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10 year old son is unorganized, unfocused and disinterested in school


sparrow1 August 18, 2008

My 10 year old son is totally unfocused when it comes to school. When he can't figure something out on his homework right away he gets frustrated and wants me or my husband to do the work for him. He never reads the directions and will do assignments wrong then get upset when he has to do them over. Besides that, for the last two years he has had a ton of late assigments and no matter how many times we remind him or discipline him it does no good. The idea of another school year of fighting with him makes me want to just go into hiding. Any ideas on how to help him get more organized and focused and maybe even-gasp!- enjoy school? He just seems to dislike every subject because he has to do work. Help please!

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AllReading August 18, 2008

While no one can "diagnose" on a chat room board, what you are describing are the CLASSIC symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, of the primarily inattentive variety. There are 3 types of ADHD (the term "ADD" is not used in the medical literature any more). With the inattentive variety, your son may not appear hyperactive, but he will be unfocused and disorganized. He will have difficulty maintaining attention (except for high interest tasks) and will be easily bored and frustrated. He will forget to turn in assignments, and forget to bring home the books and materials he needs to do his homework. He will be impulsive when he should take his time and think things through. Any of this sound familiar???

Here are some parent-friendly explanations of ADHD and listing of symptoms:

American Academy of Pediatrics

Mayo Clinic

CHADD (Children and Adults with ADHD)

National Institutes of Health (fed. govt.)

Cut and paste any URL into your address bar and hit "return."

The American Academy of Pediatrics has new practice guidelines for pediatricians in addressing ADHD, but some physicians are better acquainted with them than others. The best way to determine whether your child has ADHD is to have him evaluated by a school psychologist, either through the school system or privately. Although public schools don't do a good job of evaluating dyslexia, they do a decent job of evaluating ADHD, and their testing is free. Unfortunately, it can also take a long time. Some pediatricians who are fairly confident that a child has ADHD will say, "Rather than let his schoolwork suffer during the lengthy time needed for a formal evaluation, let's try medication. If it works, it's ADHD. If it doesn't, it isn't. The medication works within minutes, and is out of his system the next day." One could debate whether that's a good or bad way to go about it, but it is generally pretty effective and undeniably fast!

The "MTA Study" by Massachusetts General Hospital (the hospital affiliated with Harvard) is the longest-term study of ADHD. It has shown that medication or medication/behavior management are the treatments of choice for ADHD. Behavior management alone is largely ineffective. For more information on this, see this cite to the National Institutes of Health:


healthy11 August 18, 2008

My son has ADHD, and as AllReading already mentioned, what you're describing sounds like your son may have attentional issues as well. In addition to the resources listed below, I like


sparrow1 August 19, 2008

Thank you so much for the responses. I will check out those sites that were suggested for more information. We have discussed taking him to a counseler for other issues but perhaps many of his issues are tied together such as his low self esteem and a generally negative outlook. Some of this I believe has to do with abondonment issues he feels with his birth mother but it is hard to figure out where one issue begins and another ends.


AllReading August 19, 2008


You are correct that it is possible for there to be more than one condition involved here. When that happens, the conditions are called "comorbid," when just means they exist at the same time.

Since you've raised other issues (possible depression), I would suggest that you take your son either to a private-practice "school psychologist" ( a special type of psychologist who specializes in education issues) or a neuropsychologist. Ask for a "psychoeducational evaluation." This will give you a very thorough picture of any educational and emotional conditions which may exist, including, but not limited to, ADHD, depression, anxiety, etc. It will cover both your concern about your son's possible depression over his abandonment by his birth mother, and possible ADHD (or other) issue.

Since, unlike other psychologists, who MUST have a Ph.D. (doctorate), school psychologists (at least in my state) may have a master's degree OR a doctorate, go for the doctorate. There are many excellent master's-level school psychologists but, when in doubt, go for the advanced degree.

You can also ask your pediatrician or a speech/language pathologist for names of good local school psychologists or neuropsychologists.

Or call any support group such as CHADD (Children and Adult with ADHD) or an autism support group. They likely will know the names of the good evaluators in your area.

By the way, any ADHD can be contributing to any depression or anxiety. Kids with ADHD know something isn't working, but they don't know what it is and can't seem to fix it. Kids with ADHD tend to have social difficulties, which can worsen any depression or anxiety.

If you go to a counselor, for example, someone with a LCSW or LMHC designation, you may get excellent counseling assistance; however, the counselor won't be able to evaluate possible ADHD, and will (should!) refer you to a school psychologist or neuropsychologist. So, go straight to the school psychologist or neuropsychologist.

In summary, here's why you want to see a school psychologist or neuropsychologist: If your child had a broken bone and you took him to the pediatrician, the pediatrician would refer him to the orthopedic surgeon. Two doctor visits, two sets of expenses, and painful delay. Why not go straight to the orthopedic surgeon? If you take your child to a therapist, it may be many months before the therapist decides that an ADHD evaluation is in order and makes a referral. Two professionals, two sets of expenses, and painful delay. Why not go straight to the neuropsychologist or school psychologist?

If money is an issue, your pediatrician can do an ADHD evaluation. There are AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) guidelines, see, for how to evaluate ADHD. A pediatrician evaluation is not as comprehensive as a psychoeducational evaluation and won't detect other learning disabilities which might be involved, but has the advantage of being fast and inexpensive. If your pediatrician isn't familiar with, or doesn't follow, those guidelines, though, don't stop there.

Also, if money is an issue, the public schools can evaluate your son. As I indicated earlier, they usually do a decent job of evaluating ADHD.

Whatever route you choose, do your research first! Go in as an informed parent. Read, read, read, about ADHD and any other conditions you think may exist. Your son will be grateful that you are being his advocate. He needs you and can't do this himself. I am not exaggerating when I say that how you do this now could affect his entire future: whether he succeeds in school, whether he STAYS in school, whether he goes to college, whether he can maintain a good job, whether he is at risk for law violations (kids with unidentified / unremediated ADHD are at higher risk), whether he is at higher risk for drug use (same thing), etc. You can do this!


sparrow1 August 19, 2008

AllReading I appreciate the time you have taken to provide me with this information as well as the encouragement. The last two years have really been a struggle and I feel like I am at the end of my rope. I really want to be able to help him and every year that this behavior continues I fear for his future. The jump from 10 to teenager is a small one and I dread him being a teenager and trying to deal with these issues without any outside help.
You have given me a lot to think about and research. Thanks again!


healthy11 August 19, 2008

sparrow1, here's another article that might help you (the mom who wrote it has three very complex children)

I would also like to invite you to join the Learning and Attention Difficulties Group here at where even more parents can "relate" to what you're going through.


sparrow1 August 19, 2008

Thanks Healthy11! I would love to join the group. Everyone has been so helpful. Thanks so much!


AllReading August 19, 2008

sparrow1, you are more than welcome. We'd love to know how it works out for you and your son. You have a good heart and head, and can do this. Let us know if we can help.


summerblue August 20, 2008

Healthy gave you some excellent advise!

My 12 year old son is ADD - Inattentive and he takes Strattera which is a HUGE help in school and him being able to focus and make it through the day.
He doesn't take Strattera over the summer.
We went through a lot to get him really diagonsed properly.
My husband and I were very leary of the diagnosis and we really edcuated ourselves on ADHD.
We were afraid for him to take any sort of medication, but I would rather him take Strattera and do well, than to self medicate later.
My son is entering the 6th grade next week and while he does need special ed for reading, he's doing everything else well and can focus, complete tasks and has self control. Something he could never do before.


sparrow1 August 20, 2008

Summer, I am really weary about giving him any medication because I always worry about possible side effects. I know that most parents do not give their kids medication lightly but I do think that some doctors are now a little too quick to diagnose ADHD or other behavior issues and prescribe meds. It is a tough situation. I do know that, like your son, their is real help to be found for kids who do struggle and who do have ADHD. I am deffinatly open to the possibility that my son may have ADHD which is why we are taking him to a therapist. I just hope that his issues can be managed without medication. When do they usually prescribe medication? Is it for all kids who have ADHD or only for certain cases? I apologize for my ignorance but I haven't found a clear answer yet.

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