Have an un­der­per­form­ing kid tested

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Adapted from an on­line dis­cus­sion.

Dear Carolyn: Our hi­lar­i­ous, old soul, bit-of-achar­ac­ter ado­les­cent son hit pu­berty and went into a cone of si­lence, with­drew, now (10th grade) tanks school­work to the point he lost ath­letic el­i­gi­bil­ity. Tu­tor be­lieves we should have him as­sessed: emo­tional, cog­ni­tive, neu­ropsy­cho­log­i­cal, aca­demic. There’s some pot use but not daily, he de­nies be­ing de­pressed, he ac­tu­ally ap­pears to work rel­a­tively hard, but has no fol­low-through, or­ga­ni­za­tional skills, fo­cus.

The test­ing is not in­ex­pen­sive. Should we take the plunge? Is there a book/ar­ti­cle you rec­om­mend? It’s dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand kids’ at­ti­tude that it is okay to not per­form their best in school and ex­tracur­ric­u­lars.

— Did We Spoil the Kid?

Did We Spoil the Kid?: Take the plunge, trust the tu­tor, check the school’s poli­cies and your in­sur­ance — some plans will cover neu­ropsych test­ing — and now, now, now talk to his pe­di­a­tri­cian about the drug use, si­lence and school-tank­ing. Rally the troops.

And, humbly sug­gested: What your son might need to hear most is that you hear him. As adults, we fan out into a uni­verse of in­ter­ests and life­styles, and in fact if some­one so much as spec­u­lates about tak­ing some as­pect of that life­style away, we go bananas. Yet we fun­nel our kids through this chute of desks and books and X hours a day for Y days a year for Z years over which they have lit­tle to no say, and ex­pect them to give ev­ery ounce of them­selves to be­ing the best through-the-chute-go­ers they can be. If any­thing, it’s a mir­a­cle the buy-in is as high as it is.

Broaden your idea of sen­si­ble at­ti­tudes ac­cord­ingly.

You can un­der­stand (and tell him) that a suc­cess­ful run through the chute makes life eas­ier; that work drudgery is not ex­actly op­tional for those re­quir­ing in­come; and that he’s go­ing to have to ne­go­ti­ate his own strengths and weak­nesses to do his job, be it the job of study­ing or wait­ing ta­bles or pro­duc­ing art or wid­gets — and still be sym­pa­thetic about his strug­gles in school.

And, cir­cling back so it doesn’t get lost: Call his doc­tor. I fo­cused on your son get­ting heard, be­cause that’s more com­pli­cated, but get­ting help is more ur­gent given the com­bi­na­tion of mar­i­juana and an ado­les­cent brain. Reader sug­ges­tions:

Re­quest an eval­u­a­tion by the school. You must do this in writ­ing.

I can’t rec­om­mend enough go­ing through with the test­ing. I felt such a sense of relief with hav­ing a learn­ing dis­abil­ity di­ag­no­sis.

Is it pos­si­ble the child had an ex­pe­ri­ence, such as an as­sault, they’re not telling the par­ents about? I went from an “old soul” (in my case, a kid who had seen too much) to some­one who couldn’t func­tion at all, be­cause of PTSD from early abuse.

Do the test­ing yes­ter­day, even if you have to sell your house. My daugh­ter al­ways had is­sues, but no one ever rec­om­mended we test her. We just es­sen­tially with­drew her from col­lege yes­ter­day, and life is hell right now. I wish we’d pushed for ex­ten­sive test­ing back in mid­dle school.

There are op­tions other than the tra­di­tional high school ex­pe­ri­ence that still al­low kids to go on to col­lege: home school­ing or eclec­tic char­ter schools or al­ter­na­tive pri­vate schools or on­line pub­lic school. If the chute is bad for him, he can skip it.

NICK GAL­I­FI­ANAKIS FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Carolyn Hax

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