expert advice MORE
Dad Doesn't Believe in LD
Q: When my son was 11, he was tested and diagnosed with ADHD. He was put on Adderall®. He no longer takes it every day, just mainly for tests. Since then, he was tested and diagnosed with a learning disability. None of his scores were above 5.4.
The main problem all of us notice is that when he is asked a question from the book, he seems to know the answers fine. We go over them several times in different orders. But when he goes to school and takes a written test, he gets 20s and 30s.
His father (we're both remarried) keeps saying that LD doesn't exist and Chris just needs to be punished more. My son feels terrible. No matter how hard he tries, it's never good enough for his dad. My ex-husband has asked Chris questions and understands that he has trouble with written language. Chris is only taking his Adderall® sometimes because of his dad.
What is it called when a child can answer the questions orally but has trouble writing the answers? Can you point me in any direction to help Chris learn the way he seems to learn best? He's a great kid and all of his teachers say he's really trying, but they can't give him the tests orally. Help!
A: You have brought up a lot of important issues in your question. Let me go through the list and give you some thoughts and recommendations. First of all, if Chris has been diagnosed as having ADHD, and the medication helps him, he should be taking it regularly. ADHD probably affects Chris at other times -- not just when he's taking tests. You say that he's only taking Adderall sometimes because of his dad. If this means that Dad is not encouraging him to take it when he's with him, then Dad needs to have a heart-to-heart with Chris pediatrician. Perhaps Dad's new wife can help with this. Do you know where she stands on the issue?
All of Chris caregivers need to find out more about what the medication is supposed to do and whether the doctor advises taking it only occasionally. Since learning disabilities and ADHD often go together, he's going to need help in both areas. The medication may make it easier for him to learn and to remember better.
If Chris dad doesn't believe that learning disabilities are real, suggest that he visit familyeducation.com and read information about learning disabilities. He might be particularly interested in "What's LD?". He can also learn more about this very real condition by going to these websites: Schwab Foundation for Learning, Learning Disabilities Association of America, and LD Online. Suggest that he attend a meeting of your state's chapter of the Learning Disabilities Association of America. You can also have the person who diagnosed the condition invite Chris' dad to a meeting (or talk by phone if they are in different towns) to explain learning disabilities and ADHD to him.
You said that Chris was able to learn new material and answer questions at night, but that he did poorly when he had to write answers the next day. This is how the learning disability affects him. If he can tell the answer the next day, this means that he has good memory. If he has trouble writing an answer he knows, then we'd say he has a learning disability that affects his written language. This can be due to fine motor coordination problems (holding the pencil and writing), or it could be due to organizational problems (he knows the content, but can't put the information in order or into sentences.) If, on the other hand, he forgets the material, we'd say that his learning disability (and probably the ADHD) affects his memory -- he can't hold onto the information long enough to use it.
The way to deal with this problem is to have him learn the material in more than one way. Instead of him trying to memorize the information, he can draw pictures showing what he read or heard (this will give him a mental image that may help his memory). He can also make up poems or songs about the content, or come up with what are called mnemonic devices to help him recall the information (like using the first letter of the five words he's learning to make up another word that he'll remember). For example, kids learning piano remember the names of the notes that fall in the spaces in a line of music by learning the word FACE. Each letter is the name of the note, going from bottom to top. Chris' teachers should have some other ideas about helpful mnemonics (ask them about the one kids use to remember the names and the order of the planets).
Finally, you say that the teachers won't let him take the tests orally. If he has a confirmed learning disability, you should ask that his individual educational plan include this reasonable modification. If they don't think they have to do this, then ask the psychologist who made the diagnosis to advocate for Chris. Having Chris tell what he knows is a very good way to assess his knowledge. There are other ways to assess his writing -- and they should not confuse these two things.
More on: Expert Advice
Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.