Ryder’s Story – How Our Attention Clinic Can Help

Welcome to our Attention Clinic:

For over 25 years our Clinic has been providing a multi-disciplinary approach to the treatment of ADHD. The families that come to our Clinic work with a physician and psychologists to determine the best treatment plan to cope with their attention difficulties. Clients can explore if medication is a good fit for them and develop strategies to help better manage their attention difficulties at home and at school.

You do not need a diagnosis or a doctor referral to come to our Clinic and we welcome all inquires if you feel  someone in your family may need help with attention issues.

Meet Ryder… Finding the right diagnosis is key to success!

By Christmas of his grade 3 year, Ryder’s parents and teachers were very concerned about his lack
of progress in school. He had received speech, language and literacy help but continued to struggle to understand concepts, follow directions and complete work. A psycho-educational assessment did not indicate a learning disability. Both Ryder and his parents were feeling frustrated because they knew something was standing in the way of his success, so they contacted CanLearn.

Ryder and his family  worked with an Attention Clinic team (pediatrician and psychologist) who diagnosed ADHD. Ryder’s parents were given strategies to support him at home around organization, routine and behaviour management. Thanks to a positive response to medication, Ryder’s focus improved and he started experiencing success at school. A year later,Ryder loves school and is doing well. He has closed the gap and is keeping up with his classmates. His hockey coach reported that he was no longer the last one to get changed before or after the game and he hasn’t lost any clothing yet this year!

Too make an appointment or find out more about Attention Clinic or call 403-686-9300 ext.102.

Celia’s Story – Addressing Attention Issues at Any Age

Attention Clinic- Solutions for All Ages:

CanLearn doesn’t  just work with kids! For the past 15 years, we have also worked with adults. We are pleased to have a psychiatrist on our team who can work with our psychologists to help adults whose attention difficulties are having a negative impact on them at work, in their studies, or in their relationships.

Meet Celia…It’s never too late to get help!

At 53 Celia referred herself for an attention assessment after both her adult children were diagnosed with ADHD.  All her life Celia had struggled with task completion, efficiency, organizational issues, and forgetfulness.  Given the strong hereditary component of ADHD, her family encouraged her to pursue an
assessment.  After a thorough assessment process, including meetings with the psychologists and physicians at CanLearn, a diagnosis of ADHD was confirmed and Celia chose to participate in a medication trial.  She immediately noticed improvements in her focus, clarity of mind, task initiation, task completion, and reduced anxiety. In her own words,“I am now in a place again that feels normal and am enjoying that very much.”

Too make an appointment or find out more about Attention Clinic or call 403-686-9300 ext.102.

Sally Taking Charge – PGI Award Winner 2016

Nguissaly Sylla (Sally) is a learner who demonstrates how improving foundational skills can change your life.

Sally came from Senegal in 2009. When Sally arrived, she did not speak any English, making it hard to cope with the tasks of everyday life. Her husband worked long hours, so she felt lonely and isolated, and she missed her family back home. On top of this, her immigration status kept her from enrolling in courses. In 2013 the immigration issues were dealt with and the door to learning opened. Sally’s learning journey started with LINC courses, and then high school upgrading.

Like many things in life, a learning journey is never smooth. There are always bumps in the road. In Sally’s case, the bump was a Biology 10 course. The bump started resembling Mount Everest when her learning difficulties became intertwined with trying to make ends meet.  It was at this point that Sally enrolled in CanLearn’s Taking Charge program.

Taking Charge aims to help adult learners develop their self-determination, attitudes, and knowledge while building their basic literacy skills. The program is delivered in small groups and individually.

Sally took part in both components of the program. Through the one-on-one support of a retired teacher, Sally was able to successfully complete her Biology 10 course. Sally also learned how to build a resume and started to look for employment. Sally has strengthened her confidence, found a job and built the skills that she needed to continue pursuing her education. She is following her dream of having a career in health care.

CanLearn was pleased to be able to honour Sally and her achievements with the 2016 PGI Learner Achievement Award.

ADHD Awareness Month Myth #1

October is ADHD Awareness Month! This is the second episode in a series that will look at ADHD myths and it will give listeners information to help them to better understand ADHD.
In this episode we look at the myth “ADHD is just an excuse for poor parenting or “bad behavior”.

Listen now.

ADHD Awareness Month Myth #2

October is ADHD Awareness Month! This is the second episode in a series that will look at ADHD myths and it will give listeners information to help them to better understand ADHD.
In this episode we look at the myth “all children with ADHD have behavior problems”.

Listen now.

Catch Them Doing Good

by Laura Godfrey, AAC – ADHD Coach.

One per minute with their parents. Two per minute with their teachers or peers in school. 0.7 per minute with their peers outside of school. What am I talking about? Read on…

In a study by William E. Pelham, Jr. and Gregory A. Fabiano in 2008, they estimated that a typical ADHD child has nearly half a million negative social interactions each year.

For children impacted by ADHD, there is nothing that they would like more than to have others, and especially their family, accept them just as they are. Sadly, these children often try to present a more positive view of themselves that is not always realistic in an effort to be liked at home and at school. They fear admitting that they are not as good as they believe they ought to be.

Studies have indicated that it takes at least four positive statements to offset the effects of one negative statement to a child. Think about that in relation to the number of negative statements that a child with ADHD receives every day.

So why do we remember all the negative things in glorious detail done to us or said to us? Why do we remember the critical remarks more than the positives ones? There is a reason. You can blame it on the brain.

Studies conducted by Dr. John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago show what he calls, “the negativity bias” of the brain. Negative remarks do have a much greater impact on our brain. The brain is more sensitive and responds more to unpleasant news and remarks. That is why personal insults or criticism hit us harder and stay with us longer. Our brain has a built-in partiality toward negative information.

When you tell your child, “Thanks for unloading the dishwasher for me” and five minutes later you whisper, “You forgot to take out the trash—again,” do you know what happened? Your whisper sounds like a shout. In his brain, that negative comment drowned out the positive one. It’s like the positive remark was never heard.

Our brain needs a higher number of positive entries than negative ones in order to counterbalance the built‑in negativity bias. Several small, frequent, positive acts or comments work more effectively than one giant-size positive. The size of the positive is not what counts; it’s the quantity. This is strictly a numbers game!

So, what can you do? All children, regardless of whether they have ADHD, enjoy receiving attention from others. Providing lots of positive attention for appropriate behaviour is a powerful way for parents to reinforce appropriate behaviour. It will also let your child know what kind of behaviour you are expecting from them. Praising children when they exhibit appropriate behaviour is also an important way to help children feel good about themselves.

To make the positive attention more powerful, try using the following strategies:

  1. Make your positive attention specific. Tell your child exactly what she has done that you liked. For example, “Thank you for picking your toys up right away. I really like it when you do what I ask.”
  2. Give positive attention right away or right after it has happened. If you give them attention in this manner, the behaviour is more likely to occur in the future.
  3. Be on the lookout for good behaviour. As parents, we rarely miss an opportunity to scold our children for inappropriate behaviour. How many times do we miss the opportunity to let them know what they are doing appropriately? Observe your children more closely and you will find numerous opportunities to reinforce the good behaviours displayed.
  4. Use CanLearn’s iFeed method to reinforce appropriate behaviour.
    i – Immediately – tell them right away!
    F – Frequently – remember, it’s a numbers game!
    E – Eye Contact – make sure you have their attention!
    E – Enthusiastically – praise, and remember to be sincere!
    D – Describe – tell them exactly what and why!

Don’t forget to affirm them! A positive affirmation can make a big difference. Here are some examples to get you started:

  1. You can do this. Sometimes your child just needs to hear this from someone who cares about him.
  2. Who you are matters. Tell your children that you appreciate them. Tell them that they are loved, that they are valued, and that they matter.
  3. It’s not your fault. Let your children know that while they cannot control what others do, they can choose how they respond.
  4. You are amazing. Your child needs to know that they are capable of doing amazing things. Sometimes they just need to be told and then reminded.
  5. You are good at solving problems. We know that what you pay attention to grows. Words are energy and they can build up or tear down. Make your words count.

“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless” L. R. Koast.

Pelham, W. E., Jr., & Fabiano, G. A. (2008). Evidence-Based Psychosocial Treatments for Attention-Deficit=Hyperactivity Disorder. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology,37(1), 184-214.


Laura Godfrey has worked in various roles with the CanLearn Society (formerly Calgary Learning Centre) since 2007. She is currently working with the clinical team as an ADHD Coach and providing Strategy sessions for individuals with learning and attention difficulties. She believes in the benefits of looking at and understanding an individuals strengths and how this process can empower individuals and families to take control of their lives.

Put Your Oxygen Mask on First!

By Krista Forand, M.Ed.

Parents often ask me for strategies to help their children with emotional regulation. One of the best strategies that I can suggest is to develop and model your own emotional regulation strategies and encourage supportive conversations about emotions among all family members. Parents play a critical role in teaching their children how to express their feelings or emotions, respond to others’ emotions, and manage their emotions in different situations. As adults, we may take for granted how influential our behaviour is on children, but it is essential to understand that it starts with us.

If you’ve ever been a passenger on an airplane, you’ve likely heard the flight attendant’s speech about what to do in an emergency. If the cabin air pressure decreases and the oxygen masks are deployed, we are supposed to put our oxygen mask on first and then assist our child. However, this doesn’t feel intuitive to most parents, because when they see their child in trouble, they want to help them immediately. But if you fail to put your mask on first, you may not have the strength or ability to help your child. This also stands true for helping children develop their skills to deal with strong emotions.

Research has shown that children imitate and internalize ways of managing their emotions by observing their parents and other significant adults in their lives. Children learn to gauge how to express emotion and whether their feelings are valid by how adults respond when they are upset, frustrated, or sad. Studies have found that unsupportive reactions to children’s negative emotions were associated with poorer emotion regulation. Additionally, studies had shown that when parents worked with their child to use helpful coping strategies (e.g., distraction, changing their perspective about the situation), the child expressed less anger and sadness.

The message here is that we, as adults need to make sure that we’re putting on our oxygen mask first and then helping our children. How can we do this? A few questions can get us thinking about our emotional regulation abilities and whether we are positive role models for our children:

  • Do you have a habit of dismissing emotions or accepting and validating them?
  • How do you handle anger? How do you express your negative emotions in front of others? What about in front of your child? Are you able to follow the axiom “use your words,” in the same way you expect from your child? Are you able to notice when you are becoming upset and use a strategy to avoid going completely over the emotional edge?
  • What creative ideas can you come up with at the moment to help your child think differently about an upsetting situation?
  • Consider the overall messages you want to teach your child about expressing emotions, understanding emotions in others and managing emotions in stressful situations.

Being more mindful of our emotional regulation habits and strategies (positive or negative) and figuring out whether we need to make some changes for the better is a great first step in helping children develop good emotional regulation skills. Overall, the more we are in tune with how we respond to stressful situations, the more in tune we can be for our children. Talking about and learning strategies together can also be an excellent way to increase communication and positivity in family relationships.

If you are looking for a way to facilitate these conversations with your child, CanLearn Society provides a four-week self-regulation for children 8 – 11 and their parents to learn ways to identify emotions, deal with intense emotions and problem solve in tricky situations. Registration is now open. Visit our website for more information on Calm Kids, Happy Families.

Krista Forand, M.Ed.

Krista has worked in various roles with the CanLearn Society (formerly Calgary Learning Centre) since 2009. She is currently working with the clinical team as a registered provisional psychologist, providing assessments and group interventions for individuals with learning and attention difficulties. In 2014, Krista obtained her graduate degree from the University of Calgary where she cultivated her interest in learning disabilities and attention disorders. She believes in the therapeutic effect of psychoeducational assessment and how this process can empower individuals and families to take control of their lives, by understanding their unique way of being in the world.

Research references:

Gottman, J.M., Katz, L.F., & Hooven, C. (1996). Parental meta-emotion philosophy and the emotional life of families: Theoretical models and preliminary data. Journal of Family Psychology, 10, 243–268. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.10.3.243

Morris, A.S., Morris, M.D.S., Silk, J.S., & Steinberg, L. (2011). The influence of mother-child emotion regulation strategies on children’s expression of anger and sadness. Developmental Psychology, 47(1), 213-225. doi: 10.1037/a0021021

Morris, A.S., Silk, J.S., Steinberg, L., Myers, S.S., & Robinson, L.R. (2007). The role of the family context in the development of emotion regulation. Social Development, 16, 361–388. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9507.2007.00389.x

Shaffer, A., Suveg, C., Thomassin, K., & Bradbury, L.L. (2012). Emotion socialization in the context of family risks: Links to child emotion regulation. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 21, 917-924. doi: 10.1007/s10826-011-9551-3


Technology Supports for ADHD

By Krista Forand, M.Ed.

Technology is all around us! We live in a world full of technology that is constantly changing and improving the way we live (although that may be arguable, particularly if you’ve ever experienced a computer crash or have had to navigate a complicated automated phone system!). We don’t really think about how we may use technology on a daily basis to solve our problems, but we all do it. For example, I often set alarms on my phone to remind me to do certain things, especially things that are more out of the ordinary and not part of my routine (e.g., taking chicken out of the freezer to defrost).

On a larger scale, we can use technology to gain access to information, demonstrate our own knowledge and abilities and take part in society. When we use technology in this particular way it is often referred to as “assistive technology”. Obvious examples of assistive technology include wheel chair ramps and hearing aids. These things allow people with disabilities to have greater access to society despite the challenges they face that are related to their disabilities. Assistive technology for ADHD might be less obvious to people, but there are many technology supports that can be quite useful for children and adults with ADHD. Below are some different assistive technologies that can be useful for children with ADHD. Consider what challenges your child faces and whether a particular assistive technology is worth trying.

My child with ADHD has a lot of trouble with understanding and remembering what she is reading. What can she do to improve her reading?  

One of the reasons why many children and adults with ADHD have difficulty with reading is because they do not engage in active reading strategies. Research has shown that “good readers” monitor their reading by asking questions like “does this make sense?” and they are active with the text (e.g., highlighting, writing notes in the margins, looking up new vocabulary). In addition to trying these strategies, it may also be helpful to use assistive technology. Many children with ADHD benefit from text-to-speech programs that take text and turn it into audio. It is recommended that children visually read along with the audio as this may help with their own reading speed and development of new vocabulary. There are several tablet applications (e.g., Natural Read) and computer software applications (e.g., read&write by texthelp) available that convert text to audio. Audiobooks are also another option. Audiobooks are widely available through public libraries, online and through special subscriptions (e.g., Audible.com).

My child has great ideas, but can’t get them on to paper. How can he improve is ability to express himself through writing?

Writing is often a very difficult task for children with ADHD because it involves coordinating different skills all at once. There is a motor component, the organization of ideas, remembering to use proper spelling, punctuation and grammar, and making sure that ideas are complete and clearly expressed for the reader. This can be a very daunting task for anyone with ADHD. Assistive technologies that may be helpful for writing include software and tablet applications that visually organize the writing process and create organized outlines of topics and ideas (e.g., Kidspiration and Inspiration). If your child is better at expressing himself verbally, consider using a speech-to-text program (e.g., Dragon Naturally Speaking). Speech-to-text allows the child to speak his ideas into the computer, which then turns it into text. Afterward, he can edit and re-organize sentences as needed. For children who are impatient with the writing process and tend to rush, speech-to-text may help to make the entire experience a lot less stressful. For children who have specific difficulty with messy writing, consider programs that teach them how to type (e.g., Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing for Kids).

My teenager with ADHD has trouble remembering to do things, being on time and getting things done on time. What can he do to improve in these areas?

One important thing to remember is that the ability to plan, organize and manage time is still developing in teenagers and the part of the brain that is involved with these executive functions (the prefrontal cortex) is not fully developed until approximately age 25. Teenagers with ADHD are typically behind their non-ADHD peers when it comes to these abilities and so it is important for parents to understand that they will require extra support from adults even into young adulthood. That being said, most teenagers are quite tech savvy and can access a number of assistive technologies for planning, organizing and time management. Help them to start using timers to monitor their time, electronic calendars with built in reminder alerts and applications that organize task lists and other activities. Some tablet and phone applications include 30/30, Evernote, DropTime, Time Timer, Todoist and Pomodoro Timer.

With all that being said, here are a few things to keep in mind when looking for assistive technology for your child with ADHD:

  • Keep it simple and make it work for you. If it takes more time to figure out how to use something and maintain it, it may not be the right choice. On the other hand, many of the software programs do require time to learn and train, so be patient and help your child learn how to use them. The companies who create these products often have video demonstrations, which can be a great way to learn, rather than reading about the product or trying to figure it out on your own.
  • Start small and do one thing at a time. Avoid buying or accessing too many technologies all at once. You will likely feel overwhelmed and not have the energy to give everything a fair try. First determine what area you and your child believe is the most important to address with technology. Then pick one thing and try it before moving on to something else.
  • Keep costs down. Always check first to see if there are free or low cost ways of accessing technologies. Use audiobooks from the public library and ask your child’s school if they have certain software programs available for home use. Sometimes schools have software licenses that allow families to use the programs at home. Many software companies also offer free trials of their products. Take advantage of free trials and don’t commit to a product until you’re sure that it is a good fit for your child. Also, explore the accessibility features on electronic devices. iPhones and iPads have a text-to-speech function called “voiceover” that will read documents and web pages out loud. Go to settings, general, accessibility to access. (You can even try to listen to this blog right now!)

For more information about apps, software, and hardware visit the www.adhdfamilies.ca and click on the Assistive Technology tab.

Krista Forand, M.Ed.

Krista has worked in various roles with the CanLearn Society (formerly Calgary Learning Centre) since 2009. She is currently working with the clinical team as a registered provisional psychologist, providing assessments and group interventions for individuals with learning and attention difficulties. In 2014, Krista obtained her graduate degree from the University of Calgary where she cultivated her interest in learning disabilities and attention disorders. She believes in the therapeutic effect of psychoeducational assessment and how this process can empower individuals and families to take control of their lives, by understanding their unique way of being in the world.

ADHD & Diet

By Krista Forand, M.Ed. 

If you look online, there is a lot of information about ADHD and diet. It can be hard for parents to make sense of all of this information, as much of it is conflicting. For parents who are considering dietary approaches to treating their child’s ADHD, it can be overwhelming, costly and time consuming to sift through all of this information and put their trust into a particular dietary approach.

One major piece of advice that I share is to watch out for dietary approaches that make sweeping general claims (e.g., “this will cure ADHD!) and that cost a lot of money. Also, if you are concerned about your child’s diet/nutrition or possible allergies speak with your family doctor about this and seek assistance from a registered dietician. Making drastic changes to your child’s diet or using mega doses of vitamins can actually cause serious health problems (e.g., mega doses of certain vitamins can cause liver problems). Lastly, don’t be fooled by product labels that say “natural” and assume that these products cannot be harmful, particularly in large doses. For example, ginger is considered a “natural” aid for stomach upset and inflammation, but it interacts with other things (e.g., ibuprofen, blood thinners), making it dangerous if taken in combination.

If you are considering dietary treatments for your child with ADHD, consider the research that has been conducted in this area and the limitations of this research. The first meta-analysis (i.e., a study of studies) that was conducted in this area was in 1983 and it focused on the Feingold diet (i.e., a diet that eliminates certain colorings and preservatives). They found a very small effect size that was not significant, meaning that this diet did not significantly help to improve ADHD symptoms (specifically hyperactivity).

In 2012, another meta-analysis was conducted that looked at both diet and food colors. These researchers found that about 8% of children with ADHD may have symptoms related to synthetic food colors. They also concluded that about 30% of children in the studies were responsive to the diets. However, they noted that the research in this area is very outdated and they recommended a renewed investigation into the influence that diet may have on ADHD symptoms.

A recent review (2014) noted several limitations of the ADHD-diet research. Out of all the dietary approaches that they reviewed (e.g., sugar and artificial sweeteners, elimination diets, amino acids, vitamins, essential fatty acids and minerals) they concluded that most of them do not have enough evidence to recommend their use in clinical practice. They did find some positive effects for fish oil supplementation and the Few Foods Diets, but noted that both of these approaches need more evidence before they can be recommended. It is also important to understand that the Few Foods Diet is a short-term restriction of foods for determining if a person has specific food sensitivities and was not recommended by these authors as a long-term treatment for ADHD. Restrictive diets can have negative consequences particularly for growing children who need a variety of foods for nutritional balance. Few Foods Diets typically take at least a year, while the longest treatment time in the studies that were reviewed was only 9 weeks.

Other issues with the ADHD-diet research include many studies that were not blinded, meaning parents knew that their child was on the special diet, which can contribute to false positive effects due to the parents’ expectation that it will work. Another criticism is that some of the studies involved parents who had a bias towards dietary approaches to treating ADHD and they weren’t blind. This is recipe for false positive effects and is not considered good research.

Another issue to consider is the effort that it takes parents to implement certain diets. The more restrictive “rules” you have about what can and cannot be eaten, the more that parents need to look for specific foods or products, find ways to cook differently and hope that their child will eat what is “allowed” according to the diet. Many families will struggle to maintain consistency with such “high needs diets”.

At this point, it is a good idea for everyone to keep a balanced perspective about the research that has been done in this area so far. Since the 1983 meta-analysis, which showed no benefits, there has been some inkling of benefit for some diets and perhaps fish oils. However, it is clear right now, that we need more research that is of higher quality. In the meantime, it is recommended that parents understand where diet may play a role in their child’s overall health, rather than seeking a dietary approach to cure their ADHD. Diet is just one of many areas of our lives (e.g., sleep, exercise, social support, education etc.) that can affect how we feel and function in everyday life. Parents may want to consider making very small changes (e.g., increasing vegetables) in these areas to help their child before seeking out more intense diet approaches that may or may not work.

Krista Forand, M.Ed.

Krista has worked in various roles with the CanLearn Society (formerly Calgary Learning Centre) since 2009. She is currently working with the clinical team as a registered psychologist, providing assessments and group interventions for individuals with learning and attention difficulties. In 2014, Krista obtained her graduate degree from the University of Calgary where she cultivated her interest in learning disabilities and attention disorders. She believes in the therapeutic effect of psychoeducational assessment and how this process can empower individuals and families to take control of their lives, by understanding their unique way of being in the world.


Kavale, K.A., & Forness, S.R. (1983). Hyperactivity and diet treatment: A meta-analysis of the Feingold hypothesis. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 16, 324-330.

Nigg, J.T., Lewis, K. Edlinger, T., & Falk, M. (2012). Meta-analysis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms, restriction diet, and synthetic food color additives. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 51, 86-97. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaac.2011.10.015

Heilskov Rytter, M.J., Beltoft Borup Andersen, L., Houman, T, Bilenberg, N., Hvolby, A., & Molgaard, C. (2014). Diet in the treatment of ADHD in children-A systematic review of the literature. Nordic Journal of Psychiatry, 69(1), 1-18. DOI: 10.3109/08039488.2014.921933