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Seventh-Grader Falling Through the Cracks
Q: We are having a problem with our seventh-grade son (the oldest of three children). In elementary school, he was an A/B honor-roll student. He did have very low test scores (5-20%). I was suspicious that this didn't match his grades, but his teachers and counselors said that he was a poor test taker. Once into middle school, his grades have steadily gotten worse. His midterm grades were all D's and he failed all of his midterm exams. We've tried punishment, rewards, praise, etc., but to no avail. I'm beginning to suspect ADD. His counselor, however, disagrees. Last year, his good friend committed suicide because of failing grades. I know he knows that is no solution -- we've talked about it at great lengths -- but I'm concerned. If the school system doesn't see a problem, what suggestions do you have? This is a good kid who is becoming increasingly frustrated. I'm afraid he may fall through the cracks.
A: A comprehensive evaluation by a qualified neuropsychologist should help to rule out or confirm your suspicions about ADHD. It should also reveal any evidence of an underlying learning disability that may be at the root our your son's educational nosedive. Most importantly, a thorough evaluation will give you information about your son's mental health, which may be the most likely culprit here.
Middle school can present a child with many tough challenges, and some kids handle it better than others do. The fact that your son's friend committed suicide because of failing grades could be an indication that the academic pressures in your school or community may be too intense. Talk to your son's guidance counselor and other parents about this possibility, and if this is a shared concern, join forces to turn down the fire under these kids. Pre-adolescence and adolescence is a time of rapid growth and change, but this does not have to mean that kids can't have fun. Social interaction and learning about oneself through recreational and social, as well as academic interactions is the "stuff" of middle school. Your son may be caught in the midst of a social environment, which he finds hard to navigate. He may still be a little boy who finds himself with a group of kids who are (or who think they are) more socially advanced than he.
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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.