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Struggling with School over Retention

LD and ADD/ADHD Expert Advice from Jerome J. Schultz, Ph.D.

Q: My seven-year-old is repeating first grade. The teacher has problems with him doing his work and his behavior. The school has not assessed him. They think it might be ADHD. He has problems processing information. His reading is below grade-level and he gets frustrated when he doesn't know what to do. He's probably going to repeat first grade again. He's a very good, helpful, and affectionate child. However, his maturity is below age-level. Does this sound like ADHD? Should I have him evaluated?

A: How can a school system make a child repeat a grade and think of retaining him again (egad!) without doing an evaluation to determine his learning strengths and weaknesses. This is like going to a doctor who gives no diagnosis and prescribes no treatment, and tells you to "make an appointment in a year and we'll see how much your health has failed at that time."

They think it's ADHD? What the heck are they waiting for? His reading is below grade level. They need to find out why and do something about it -- now! They are lucky he's a good, helpful, and affectionate child. If they don't figure out how to teach him in the proper way soon, they'll lose these wonderful traits.

If he's the youngest kid in the class, holding him back a year might give him a headstart, but they've already played this card. I'd want to know the following:

Does his immaturity get in the way of his learning?
Does he have opportunities to interact with other kids his age outside of school?
Does he have increasing opportunities to take on more responsibility?
Are the adults in his life teaching him the proper way to handle social situations?
Is he in, or does he need to be in, a social skills training group?

The school psychologist or guidance counselor might be able to answer these questions and provide the needed services.

The school should carry out a comprehensive evaluation -- including neuropsychological and reading. Be sure to request this in writing to the Director of Special Education of your school system. Expect some concrete answers soon. If you don't get them, seek outside help.

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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.

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