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Son with LD, ADD Doesn't Care That He's Failing

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

Q: We have a 15-year-old son who has LD and ADD. He is a freshman in high school. He thinks that he will pass into the tenth grade no matter what his grades are like. Right now he is failing two subjects and doesn't seem concerned about it in the least. I asked his guidance counselor, who works just with LD and ADD students, to please explain to him the consequences of failing one or more subjects. The first time I asked her to do this she didn't. I emailed her today and asked her again to talk to him. None of the restrictions we have tried at home seem to have made any differences in his attitude. That's why I turned to the guidance counselor. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you.

A: You were right to go to the guidance counselor and it's curious that she didn't respond. Since you've tried several ways to reach her, I'd call the building principal and ask him/her to set up a meeting with the guidance counselor, the principal, your son's teachers, and your son. You should come also, but as more of an observer. Ask that each of the teachers give your son an up-to-date summary of his performance, and a clear picture of what he needs to do to pull himself out of the hole. This should be written down and given to your son at the end of the meeting. Someone, probably the principal, should let your son know the reality of what will happen if he doesn't bring his grades up, to clear up any misconception he may have about this.

At the meeting, the teachers should ask your son to tell them what's getting in the way of his performance, and help him to come up with strategies for getting around these. The school can do you a favor by asking your son what he's prepared to do about his own performance, and get him to sign an agreement about his role and responsibility as a student. They can insist that he come in for after school help, or use the services of a tutor they provide. His teachers should also ask him what they could do to provide him with more (or better) assistance, or what they could do to make school more interesting and motivating for him.

The transition from middle school to high school is a very challenging one. Your son may be so overwhelmed by the demands of his freshman year that he's given up any hope of being successful. Since you said he has LD and ADHD, you all need to make sure that he is capable of what's being asked of him in school and on homework. If, for example, he's impulsive, has a poor attention span, and he's reading like a third grader, then reading a chapter in a tenth grade history book for homework is a set-up for failure. How about books on tape? How about a "study buddy," to increase time on task and motivation? How about having him say how much homework he will be able to do successfully and then evaluate the reasonableness of his prediction the next morning at a homework "check in?" He shouldn't be blamed for having this problem; he should be helped to overcome it. It's part of his disability. Similarly, he shouldn't be allowed to use his disability as an excuse for non-performance. Counseling, monitoring, modifications, and support are critically important if you want to keep your son from sliding down that slippery slope to failure.

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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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