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Guelph student receives Ontario volunteer award for supporting students with ADHD

Alexandra Elmslie was recognized with the 2021/22 Ontario Medal for Young Volunteers

Children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can experience more obstacles in the classroom than the average student.

Since being diagnosed with the mental heath condition over a decade ago, Alexandra Elmslie from Guelph, wants to make a difference.

Addressing the need for tailored mental health supports for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Elmslie, 19, was recognized with the 2021/22 Ontario Medal for Young Volunteers, earlier this month.  

The second year Western University student has created programs and volunteered over 1,000 hours to help children with a variety of neurological disabilities to find a sense of community.

“This was nomination-based, so I was not aware of the fact that I had been nominated. I was called out of the blue one September night while doing my homework, and I found out that I had won this award,” Elmslie said.

“I was completely shocked but also incredibly honoured to have been chosen. Someone from the community saw what I was doing and felt that I would be a great fit. This is such an honour and it has been such an amazing experience all round.”

Before studying developmental and cognitive nerve science at university, Elmslie attended John F. Ross where she started 'Wellness4All'.

The virtual educational program provides tailored mental health supports and resources for neurodivergent students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

The "Wellness4All' program reached over 200 high school students in its first year. 

“When COVID-19 hit, a lot of focus was put on student mental health because the pandemic exasperated and even created a lot of mental health issues for students,” Elmslie said.

“As someone who has ADHD, I was looking at some of these tips and suggestions from the school board. I noticed that a lot of them were not applicable to me, such as meditation. I can’t sit still and focus for that long. And that got me thinking, what else out there is not being tailored for this community?”

Elmslie's first volunteer experience was with the Special Olympics in Grade 8.

"It was not my idea. My mom sat me down one day and said here’s what a resume looks like. You currently have nothing on it. We need to build this up,” Elmslie said.

“Volunteering with the Special Olympics, it was the perfect match. I ended up loving it. I think that was the initial driving force to start working with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. And from there, it just kind of started to accumulate and spiral into this amazing journey that I’ve had over the past six years.”

Elmslie has also volunteered as a horse side walker with the Sunrise Therapeutic Horse-Riding Centre.

“It was incredible. I helped out with programs that physically and emotionally support riders during their therapy sessions,” she said.  

“I also volunteered with ‘Best Buddies’ at my school, and with the Kids Ability Advisory Council where I became council co-president.”

ADHD is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children.

“I realized that there weren’t many mental health strategies available, so that started me on my path to do 'Wellness4All',” she said.  

“So, I created a myriad of tailored mental health strategies and supports for students."

With the success of the Wellness4All program, Elmslie continues to be inspired to pursue more opportunities in schools.

“I have worked with students and teachers, as well as alongside the mental health coordinator from the school board. They thought these were amazing strategies that no one had ever taken the time to create before,” Elmslie said.

“This was also about educating educators on how to do it properly. That was impactful because it creates a longstanding impact where I no longer have to facilitate the conversations and run the initiative. It's more about building capacity for educators to continue the work on their own.”

For Elmslie, volunteering is about community.  

“When I began volunteering, I always thought how can I help Guelph as a community? When I moved to London, a lot of those things I did were no longer applicable. So, I found a new pathway here at school.”

Elmslie currently volunteers with the Parkwood Institute in London and at the Learning Disabilities Association of London Region as a tutor for a client with ADHD.

“It’s been really cool to say I’ve been in your shoes. I know what it’s like,” she said.

“I’m also helping out in different labs on campus. I work with the Brain and Mind Institute. Last year, I worked with individuals with ADHD to access their sensory integration capacities. It’s an important first step in starting to figure out how ADHD functions and how people can better cope.”

This year, Elmslie also takes part in a music and neuroscience lab.

"I look at musical therapy specifically and how it can be effective for those individuals with Parkinson’s who are struggling to walk fluently or have tremors when they are walking, “she said.

 “I’ve been helping to lead the study.”

On March 1, the province of Ontario honoured Elmslie, one of 24 young people, with the Ontario Medal for Young Volunteers for 2021 and 2022.

This program represents the highest honour a young person between the ages of 15 and 24 can achieve for outstanding volunteer contributions to their communities and province.

“I’ve been taking my passions from high school and throwing them into real world passions," Elmslie said.   

“I wanted to become a psychiatrist for a long time, but now I think my ideal career would be to work for the school board as a psychologist.”

Volunteering in high school, and with a mother who works as a speech language pathologist for the Upper Grand District School Board,  Elmslie was able to connect with a psychologist from the school board to learn more about the job.

"About 90 per cent of students would not be able to afford services if it wasn’t provided by the school board,” Elmslie said.

“And that’s such an impactful thing, to be able to help students one day, who without me, would not be able to access this kind of support.”


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Barbara Latkowski

About the Author: Barbara Latkowski

Barbara graduated with a Masters degree in Journalism from Western University and has covered politics, arts and entertainment, health, education, sports, courts, social justice, and issues that matter to the community
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