Dear Dr. Michelle:
My son is in the 5th grade and I am really starting to worry about his school performance. Since online learning started, I’ve noticed he repeatedly misinterprets directions and isn’t passing his tests or completing assignments correctly. It seems like he is not listening and is missing basic instructions. When I catch him making errors, I try to help get him back on track, but he still misses the mark. When he was tested at the beginning of the year, it showed he is only performing at a 2nd grade level in reading and math. Is this ADHD, ADD, a developmental issue or something else? I wish I felt comfortable reaching out to his two teachers, but I don't because in the past they have told me not to worry. Any thoughts are appreciated, even if you tell me I need to back off!
I know it can be hard as a parent to watch your child struggle with school and not understand why it is happening or what you can do to help.
I don't think this is a situation where you want to back off. You are right to lean in and try to understand if there is a bigger issue with your son’s learning. It’s important to know what is happening now before your son takes on the extra responsibility of switching classes and having multiple teachers in the years ahead.
There are many reasons your son could be struggling with school, and you have named two of the most common. One, it could be that your son has a developmental delay in which even if he is listening, his brain is not processing the information correctly. Two, he could be distracted and not have the ability to focus and really listen, which is more related to ADHD or ADD. Another scenario to consider is whether or not your son is distracted because he is having problems with friends or bullying or if there is a sensitive issue occurring at home that is bothering him.
The best action for you to take is to have your son tested. If you are worried about a possible mental health concern, behavioral issue, concerns with friends or things happening at home, or you observe developmental delays in other areas of his life, then I recommend he have a neuro-psychological or a psychological evaluation. Other signs you may notice include acting out behavior at home, difficulty with social interactions, shutting down, a lack of comprehending your basic parental instructions, or the appearance that your son is not acting his age.
If you think his concerns are mostly related to learning, then try to find an Educational Psychologist. The evaluation they provide will focus on your son’s learning style, comprehension, IQ, grade level performance and cognitive processing issues. You can also ask an Educational Psychologist to evaluate your son for ADHD or ADD. A private provider can conduct the testing, or the school can provide it free of charge.
Talking with Your Son's Teachers
I would also suggest you reconsider talking to your son’s teachers. Although you may hesitate to talk to them, in order to advocate for testing you will need information about their experience and observations. Set up a teacher conference and find out what they are observing, request a review of his test performance and the results of his assignments, and ask them what they are doing to address his lower tests scores in math and reading. Let the teachers know what you are observing as you assist your son at home.
If the teachers continue to minimize your concerns, I recommend you request a meeting with the school principal and the school counselor/social worker, who will ultimately make the decision to have your son tested through the education system. Bring all pertinent information to the meeting including your son’s test scores and incomplete assignments. The school is legally obligated to conduct testing if your son is lagging or underperforming.
If the testing reveals a skill deficit then the school is obligated to provide special education and additional resources, such as allowing your son more time, giving him additional assistance, allowing him to redo assignments and providing tests and assignments based on his learning style; overall enhancing his learning ability.
Just remember that you are right to advocate. Keep pushing the school to address your concerns. Request that he be tested. Once you have the testing completed, the results will reveal your next best steps.
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