Inattention Can Have Other Causes

            When our son was in 4th grade, he was not doing well in school, and one of his teachers noticed.  He was often zoning out in class and seemed to not pay attention.  This began a painful two-year journey for him and for us. 

We never thought of our son as having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  Of course his teacher, the guidance counselor and the principal never said he had ADHD.  They had been trained to never offer a diagnosis.  Instead, they used the buzz words.  He seems distracted.  He has trouble focusing.  He spaces out.  And on and on.

It was clear he wasn’t doing well in school, especially in one class with one teacher.  It was clear that he zoned out when asked to do things he didn’t want to do.  I could see what they were talking about, but I didn’t buy that he had ADHD. 

I spoke to his doctor.  My son’s pediatric practice had gotten out of the business of prescribing medicine for ADHD or ADD.  If I wanted to go that route, he said I would have to take him to a psychiatrist.  I didn’t want to go that route.  He also said to watch my son carefully.  If he really had ADHD it would affect all aspects of his life not just school.  He said we would have issues in public, at home, in church, at restaurants and friends’ houses – everywhere.  He said true ADHD couldn’t be shut off.

Then we looked into diet and allergies.  Was he eating anything at breakfast or lunch that would affect his ability to concentrate in school?  We even had allergy tests, but all of them turned up negative.  At that time, we did have him stop eating fruit snacks with heavy dye because we did notice that it did make him more hyper – but that didn’t help with his school performance.

I must say that the teacher who had the most issue with him also was a disorganized person herself.  Her classroom was cluttered and disorganized, and she often misplaced or lost things.  She changed her mind about assignments.  I do believe that a classroom like that is a difficult place for many children to learn especially those with ADHD.

By this time, it was clear that the administration and the one teacher at his school were frustrated with us because we didn’t take their advice to get medical help, but we really thought they were wrong about the cause of his issue.  It was clear that he was zoning out, but we firmly believed that there was another root cause.

One of the things we came to believe was there was a serious problem between him and his teacher.  She was taking out her frustrations with us and him on him.  She would ridicule him in front of the whole class.  The administration didn’t believe us and back her up.  We became “problem parents.” It got to the point where even his classmates were lashing out at him in the same manner she was.

In 5th grade, he was once again placed with that same teacher even though we asked that he not be.  The school stood firm that she was the right teacher for him, and things just got worse.  Finally, we pulled him out of school, and I began homeschooling.  Our goal was to get him through his 5th grade year, so he could start fresh with his classmates in middle school.

The first month of homeschooling went well, although he was a sad child with very low self-esteem.  When he found work too hard, he would bang his head against the wall and say he was a dummy over and over again.  Finally, one day, it dawned on me.  I finally understood that he wasn’t functioning at a 5th grade level.  He was certainly smart, but his skills were spotty.  He could really excel at multiple choice questions, but when asked to do something from scratch, he would shut down.

We took him to a tutoring firm.  They tested him and found that he was a 5th grader functioning at a 3rd grade level.  This was a bigger problem than I could handle in just a few short months before 6th grade began.  We dug into our pockets, and paid for our son to be tutored one-on-one from May until August every day for 3 hours a day in hopes that he would be ready to for 6th grade.

He began 6th grade nervously.  He was frightened that he would have the same experience that he had in elementary school.  He mistrusted teachers and the administration.  A few weeks into school, he began to feel comfortable.  He began to trust teachers again, and he earned good grades.  He had a good 6th grade year and a good 7th grade year.  He went from average classes to accelerated classes by 8th grade.  And for 9th grade, his 8th grade teachers recommended all honors.

We went with our gut, and I’m so glad we did.  ADHD is a real problem, and many kids do suffer from it, but how many kids are diagnosed with ADHD and don’t really have it?  I think we get away from the fact that children will show inattention for a variety of reasons: stress, diet, allergies, health issues, social issues, academic issues.  In our case, our son somehow slipped through the cracks at the school.  He was bright enough to hide it, and no one caught the real reason he was zoning out:  he was lost academically.

If we had medicated him without first questioning why he was behaving that way, we would never have solved the real problem until it was too late.