found help and support at the Family Resource Centre in Pierrefonds. Executive Director Carrie Goldberg started the centre when her two children, who both have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), began school. As someone with ADD herself, Goldberg was well aware of the difficulties her children were likely to face academically.

So she and her staff developed support programs for children and families dealing with learning disabilities, ADD, obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD), oppositional defiance disorders, and other cognitive and mental health issues. The centre serves people from the ages of 5 to 25 and has helped approximately 700 young people as well as 300 parents since it opened.

Goldberg says the centre gives people the tools they need to succeed, both in school and outside the classroom. And in one case, these tools have proven to be a life saver.

“We saw one young lady after she had written her first suicide note in Grade 6,” Goldberg recalls. The girl had been diagnosed with ADD and dyscalculia, a learning disability that makes doing math almost impossible (she had failed math from Grade 4 onwards). The Centre helped find a school where she could thrive. When it became apparent that her dyscalculia would prevent her from passing Quebec’s obligatory high school math classes, the Centre intervened again. They lobbied the local MNA, who eventually was able to persuade the Ministry of Education to grant her special permission to graduate without the required math credits. Today, the young woman is a student at Concordia University.

Goldberg says that social and study skills form the cornerstone of strategies taught to children and teens. Through art, music, drama, and play, Goldberg and her facilitators teach children how to work in a team, listen to instructions, and make and retain friends.

In study skills workshops, children learn how to take a test, study effectively and manage time. “We show them how to use a calendar,” Goldberg says. “We hold one up and say ‘this is a tool that makes life easier and will give you more time to do the things you want to do.’”

Teaching parents and educators

The centre also offers counselling, support groups and workshops for parents. “These programs help parents realize they are not alone and it enables them to learn what they have to do to help their children and families,” Goldberg says.

In a typical workshop, parents learn about communication and effective discipline as well as strategies for navigating the education system with a child who has learning disabilities or mental health issues. The centre teaches parents how to effectively advocate for their children in school and its staff will even go to meetings with school administrators and teachers to help come up with solutions for kids.

The centre reaches out to educators through professional development seminars that help teachers better guide and instruct students. For example, Goldberg suggests teachers clearly communicate classroom routines, rules and consequences because some children, especially those with attention deficit issues, may not easily grasp what is expected of them in class. When everyone is on the same page about desired behaviours, then the class functions more smoothly.

Although there are fees for the services, no one is refused help because of an inability to pay. Each family’s situation is dealt with individually and creative solutions can often be worked out. For example, families will volunteer by preparing mailings, making phone calls, or doing Internet research in exchange for services.

The centre primarily serves the English-speaking community, but expects to begin offering services in French in January 2012. They will be hosting a series of parenting workshops at the West Island Women’s Center in mid-January 2012. For more information:

Family Resource Centre
4855  Sources Blvd., Pierrefonds
(514) 685-5912
www.familyresourcecenter.qc.ca

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