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Private School and ADHD
Q: My ten-and-a-half-year-old son attends a private school that accelerates its curriculum and seems rigid in its philosophies. He has some issue with sensory integration -- he can't tolerate seams in his socks or tags in his clothes; he hates haircuts and having his nails clipped. He has a weakness in spelling with strengths in math and reasoning. He loves to read and compensates with context clues and other aids. He is going into the fifth grade and much is expected. When he was in the second grade he was tested for learning disabilities but none was identified.
At times he appears to have some issues with ADHD. He is fidgety and has trouble sitting still in class. At other times he can sit for long periods reading and attending. He also appears to be immature for his age. He is introverted and doesn't have much order in his life in regard to keeping his schoolwork organized and remembering to bring the right things to and from school. Last year in school, he worked mostly independently and made A's and B's with a C in spelling. These are great grades for this school. I am worried that his esteem and stress level may suffer this year. He has more homework and difficult projects. Also, he has to memorize grammar rules word-for-word. I don't believe that his style of learning and personality fit the mold expected for education.
What intervention would be most appropriate for him? How can he improve his performance with memorization? Can I save his self-esteem and help him reduce his stress level? I could change schools, but education standards at local public schools are mediocre at best.
A: It sounds like your son has some of the characteristics associated with ADHD. His apparent immaturity, forgetfulness, fidgeting, and disorganization can be related to this condition. You say that his attention is variable, but it's important to note that kids with ADHD can be on task for some activities and not for others. Sensory integration problems are often seen in kids with ADHD.
The good news is that he did fairly well in school last year pretty much on his own steam. However, if the curriculum gets tougher this year, you're right to worry about his performance, and his self-esteem. If the teachers at the school are not very flexible, this doesn't sound good. If they are unfamiliar with sensory integration issues and don't know how to help you determine whether your boy has ADHD, then the scenario gets worse. I would have him evaluated by someone with a lot of experience with children with ADHD, who knows about sensory integration issues as well. Just to be sure, you probably want this person to take another look at the LD piece, even though this was not confirmed in second grade. If you get this evaluation, that professional can make specific recommendations, and can also offer consultation to the school, if they are able and willing to accept it (you will probably have to pay for this, unless the school agrees with the need for more help in this area).
In the meantime, there are some things to do to help with the memory problem.
·Encourage your son to keep a small notebook in his pocket so that he can write down important things. Let him know that this is how many successful adults keep their lives organized. If he likes technology, you might think about getting him a used Palm Pilot or some other electronic notebook.
·You can also suggest that he close his eyes when the teacher is giving verbal instructions. This might screen out some of the competing stimuli.
·You should ask his teachers to write assignments on the board or to give your son (and the others in the class) copies of the "lecture" material in print, so he can look at it later.
You are worried about the quality of education in the public school, but at least they are obligated by law to provide services to children with disabilities who have individual educational plans. Ask yourself if the public school, which has to have some services for kids with special needs, is worse than a private school that does not acknowledge your son's difficulties or know how to deal with them.
You might want to consider another private school that says up front that they know how to help students with LD, ADHD, and/or sensory integration difficulties. Take a look at the Porter-Sargent Handbook of Private Schools and The Directory for Exceptional Children for information about other possibilities. If there are no appropriate schools in your area, you might have to consider a boarding school (at least during the week). If your son is successful in school now, then he will have the option to go to college some day.
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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.