By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist
Should my child be held back? My eighth-grader is going to pass on to high school with mostly Ds. He is on a 504 plan for inattentive-type ADHD, which has allowed for some accommodations, mainly the ability to turn work in late. I don't know if we should push to have him repeat eight grade to allow for more maturity and reinforce the academics of eighth grade or let him move on. This is a question we ask almost every year, and we get almost no help or insight from the school.
It sounds like a frustrating situation, particularly your feeling that school personnel have been less than helpful. For that reason alone, having your son move on to high school might be a good idea. This will provide him with a fresh start - a new environment, new teachers and new administrators. In the spring you can arrange for a tour and include a meeting with special educators to discuss your son's 504 plan and what his specific needs are. In addition, there are some other considerations.
Eighth grade is a particularly challenging year physically, emotionally and academically. Your son is likely going through puberty, which includes changes in appearance, feelings and even behaviors. Fitting in and being attractive to peers are primary goals for kids at this age, and it's possible that your son is not taking advantage of available help with academics because he doesn't want to stand out among his friends. Talk with him about ways to get his needs met without feeling embarrassed, such as meeting with a teacher at the end of the school day or before school or communicating with teachers via email.
Academically, eighth-grade teachers try to prepare their students for the upcoming demands of high school. Thus, students are expected to handle a greater workload in class, juggle more assignments outside of class and work more independently. This requires greater efforts in concentration, organization and time management, and for a student with inattentive-type ADHD (who already struggles with these skills), these changes can be a nightmare. Your son may feel completely overwhelmed and stressed. Talk to him to get a better sense of his feelings. Ask him what he needs from you at home.
Make an appointment soon for you and your son to meet with the physician who prescribes his ADHD medication (you may need to request a slightly longer appointment ahead of time). Discuss his poor academic performance and feelings, and ask about the possibility of a medication adjustment. At his age, your son's physiology is going through tremendous changes, and often a change in dosage or even a new medication is necessary.
Finally, if your son is feeling a great deal of stress or if his school performance continues to deteriorate, consider taking him to a therapist. A qualified counselor can help him explore his thoughts and feelings, as well as work on strategies to improve his successful transition to high school.
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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