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Our 11 year old son with ADHD is failing almost every subject in school. He doesn’t seem to care. He’s on focalin and is well behaved at home. He seems to be out of control at school. He lies about finishing class work, fails tests, etc. He never brings home anything to sign. I feel stressed and worried that he’s heading in the wrong direction. We’ve taken away T.V., video games, etc. He does not seem to care.

Help! P.S:

He was tested in 3rd grade for disabilities and actually is above average IQ.

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The answer to your question is yes; your child could be failing in school due to ADHD. However, this answer is not as simple as it might seem. Here are some of the potentially complicating factors that could be contributing to his school failure:

1. While medication is very important in helping ADHD children control their impulses and focus attention, it is not enough. Your child needs to be in behavioral therapy and in conjunction with his parents in order that all of you learn to help him develop the social and academic skills necessary for success in school and life. These children even more than others need to learn how to take class notes, organize their notebooks, write down homework assignments, keep a calendar to track when their work is due and when tests will occur, etc. They also need to learn how to socialize in ways where they can get help and feel listened to by other children and teachers. None of this comes naturally and cannot be achieved by medication alone.

2. Many if not most children with ADHD have a secondary diagnosis along with this disorder. These secondary conditions can range anywhere from Opposition-Defiant Disorder (ODD) to Conduct Disorder (CD). While he cooperates at home now, he is not cooperating in school and this could begin to happen at home as he enters adolescence.

If not ODD or CD, your child could be suffering from an anxiety disorder and/or depression, both of which frequently coincide with ADHD.

3. As your child gets older and continues to have problems in school he is in danger of identifying himself as a failure. Then, as a young adolescent, he could start to “hang around with” other young teens who see themselves as failures and dropouts. You do not want this to happen.

Time is moving and you need to act quickly. You need to have your child brought to a specialist in Child Psychology or Child Psychiatry and have him take a battery of tests in order to learn what is happening to him in addition to the ADHD. With a proper diagnosis he can be referred for the correct type of therapy and any additional medication he may need if he is depressed (this might not be necessary). Also, he can be evaluated as to whether or not the present medicine is really effective in helping him. Sometimes a medication is wonderful for one person but ineffective for another individual.

I am encouraging you to hurry because, at 11 years old, he is nearing that time of pubescence and the onset of adolescence. It would be most helpful to set him on the correct course before then.

Finally, he needs the help of his teachers to allow him to organize him self and be prepared for school.

Best of Luck

More "Ask Dr. Schwartz" View Columnists

  • Aviva Davidson

    These labels that we are putting on these children are ridiculous. Can so many children really have all these problems - or is perhaps the problem is the way the education system is run. Children have a lot of energy and this needs to be channelled and expressed - Confining them earlier in years to a classroom environment, the pressure on them, the load of information poured into them is suppressing their natural need to play and express themselves. This creates the problem because they are restless, what is being taught to them does not inspire them. Then we give the drugs which actually suppresses the problem and turns them into zombies.

    It is the very basis of the education system that is wrong - not the children. To say you love your children and then put them on these drugs having no knowledge of the harm these drugs are doing.

    This myriad of labels is harmful and ridiculous. We put them in school for long hours from such a young age, they come home and play on computer games or watch t.v very often with violence and fighting, they eat junk food and drinks with all kinds of enumbers and additives and then we wonder why they behave badly. Then we put them on harmful drugs.

    There is nothing wrong with our children - there is something very wrong with the way we are bringing them up and the way we are educating them and labelling them.

  • todd ADHD

    Todd 3/20/63 ADHD /Alcoholic

    I was one of those kids on ritalin. we were designed for the creative social sector of society. insted of looking at our best interests we were forced into there way and there path of least resistance. im now 47 recovering from a life time of self medicating. i can tell you because i was your son.


  • momadhd

    I wish people would stop saying there is no such thing as ADHD and we are "turning our children into zombies". My son has ADHD and I knew it from the time he was one year old. He has always had far more energy than any other child and also a lot less social skills. His medications do not make him a zombie, they help him to focus. My child could not be a zombie he does not sit still. Learn about the disorders and meet with children who actually have them. They are real and they need help not just people saying drugs are bad. People have said that to my son and now I have a hard time getting him to take his medication that someone told him is "poison". Do we tell diabetics not to take their medication? No. So find out more information before you start making false statements.

  • Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

    Hi Momad and All,

    ADHD is a very real disorder that applies to children who are uncontrollable both at school and home. They exhaust both mothers, fathers and teachers. Yes, there might be some over-diagnosis but, on the whole, the diagnosis is accurate. These are the kids who, years ago, were considered brain damaged or delinquent and would head to prison in their future. Now, with accurate diagnosis that combines drugs with behavioral treatment, these young people can learn to compensate for their ADHD and go on to have successful and productive lives.

    Dr. Schwartz


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