By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist
I got a call from my son's teacher. It seems that he won't do anything at school. He just sits there and won't do any of the work. I know that he's capable of doing the work. His grades were good in kindergarten and first grade. Once I get him going on his homework, he whizzes right through it. His teacher (who was a Learning Support Teacher for 10 years) does not feel that he has AD/HD. The child is not by any means a "hyper" child. Any suggestions for what I can do?
Work refusal in school is certainly a concern, as is any behavior change in a child, whether abrupt or gradual. Your son's apparent work refusal can mean any number of things. From something as minor as classroom seating arrangements, or an aversion to a particular teacher's style of interacting, to physical difficulties such as vision/hearing changes, or to more complex psychological issues, including disorders of attention, disorders of behavior, or family problems at home.
Getting to the bottom of this will take some collaboration. First, talk to your son. Try not to put him in a defensive position and make sure you let him know that you want to help, not punish, him. Ask him what he needs to help him get his work done in the classroom. Ask him if anything happened to cause his reluctance or refusal to do the work. You'd be amazed how one off-hand remark by a harried teacher or a thoughtless peer can affect a child's self-esteem or confidence regarding his classroom work.
Second, with all due respect for the teacher's level of experience, AD/HD is not always readily apparent, and it can only be diagnosed by a qualified medical or mental health professional. Your son's lack of work completion could most definitely be a symptom of this complex disorder, so I wouldn't rule it out just yet. With that in mind, enlist the teacher's help in exploring your son's troubling behavior. Have her give you a detailed report on his classroom behavior, including data regarding your child's "work" time and "play" time demeanor. Is his lack of cooperation with school work in all subjects, or just one or two areas? Could he be seated too far from the blackboard? Are his social skills okay? Is he active and involved during non-academic times, such as recess, lunch and P.E.? How does he respond to the teacher's efforts to encourage him to complete his work? Has the teacher tried a behavior management program of any kind to reinforce positive behaviors and strengths?
Third, schedule a physical exam and a consultation with your child's pediatrician to rule out any medical problems (including AD/HD) and discuss the teacher's concerns. Be sure to give the physician information regarding your son's behavior and emotional functioning at home. Once the physician has given you the results of the evaluation and has made recommendations, schedule another meeting with your son's teacher to discuss the results. You can then work together to formulate a positive and proactive plan for increasing your son's success in the classroom.
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.
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