It’s a lifetime of experience and learning strategies Aaron Bailey brings with him when he talks to families, educators, administrators and those living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities about the neurological disorders.
Bailey’s experience has led him to a career helping youth and families find ways to deal with ADHD and learning disabilities.
These days Bailey is a stay-at-home dad to his 16-month-old daughter while continuing to work with those living with ADHD and learning disabilities and giving presentations about his experience. His next event is set for Nov. 26 at Yukon College.
Bailey’s talk focuses on turning perceived disadvantages into advantages with an aim of helping parents and caregivers understand what’s going on with their child.
A presentation aimed at educators and school administrators will be held in spring 2020.
Recalling his own experience in a Nov. 21 interview, Bailey said he spent many of his school years feeling “stupid, weird and dumb” and like he was alone in his struggles.
What’s actually happening with ADHD is an issue with neurotransmitters that impact the pre-frontal cortex of the brain. Essentially that makes it difficult to compartmentalize and filter.
Those with ADHD are often seen as impulsive.
Big emotions over whatever the matter may be become the most important issue in the moment. It’s hard to put it aside and deal with it at a different time that most would see as being the right time to deal with the issue.
It means those with ADHD often live right in the moment, making it difficult to connect a future outcome to a present event, i.e.: connecting consequences to actions.
And that’s why it’s stimulants that are often prescribed to those with ADHD. It’s medication, he explained, that helps stimulate that part of the brain to compartmentalize and filter.
For Bailey, exercise is also a key component in helping with that.
It wasn’t until Bailey was in Grade 7 that he was diagnosed with ADHD. He would later be diagnosed with some learning disabilities and generalized anxiety, issues that are often seen in those with ADHD.
“Oh, I’ve got it all,” he said.
It was research on a genetic connection that resulted in Bailey’s diagnosis. His brother had been diagnosed and the hospital in his hometown of Kingston, Ont. was doing research work on possible genetic connections.
(That genetic connection has been confirmed, Bailey said, with those who have ADHD having a one in five chance of having a child with ADHD.)
School was a big struggle, but Bailey credits his parents who continued to advocate for him.
That meant by the time he was in high school he had a quiet room to take tests and a resource room where he could get homework done in quiet.
And when he was finishing high school, he was able to take part in a transition program to help students with ADHD and learning disabilities move on to post-secondary school.
It was in that program, Bailey said, he really learned about the strategies that would help him learn as well as advocate for his needs.
“That really kind of propelled me into the disability world,” he said.
He emphasized accommodations are there to level the playing field, not give advantages. And accommodations are everywhere, he said, pointing to eye glasses are one common example — they level the playing field so those with vision problems can see.
Students, he said, are still required to ensure they learn the material.
And at times “it sucks,” he said, when you’re in college and you have to go listen to a robotic voice read material that follows a screen display while your friends have already studied it.
That, however, is one of the tools he used as he went through the child and youth worker program with a career goal of helping those like himself.
Working as an education assistant was his dream job and when he came to the Yukon with his wife in 2016 it wasn’t long before he found himself working in that role in Old Crow.
Drawing from his own experience and incorporating the traditional culture of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, Bailey and teacher Nicole Birkeland worked with students to create fidget tools (often used to assist students who have ADHD) in school from animal hide, fur and antlers
When he and his family came to Whitehorse last year, he worked out of Takhini Elementary School.
“I still see what I was going through 10 years ago,” he said.
One of the best parts of the EA job was talking to students about his own struggles. Many didn’t initially believe him when he said he too has ADHD, but once they realized he was telling them the truth there was often a connection and a readiness to talk about what they’re going through.
And that’s what Bailey wants — more open discussions that help those struggling explain what they’re going through and more families understanding what’s happening for those with ADHD, learning disabilities and/or anxiety.
Bailey said there are ways ADHD has been beneficial.
“I definitely see there being advantages to it,” he said, noting the hyper focus it gives him when he sees something as very important is something that helps him pursue music and focus on public speaking engagements.
Bailey’s presentation is Nov. 26 at 6 p.m. at Yukon College.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org