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Ask the Experts

Does My Son Have AD/HD or a Behavior Issue?

By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist

Question:

My son is on point academically. However, he talks out during class, he doesn't respect authority, he makes fun of the blind child in the class, he laughs at the teacher when she is trying to discipline him and he never wants to go to school. He is pretty much the same way at home. He jumps on the furniture, he is impulsive and persistent. Does this sound like AD/HD or a behavior issue? All school year long I have received notes and phone calls from her that he has no respect for the class rules. I cannot tell her how to do her job. I do not know what to tell her. I simply do not want a zombie child, from him taking medication, because she cannot cope with his energy or behavior issues.

Answer:

It sounds like you have two separate (but related) concerns. Let's deal with them one at a time. First, you should address your son's off-putting behaviors, because early negative experiences can color his entire school career, and it sounds like he is getting into quite a bit of trouble at school. While it is impossible to tell if his behaviors meet the criteria for a formal diagnosis, a cluster of disruptive behaviors suggests that additional assessment is needed.

If you have not already done so, ask for a conference with his teacher, and make an appointment with his pediatrician.

From the teacher, get very specific information about your child's classroom behavior. Ask her to fill out a behavior checklist, such as the Conners' Rating Scales - Revised or the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL), which you can get from the school counselor or your pediatrician. Data from these checklists can be presented to the physician to assist in the assessment.

Consult with your son's pediatrician to rule out any medical problems, discuss the teacher's concerns, and share the problem behaviors you have seen from your son at home. If your son does have Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, explore different interventions and formulate a treatment plan.

Your use of the word "zombie" suggests that you have concerns about the use of medication to treat behavioral issues in children, which is understandable. While this is a common concern of many parents, I can tell you that AD/HD is a complex neurological disorder that has been researched extensively by both medical and psychological specialists. Most experts agree that the most effective treatment includes a combination of both medication and behavior modification techniques. The National Institute for Mental Health is an excellent resource.

If you still have doubts, consider having your son evaluated by a child psychiatrist or a pediatric neurologist. It would be worth your peace of mind and might reassure school personnel that you have taken their concerns seriously.

I also picked up on some frustration toward his teacher. Keep in mind that one disruptive child in a classroom takes a teacher's attention away from all of the other children, and learning for everyone is halted.


Dr. Stacie Bunning is a licensed clinical psychologist in the St. Louis area. She has worked with children, adolescents, and their families in a variety of clinical settings for 20 years. Bunning also teaches courses in child psychology, adolescent psychology, and human development at Maryville University in St. Louis.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

04/6/2010:
"I just wanted to committ on the mother and her son. I adopted my son, he was born to alcholic parents and he has emotional and temper control issues. I too did not want my child on medicine and in a zombie state. But I soon realized during his 1st year in Kindergarden that something had to be done. It is now 2 years later and he is in 1st grade and doing pretty good. He now see's his psychologist ever 3 months, that is down from twice a week, he sees a therapist at school now once a week, that is down from twice a week. We had to go with medicine and he is diffently not a zombie. He still has his moments, but it is nothing compared to what the school was dealing with and me at home. I understood that the school could not tolerate his behavior, because he disrupted class and stopped everyone from learning. We had to do modification behavior and medicine. But with his behavior before the med's, none of the children would play with him. He still is not invited to any! one's home, nor are they allowed to come to our home because of his behavior. The parents do not want his behavior affecting their children. Though the children are starting to play with him at school, he is starting to be accepted. Don't put off any longer seeking help, their are alot of wonderful professionals out their in the mental health field who can and will help you and your son, if you will let them. He will be alot happier child in school if you deal with the issues. It takes the parents working together with the schools and medical professionals to find a happy balance. If you are advised to go with medicine and you choose to use it, don't be discourage if the first medicine you use dosn't work, their are plenty of different ones out thier. Just discuss with you doctors any concerns you have, they will help you and your son find a good balance that you can be happy with and he will not be in a zombie zone. "
08/18/2009:
"my son is add and the school system well not let him got regular school and that i need help it's his last year of school thanks (:"
07/2/2008:
"Thank you for your response to my question...'Does my son have AD/HD or a behavior issue'. I still have not received the teacher's copy of the 'Conner's Scale'. Is there another way to obtain this? I know his behavior has been an issue since kindergarten. He is approaching 2nd grade and I definitely want this year to be off to a better start. Obviously, I am a parent who is wanting to work with the teachers and my son's issues. We have tried several methods at home for 'punishments'. Such as; no playstation or tv, writing apology notes, early bed time, chores and family group conversations. I am running out of ideas. I was really hoping to get this paperwork so that I could turn it in to our pediatrician for further evaluations. Is it a must have from the teacher or can I initiate this? I believe pediatrician stated that it had to be initiated by the school."
06/18/2008:
"As I am reading all of these comments I feel compelled to write from the perspective of both a teacher and a parent. While everyone is quick to state that the problem may lie with the teacher, one needs to look at how the parent handles the disruptive behavior at home. If there are no consequences to the behavior it will continue and translate into school. The parent wrote that he acts this way at home as well. As a teacher, our hands are tied in terms of discipline when a parent is not supportive. As a parent, one knows that handling an oppositional child is difficult, imagine having a few in the class of 25. See if you would be so quick to judge!!!"
06/4/2008:
"I too have concerns about my grandson. He is six yrs old and has been with me for over a year. I know that issues like missing his mother and little brother have a lot to do with some of his behaviors however he has been through alot as a young child. Understanding this when the school began to have problems in the class room I became very concerned about it. We had a big meeting witht he board and decided to have mental health intervine. I am hapy that I did because I thought that they would simply give him medication. That is not! the case. There are many approaches to this problem. I reccommend that parents with this concern work very closely with the school teachers and mental health. You will be surprised at the results. Debra from Calexico, CA"
06/4/2008:
"Dr. The teacher is obligated by law, as is the school, to intervene and offer ideas to correct the behavior as a first course of action. The teacher may very well be frustrated but it his her job as an educated paid professional to apply all of her talents and experience towards these exceptional childrens issues AND to control her frustration toward the child and the parents. I know, I've been at this point as a parent. "
06/3/2008:
"I read this and thought it was me writing the letter. My son just completed 1st grade with honor roll grades and an IQ of about 110 I believe. (we had him tested last summer) He didn't make honor roll due to his behavior. He laughs when disciplined as well and is SO infuriating. He hated school last year and I am afraid he has been 'tagged' already as the bad kid, but I hate to change schools.3ped's have said he is not ADD, unfortunatly he is 250% boy"
06/3/2008:
"I would like to state that sometimes a negative or ineffective teacher can exasperate a child's behaviors. When my son was three years old his preschool teacher advised me she thought he was ADHD and informed me he was uncontrollable, distruptive, unable to sit still, wouldn't listen, aggressive etc, etc. I was shocked as I had no idea he had so many problems. I took the day off from my work and observed him through the glass the following day (he absolutely did not know I was there) and he was fine. If anything I was shocked at how well behaved he really was. He listened, participated fully, raised his hand, was the first one to start his work... I was very confused. I observed him for three and half hours with not one behavior problem. My son did not know I was present, however the teacher did. So was she treating him differently because I was there? The only problem I did notice was that the teacher was trying to force my son to write with his right hand and he is ! left handed. While I was there observing I was approached by my older son's teacher. She was the the teacher from the five year old class. She stated she 'liked' my son and asked if she could take him into her classroom. I hesitated for concern of putting my three year old in with five year olds but decided to give it a try. My son moved into the other class with older kids and that was two years ago. He is still doing great, he's not perfect but he rarely get into trouble. I think sometimes teachers may have personality conflicts with children or just may not like them or show an interest in them. I think it is important to advocate for your child and make sure they are in an environment that is positive and nurturing. "
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