(Alexander Allen is a certified teacher who most recently was the Director of the Huntington Learning Center in Jacksonville, Florida)
Are your child's grades slipping on his report card? Are the psychologists blaming it on ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder)? ADD does affect thousands of children, and it is a common household word these days, but before you start rushing for the meds, look into the root of his academic problems first.
Imagine teaching math to a class of American students in Chinese. Eventually, the entire class would be off task, talking, and disruptive. Does that mean everyone in the class has ADD? NO! They just do not speak Chinese!
Visualize being in the eighth grade, learning the Pythagorean formula, and still having problems with division. It will never make sense! Or, try to read an eighth grade book without mastering syllabication. You would be so busy trying to pronounce the words that you would forget the meaning of the passage!
Children experiencing these types of skill "gaps," are commonly labeled as having learning problems. It is down right frustrating when a child does not understand what is going on in the classroom, and many normal children will begin to exhibit behavior problems. It is important to know which specific skills your child understands.
Many of the Basic Skills Tests offered in public and private schools do not give a detailed or accurate assessment of a child's academic abilities. These types of tests merely measure the "basic" skills: Does your child have enough skills to move into the next grade? Even if your child was able to pass the overall grade requirement, he may still be experiencing some specific areas of concern. If these areas are not remediated immediately, it will only create more learning challenges in his future.
Getting anything lower than a "B" on a report card is a red flag. As a parent, you must find out what caused the low grade. Was it poor test grades, not turning in homework, or not participating? If your child is doing all the work, but does not test well, maybe he lacks confidence. Suppose your child only mastered 80% of a test, and maybe there were just a couple of specific areas he did not master; it is important to find out which skills he lacked in that other 20%. The skills missing in that 20% will reappear in later lessons. For example, if you are trying to solve 3/4X + 18= 24, and you don't fully understand fractions, this type of question will present a huge problem.
School is comprehensive. Every skill learned in one grade, reappears in the next grade, but at a more difficult level! When a child is learning a new skill without mastering previous skills, he will become bored and frustrated in class. He will definitely find other things to do if he is unable to successfully participate with his classmates. He will become disruptive. And, as we all know, an angry teen can become a rebellious teen. One thing will lead to another. One missed skill will make the next new skill difficult to comprehend. It is a downward spiral.
It is crucial that you have your child properly evaluated, skill by skill, to find out if he understands all of the material. If your child appears unable to focus and concentrate in class, do not let the culprit automatically be ADD or some other disorder.
There are several learning centers that offer diagnostic evaluations. But, make sure you shop around and ask several questions, such as:
How long is the evaluation?
What skills will be assessed?
Exactly how will each skill be assessed?
What is the cost? Does it include a conference?
Also, before your child takes the evaluation, make sure he is properly rested. Talk with your child, and tell him he must take the evaluation seriously. Let him feel relaxed and explain that this is not a test that shows how "dumb" he is. Explain that there is no passing or failing. Tell him this assessment will show the areas where he needs help to make school easier.
Choosing a tutor or learning center to help with the remediation is also an important component to this process. Make sure the person or center has readily available credentials such as education experience and/or certification. Also, make sure they will address each skill one at a time until it is mastered and your child gets the attention he needs.
Find out if the source of your child's inability to focus or concentrate stems from a lack of specific skills. Have him evaluated. But above all, remember ADD is not the only reason for a child to have difficultly concentrating.