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Research

Research Interests

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Our research agenda is comprised of studies that further our understanding of how to support individuals with learning disabilities and associated disorders achieve academic success.

Projects conducted to date have focused on gathering normative data, developing new measurement tools, understanding the factors that contribute to academic transitions, investigating the efficacy of assistive technology, and surveying the needs of post-secondary students and staff.



Research Grants

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Aboriginal Education Office – Ontario Ministry of Education/Ontario Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities

Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO)

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada

Knowledge Network for Applied Education Research (KNAER) – Ontario Ministry of Education

Mental Health Innovation Fund - Ontario Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities


Publications

Holmes, A., & Silvestri, R. (2016). Rates of mental illness and associated academic impacts in Ontario’s college students. Canadian Journal of School Psychology. 31, 27-46.  doi: 10.1177/082957351560139.
Abstract
Staff at campus-based counselling and disability centres in 15 of Ontario’s 24 community colleges completed 3536 surveys on 1964 individual students querying the presence of mental illness and academic challenges as reported by students accessing these services.  Survey data was analyzed to determine prevalence rates of mental disorders and investigate for the presence of a relationship between specific mental illnesses and any associated academic impacts.  More than half of these students had diagnoses with mood and anxiety disorders being the most common individual and comorbid diagnoses.  The academic challenges reported by students with mental illnesses occurred in particular patterns relative to specific diagnoses; alertness/attention challenges were associated with mood disorders while memory/executive function problems were linked to anxiety disorders.  Implications for training and service practices of counselling and disability staff are reviewed as are future research directions for accommodating the academic needs of students with mental illnesses.

Harrison, A. G., Holmes, A., Silvestri, R., & Armstrong, I. T. (2015). Getting back to the main point: A reply to Miller et al. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 33, 780-786.  doi: 10.1177/0734282915590064
Abstract
Miller et al. have challenged the findings of our two previous studies, based largely on the assumption that our findings are biased due to the clinical sample used.  However, they fail to address the primary tenet of our studies, namely, that clinicians will obtain different scores on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-IV (WAIS-IV) depending on whether Canadian or American norms are used. This reply seeks to provide empirical evidence supporting the existence of such score differences even when nonclinical samples are used, and identifies some of the clinical decisions that are potentially affected by choice of normative data.

Harrison, A. G., Holmes, A., Silvestri, R., & Armstrong, I. T. (2015). Implications for educational classification and psychological diagnoses using the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale – Fourth Edition with Canadian versus American norms. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 33, 299-311. doi: 10.1177/0734282915573723
Abstract
Building on a recent work of Harrison, Armstrong, Harrison, Iverson and Lange which suggested that Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale–Fourth Edition (WAIS-IV) scores might systematically overestimate the severity of intellectual impairments if Canadian norms are used, the present study examined differences between Canadian and American derived WAIS-IV scores from 861 postsecondary students attending school across the province of Ontario, Canada.  This broader data set confirmed a trend whereby individuals’ raw scores systematically produced lower standardized scores through the use of Canadian as opposed to American norms.  The differences do not appear to be due to cultural, educational, or population differences, as participants acted as their own controls.  The ramifications of utilizing the different norms were examined with regard to psychoeducational assessments and educational placement decisions particularly with respect to the diagnoses of Learning Disability and Intellectual Disability.

Harrison, A. G., & Holmes, A. (2014).  Mild intellectual disability at the postsecondary level: Results of a survey of disability service offices. Exceptionality Education International, 23, 22-39.
Abstract
Disability Service Staff at colleges and universities in Ontario, Canada were surveyed regarding the number of students arriving at their offices with the label of mild intellectual disability.  Information was obtained regarding criteria used in association with this label, documentation required to support the classification, and accommodations provided, as well as the types of programs in which these students enroll and their success in those programs.  Results demonstrate little consistency across institutions regarding the criteria employed when making this identification, and the accommodations and supports provided.  Even with supports and accommodations, respondents estimated that fewer than 25% of such students are able to succeed at the postsecondary level, although a larger percentage appear to benefit from specialized college programs.  Best practice guidelines are needed with respect to assessment and diagnosis of this condition, and specialized programs may be required to address success and retention at the postsecondary level.

Harrison, A. G., & Holmes, A. (2012). Easier said than done: Operationalizing the diagnosis of learning disability for use at the postsecondary level in Canada. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 27, 12-34. doi: 10.1177/0829573512437021
Abstract
A Canadian context for the diagnosis of students with specific learning disabilities (LD) was investigated in the present literature review.  A systematic review of the literature was undertaken to determine the current and best practices in this field.  Overall, no agreed upon definition of LD was identified, although core similarities in definitions were noted.  Furthermore, recent research shows that many psychological
assessments fail to adhere to any one definition when making this diagnosis, and as a result the diagnosis may or may not reflect the presence of a permanent disability that impairs academic functioning at the postsecondary level.  There is, therefore, a need to adopt a consistent, evidence-based approach to diagnosis of LD in Canada.  Recommendations regarding best practices and appropriate criteria for diagnosis of LD are discussed.

Holmes, A., & Silvestri, R. (2012). Assistive technology use by students with learning disabilities in postsecondary education:  A case of application before investigation. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 21, 81-97. doi: 10.1177/0829573512437018
Abstract
An increasing number of students with Learning Disabilities (LD) are enrolling in postsecondary education (PSE). Assistive technology (AT) is often provided to these students to circumvent academic deficits. This article will focus on research at the PSE level and students with LD to (a) identify AT service delivery practices, (b) describe the most frequently used ATs, (c) review research on the efficacy of AT to circumvent academic deficits, and (d) provide suggestions for future research on AT efficacy and for formulation of recommendations within psychoeducational reports.  The use of AT by PSE students with LD appears to have moved ahead of research, proving or even testing the effectiveness of ATs in supporting the learning needs of this population.



Poster Presentations

Holmes, A., Silvestri, R., & Rahemtulla, R. (2015, June). Who does text-to-speech assistive technology benefit? Using word decoding and verbal ability to guide recommendations. Poster presented at the annual conference of the Canadian Psychology Association, Ottawa, ON.

Holmes, A., & Rahemtulla, R. (2015, November). Measuring the academic achievement gap between Americans and Canadians using the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test–Third Edition. Poster accepted for presentation at the National Academy of Neuropsychology Annual Conference, Austin, TX.

Holmes, A., & Silvestri, R. (2013, June). Disability disclosure rates and predictors of disability disclosure in the workplace by postsecondary graduates with learning disabilities. Poster session presented at the annual conference of the Canadian Psychological Association, Quebec City, QB.

Holmes, A., & Silvestri, R. (2012, June). Faculty preparedness for teaching students with mental illness. Poster session presented at the annual conference of the Canadian Psychological Association, Halifax, NS.

Holmes, A., Silvestri, R., & Kostakos, M. (2011, June). Mental illness in Ontario’s student college population. Poster session presented at the annual conference of the Canadian Psychological Association, Toronto, ON.

Holmes, A., Silvestri, R., & Gouge, A. (2010, June). Examination of brief self-report measures of anxiety in postsecondary students. Poster session presented at the annual conference of the Canadian Psychological Association, Winnipeg, MN.

Holmes, A., Silvestri, R., & Harrison, A. (2010, June). Employment success of graduates with learning disabilities from Ontario’s colleges and universities. Poster session presented at the annual conference of the Canadian Psychological Association, Winnipeg, MN.

Holmes, A., Silvestri, R., & Gouge, A. (2009, October). Text-to-voice technology in an adult sample with reading difficulties: An examination of the efficacy. Poster presented at the YMCA Prepared Minds conference, Toronto, ON.

Holmes, A., Silvestri, R., & Gouge, A. (2009, June). Text-to-voice technology in an adult sample with reading difficulties: An examination of the efficacy. Poster presented at the annual conference of the Canadian Psychological Association, Montreal, QU.

 

* Please contact Dr. Alana Holmes at alana.holmes@cambriancollege.ca to request an article or poster listed above.

 

NOARC/CÉRNO is Funded by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.