Category Archives: Conferences

Shake It Up For ADHD

adhdAre you aware of the advocacy group CADDAC (Centre for ADHD Awareness Canada)? This organization (and its sister org CADDRA) is a useful resource for parents, families, psychologists, educators and those diagnosed with ADHD themselves.

Today, on the CADDAC blog, there’s a useful explanation of a new University of Mississippi study indicating that movement actually helps facilitate learning and growth for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. From the study: “Hyperactive movements associated with the disorder may allow children with ADHD to enhance their cognitive abilities.”

This makes sense in many ways as many of us (even those without ADHD) feel the need to stand up, “fidget”, tap fingers or toes, twirl hair, or bounce up and down to get our creative juices flowing.

Sitting still for long periods of time not only inhibits healthy development and may cause severe health implications but, for children with ADHD, it can cause stress and dissuade imagination and working memory. 

Is positive thinking the key for kids?

Here’s more from U of M: “By allowing the hyperactive behaviors to continue, children with ADHD are able to increase their arousal and remain alert in the classroom. Yet conventional teaching and treatment methods demand ADHD children remain still, and the ability to focus on the lesson is lost in the child’s struggle to focus on not squirming or fidgeting, said Sarver.”

These days, many educators and teachers (at least in our school board) better understand that occasional movement, special seating arrangements, more frequent “health breaks” and re-imagined dynamics not only allows all students to more fully enjoy school but allows those with ADHD to fit in, become more engaged and reach their full learning potential.

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Transitions

Canadian Mental Health Week 2013Day Two of the Vanier Institute’s Families in Canada 2015 conference is now complete and my head is swimming with facts, figures, ideas and connections.

My wallet is swimming with business cards.

I’ve never felt choked up at a conference before: beyond those stats, facts and figures were real emotions, revelations, secrets, personal journeys and testimonials, connections. All of the panelists shared personal insights into the state of families today – why some are broken and why some are successful.

Everyone was touched by the candid portrayals of life as a Canadian family. Whether it was the lawyer speaking about her transition to becoming female, to immigrants talking about their own transition into Canadian life, to dads talking about transitioning into loving, caring role models (sometimes primary role models) for their children; one of the conference themes centred around moving and changing and growing.

We can all relate I’m sure. What transition are you presently going through? New parent? New grad? New diagnosis? New relationship? Please feel free to share.

On Not Judging Covers

Heart PuzzleToday I had the good fortune of attending day one of The Vanier Institute’s Families in Canada conference.

As one of the only writers in attendance, I met and listened to fascinating attendees and speakers. They included Andrew Solomon, Ann Douglas, Mary Gordon, university professors, and executive directors of family-related non-profit organizations.

So many facets of family were covered: law and incarceration, youth justice, gender roles, work and family balance (or integration), mental health and stress, domestic violence, millennials in the workplace, and childcare.

I took copious notes and can’t wait to digest all of the information and hopefully use much of it for this blog and for pitching story ideas to magazine editors.

However, one of the best and possibly most ironic (or iconic) aspects of my day happened on the bus ride back from the conference. The bus was packed as it was rush hour and I was heading to suburbia. After about three stops, a man in his mid-thirties with a mohawk, earrings, tattoos, white tank and shorts got on the bus with a stroller – an adorable one year old boy was inside.

On first blush, one might think of the situation: Oh, poor kid. That man probably isn’t a strong role model/father/caregiver. 

But, that wasn’t the case at all: The man was obviously loving and devoted to his baby; carefully putting a blanket on him and encouraging him to suck his pacifier to go to sleep. He appreciated all of the coos coming from fellow passengers and bragged about his little boy’s accomplishments.

It was a sweet scenario and reminded me of why I came to this conference and why I enjoy writing about families, relationships, parenting and children: Even families who look perfect from the outside usually aren’t, and families who appear imperfect are often loving, caring, and whole.

Can We Handle The Truth?

Photographer attribution: "Aboriginal War Veterans monument (close)" by I, Padraic Ryan. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Photographer attribution: “Aboriginal War Veterans monument (close)” by I, Padraic Ryan. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Here in Canada, The Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has just concluded.  The TRC took an in depth look at how and why 150,000 First Nations children were not only taken against their will and forced to attend church-run “schools” starting in the 1950s but why so many were abused – sexually, physically and mentally – most for years at a time.

Labeled a “cultural genocide” by one TRC investigator, Canadians as a whole will have to reconcile this terrible time in history and understand why non-Indian and religious leaders felt they had a right to overtake a community and force thousands against their will. The results for many are a lifetime of anguish and mental health challenges including depression, anger, anxiety, sadness, grief and suicide.

The stories, pictures, anecdotes from the official testimony are heart-wrenching. Children as young as five years old were severely beaten and raped; First Nations people were made to feel like second-class citizens and, for decades, no one did anything about it – either through apathy or ignorance.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have much to learn about this period and about the First Nations experience. I know many friends and neighbours are horrified and embarrassed that we did nothing to stop it.

But, this is the truth and we all need to learn from it.

[Note: I’m happy to receive constructive criticism about First Nations, TRC or any other fact or idea mentioned here. Feel free to comment or email me directly.]

We Are Family

A Clear Path

Next week I’ll be attending the Vanier Institute’s Families in Canada conference. As a freelance writer  focused on subjects relating to children, parenting, mental health and social development, this is the perfect learning event.

How I’ll attend the myriad sessions in only two short days, I do not know. Themes include everything from LGBT issues to divorce, poverty, gender, northern families, volunteering, education, violence and love;  obviously there aren’t many topics that can’t be intertwined into the concept of “family”.

One of my favourite reflections on family is written by my writer colleague Christina Frank. The Half-Life of the Divorced Parent,posted on the New York Times’ Motherlode blog, is not only brilliantly written but poignant, clever and sad. I often think of Christina’s words as I go through my own parenting journey.

No one expert or speaker can define the complex topic of family as it means different things to different people. Trust, honesty, loyalty, friendship, secrets, ties, heritage, culture, blood relations, laughter, tears, journey, protection…

What does family mean to you?

You, Me + Toxic Beauty

Opening disclaimer: Trusted blog readers, fear not; I have not forsaken you. I’ve begun a new job and still freelance on the side. So, needless to say: life is busy. Thank you for understanding.

ToxicBanner_0

Toxic banner from ED web site

Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of attending Environmental Defence Canada’s “eco-beauty” event in downtown Toronto.

Now, what does eco-beauty and toxic cosmetics have to do with kids’ mental health? Stay with me…

Environmental Defence puts on an eco-beauty event about once every six months. Open to the public, certified members share their wares for education and profit. And, boy were the products enticing. Vendors offered organic, non-toxic cosmetic and beauty items such as:

  • Bath and hair oil and baby oil
  • Body lotion
  • Lipsticks, lip balms, face lotions
  • Natural deodorants, hemorrhoid creams and sore throat remedies

Bloggers were also treated to a short presentation about the “toxic ten”: These are “cancer-causing, hormone-disrupting, and allergy-inducing substances that have been banned or restricted in European products that can still be found in Canadian products.”

The toxic ten ingredients include: triclosan, artificial musk, parabens, phthalates, petrolatum, BHA and BHT. Find out more by visiting the ED’s page on toxins in personal care products.

Now the link between mental health and toxins? Beyond obvious concerns and links between ingesting toxins and the physical and mental health of adults, babies and children, researchers have found that triclosan is an endocrine disruptor: “substances that interfere with the body’s hormones…suppress[ing] the activity of mast cells, which are important to the functioning of the immune system.”

Evaluating all of this data leads me to re-read ingredients included not only in food and drink but also in my and my children’s shampoos, conditioners, body wash, body lotion, medicines, etc.

What about you?

Tell Me!

Tell Me!

Recently, I received two non-fiction children’s books written by Leanne Matlow – a counselor and workshop facilitator based in Toronto. Her two books are: Thinking About Thoughts and Tell Me!

Tell Me!, illustrated by Tamar Tal-El, focuses on the worry, anxiety and concern that sometimes consumes children and teens.

In this short colourful book, a pre-teen is worried about her twin sister, Kim. Kim is dealing with an anxiety disorder and the book cleverly and clearly illustrates how one family member’s health concerns can radiate out to affect family and friends. Kim’s sister is frustrated because although she can see that  Kim is suffering and her personality has changed, no one explains what’s going on. She herself feels anxious and alone.

After speaking with her parents, our protagonist understands that Kim is having a difficult time. She begins to see a “coach” named Dr. Simon who later explains to her whole family what’s happening with Kim and how they too can help her out. “Finally, the truth!” says our protagonist.

Dr. Simon goes on to outline the four “superheroes” whom Kim uses to help stay calm and focused. They are:

1) Do-It Guy who tells us it’s best not to avoid; just give it a try.

2) Distraction Dude helps us focus on something else instead of our anxious thoughts.

3) Whoa! Man reminds us how to stop unreal, unwanted or unhelpful thoughts.

4) The Reflector assists us by reminding us of our past successes.

If your child is dealing with anxiety you may want to pick up Tell Me! and use it as a tool for meaningful discussion. Let me know if you do.

Leanne Matlow is a Professional Colleague of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy and an Associate member of the Association for Behavior and Cognitive Therapies. Leanne’s blog for parents can be found at http://lmatlow.blogspot.ca.