Blog: Son’s Grades Slipping: Is it ADD?

Susan Stiffelman

My son, who is 12, is smart, but his grades are slipping because he isn’t turning in all his homework. He did OK until last year, when he started at the middle school. My sister thinks he might have ADD (my nephew has it) but my husband think his problem is that he can’t be bothered to make the effort. Wouldn’t we have heard from teachers in grade school if he had ADD?

Many bright children make it through elementary school without teachers identifying them as having ADD-related symptoms because the work is relatively easy and they can get by without investing a lot of effort into their homework. However, once assignments in middle school get harder, these kids can hit a wall and lose momentum, “forgetting” to turn in assignments, doing incomplete work or making careless errors on assignments and tests. This doesn’t mean that children with low grades have ADD; it is simply information that may discourage you from assuming that your son’s academic problems are simply a result of his indifference.

Here are some ideas for helping your son get back on track. If you try these suggestions and see no improvement, and there is a family history of what I call ADD-like symptoms like impulsivity or inattention, listen to your instincts and seek a professional evaluation for your son to rule out any legitimate challenges or medical issues.

• Use online resources provided by your school. Many teachers now update school websites with homework so you can stay up-to-date about what your son is responsible for working on each night, as well as upcoming projects. While some 12-year-olds are quite independent about getting their work done, your son needs your involvement right now. The online homework hub is an easy way to stay current.

• Create a system that will help him organize and keep track of his assignments. Some parents use color-coded tabs or folders so that each class has its own place for assignments he needs to complete and turn in.

• Meet with his teachers. Your son’s teachers want him to succeed. Even if he hasn’t been formally diagnosed with ADD or a learning disorder, most teachers will work with you to help your son get back on track.

• Encourage your son to create a ritual, whereby he grabs his “Completed Assignments” folder as soon as he enters each classroom. Tell him to check that folder, even if he doesn’t recall having something to turn in for that specific class. Memory and attention issues (not to mention hormones!) can fog up a youngster’s brain, making them believe they don’t have homework to give the teacher when they actually do.

Talk with your son about what’s going on… and listen. The transition to middle school is a big one. Some children get overwhelmed by the pace, the changing of teachers and the many social distractions. Middle-schoolers are also navigating the complexities of moving into adolescence, including hormones! Be your son’s ally and listen to what’s going on, rather than an adversary who comes AT him with threats or lectures. The more he feels he can share with you what’s getting in the way of his doing well in school, the better you’ll be able to support him.