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Michael Zwiers

…was born and raised in Alberta and completed a B.Ed. at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, specializing in Early Childhood Education.  During his training and professional work as a teacher, he was drawn to those students who struggled academically and socially – they were challenging to teach, but rewarding to work with when they experienced success.  This interest led to Michael's master's degree studies in educational psychology, which he says opened his eyes to the field of learning disabilities (LDs); developmental disorders; emotional, behavioural and social disorders.  He saw how student learning was affected by existing social-emotional-behavioural challenges and, in turn, how learning challenges could lead to behavioural and emotional problems.  Michael gained a better understanding of how to identify and intervene with academic and behavioural challenges, but wanted to expand his skills in the treatment of emotional problems, so he pursued a Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia (Counselling Psychology), where he did research on positive emotional functioning.

Over the years, Michael has had the opportunity to work in school systems, community settings with family physicians, and non-profit organizations.  He especially valued his work with multi-disciplinary teams of professionals who worked hand-in-hand with parents and families.  In those settings he saw what each profession brought to the table, as well as the importance of including parents and families in our work.  Over time, he began to specialize in the fields of AD/HD, LDs and developmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorders.

Why does this area of study interest you? 
                               
"LDs and AD/HD are some of the most common problems that people face across the lifespan.  Their effects are profound, increasing risk for a wide range of negative outcomes socially, emotionally, and physically.  These individuals are also at risk for restricted futures including occupational, financial, and relational challenges.  There is - in turn - great potential to improve the lives of millions of people with these disorders."

What would some people be surprised to know about this field?

"The media has often presented AD/HD as a fabricated disorder that is both overdiagnosed and overmedicated, not realizing that their efforts have undermined a substantive body of research on a very real and highly-impairing disorder and the significant benefits that medication and other supportive interventions can offer.  The effect has been to trivialize ADHD and stigmatize individuals with the disorder, who are often blamed and told that they should just "focus-and-behave."  I think people would be surprised to find out how impairing ADHD is and the significant implications those impairments hold for individuals, their families, and society as a whole.  The economic burden of childhood ADHD is conservatively estimated to be over $14,000 per individual (42.5 billion a year in the U.S.), with an adult ADHD burden of 91.5 billion in lost income, a 13.7 billion cost to employers, and 16 trillion a year to incarcerate people with ADHD.  The numbers are staggering, especially when you consider that these studies have not been comprehensive in their scope, and many other costs could be attributed to the disorder."

Is there anything specific (projects) you'll be undertaking in the near future?

"I am currently working with colleagues at the CanLearn Centre to develop a model treatment program for Adult AD/HD.  We have also completed a case series on intervention with youth who have both ADHD and High Functioning Autism, and are preparing to conduct a treatment study with this population."

What are your first impressions of the University?

"I am amazed to see how vibrant the University of Calgary is.  Universities are not renowned for moving quickly, and in fact are often seen as bastions of old ways of operating.  The University of Calgary is undergoing a significant transformation that is bringing its faculty and staff together with a common vision.  Everywhere I look I see opportunity - it's an exciting place to be!"

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