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First Grader Having Problems in School

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

Q: My son is a first grader and having problems in school. I think this is because he is not being challenged and is not disciplined. The teacher thinks that it is because he is LD or ADHD. He is hearing impaired in his right ear and has been for about one and a half years. My husband and I thought that our son would always be very bright. He gets bored very easily with "things" but he wants to know them. He can read something once and get it perfect. He can read something one hundred times and get almost every word wrong. It all depends (I think) on the mood that he is in. How do I get him to do it right every time? What is your opinion? Please help!

A: If the teacher thinks he is LD or ADHD, then she ought to make a referral for a multidisciplinary evaluation, as provided under the special education laws. If she has suggested this and you have resisted is it because you think the teacher has suggested this referral because she thinks your child is not smart? A child can have LD or ADHD and be brilliant. Difficulty processing information (using spoken or written language, or visual perceptual problems, etc.) or attentional problems may be getting in the way of your son's successful performance. So if the school has not suggested an evaluation, you should! Also, the presence of a hearing loss may be causing learning problems and behavioral problems (since he may be covering up for what he can't easily hear.) Also, early hearing loss can affect the way children process phonemes, the small units of sound that make up words. You need to know more about the kind of reading mistakes your son makes. If he has difficulty sounding out words, auditory perceptual difficulties may be the culprit, even though your son's hearing may be "good enough" to function well in school.

Your son's teacher may be misinterpreting his high activity level or what seems to be his difficulty paying attention. Instead of ADHD, these might be the behaviors of a child who can't hear a lot of what is going on around him and who is moving around in order to "see" what people are saying. There are many things a teacher should do for a child with a hearing loss. Using an overhead projector to add visual elements to verbal presentations, providing lecture notes or outlines, avoiding moving around the room or turning her back to your son, repeating questions and answers given by other students are all ways she can help. If the impact of the hearing disorder is not clear, a specialist should come in and observe your son's reactions in verbal and non-verbal environments.

About the issue of your son getting things right or wrong depending on the mood he's in? You should be aware that a learning disability could affect kids in different ways at different times. Also, if he has ADHD, he can't tell when his attentional switches are going to be on or off. These are neurologically based problems that are hard to live with because they can intermittently affect learning. If the real reasons for your son's difficulties can be identified, then the teachers can teach in the right way, you can help your son understand the impact of his learning problems, and he can become a better self-advocate.

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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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