Q: My son is a third-grader in a new school and his teacher suggested we get him tested for attention issues. His second-grade teacher never mentioned them. While I can see what she means, I think he's a typical boy and if tested, he'll be put on meds. How do I know if he should be tested?
A: "It sounds like a number of important issues are at play," says Dr. Sheldon Horowitz, an expert on learning disabilities (LD) at the National Center for Learning Disabilities. He offers this advice:
"First, adjusting to a new school can be hard for any child. What might be 'normal' for children who are becoming emotionally comfortable with new people and surroundings could be misconstrued as features of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)."
Second, third grade isn't too early to identify ADHD. Your comment, "I can see what she means," suggests that you may have noticed some of the same behaviors that are of concern to his teacher, says Horowitz.
"Children who have ADHD," he says, "often share many of the same characteristics as those with undisclosed learning disabilities."
Third, "no one is just putting anyone on meds," reassures Horowitz. "The decision to begin a trial of medication doesn't rest in the hands of the school; educators can and should provide input, but the decision is between you and your child's physician."
There is no harm in having your son tested. Schedule an appointment with a medical provider who is familiar with these disorders, advises Horowitz.
"You and school personnel will have to complete questionnaires, and you will be asked to provide a detailed account of your child's medical and developmental history," he says. "Take to the appointment report cards, work samples, notes from parent-teacher meetings, and be prepared to share examples of any worrisome behavior. Be prepared to talk about any family members who have had similar struggles in school, at home or in the workplace. (For more information, go to www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities/adhd-related-issues/adhd.)
"Whether or not ADHD is diagnosed, this process will help you discover what your son needs to achieve success and enjoy learning," says Horowitz. "Ask lots of questions and don't be afraid of medication, if indicated by the M.D. "Medication may 'level the paying field' in terms of helping to focus attention, but once that happens, the real work of teaching and learning begins, so it is very important that you and your child's pediatrician work with the school to put specific types of learning supports in place."
"Be assertive," says Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg, a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "It's absolutely within reason to ask your child's pediatrician to write a letter or join in a phone call with teachers, the school psychologist or other personnel. Speak up and set forth clear and actionable next steps."
To connect with referral resources, go to ncld.org's Resource Locator Tool.
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)