16 year old Johnny isn’t lazy – He has ADHD.
John just started Grade 11. Although the school year just started, his parents are already worried about him. John is smart and has always done well in school, but his grades started to slip last year and the trend continues. John is generally well behaved but seems to be floundering in school. He is disorganized, leaves everything to the last minute and just can’t seem to get his act together.
But John does want to do well in school. He wants to get his work done. He can’t seem to figure out why he procrastinates and leaves everything to the last minute. He sees his friends doing well on math tests and knows he could do the same, if he just studied and paid attention.
John’s parents have tried everything to get him on the right track. They’ve taken away his gaming system and his phone, told him to “buckle down” and have threatened to take away his extra-curricular activates. Nothing has worked. They are quickly running out of options and feel helpless to make things better.
What John and his parents don’t know is that he has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). There are three subtypes:
- Primarily Hyperactive and Impulsive ADHD
- Primarily Inattentive ADHD (formerly called ADD)
- Combined Type ADHD
You can spot youth with Hyperactive ADHD a mile away. These are the kids in school who are fidgety, restless, and excessively active.
But the Inattentive type are another matter. These young people are not disruptive and tend to “fly under the radar” within the school system. They are often seen as bright children who, “just won’t apply themselves”.
Many Inattentive types can get by in school on their raw intelligence. They have trouble focusing and paying attention, but in their younger years they still manage to get good grades. But then, in High School, they hit a wall. They can’t skate along like they used to – they need to write essays and complete complex assignments – things that take time and attention. And this is often where they start to struggle.
Are you wondering if your child may have ADHD? Here are some points to consider:
- If your family is going out somewhere, is this child always the last out the door?
- Is your child easily distracted?
- Has homework time become a “battle” in your home?
- Are you constantly reminding them to get homework started? Are they constantly looking to “take a break”?
- Do they start a homework assignment but can’t seem to finish?
- Do they have difficulty completing tasks that are “routine but necessary”?
- Is your child constantly late getting things done?
- Do they leave everything to the last minute?
- Do they often make careless mistakes?
- Have you often thought that your child can get higher grades, “if only they applied themselves”?
- Do you feel, despite these issues, that your child genuinely wants to do well in school and takes pride in getting good grades?
- Have you often thought that your teenager may be somewhat immature for their age?
If you’ve answered “yes” to many of these questions, this may be indicative of something that requires further investigation. Clearly, not every child who is struggling in school has ADHD. Some children have undiagnosed learning disabilities and there may be a host of other possible explanations. However, three things are clear:
- Most children attending school want to do well. If they’re not reaching their potential, they know it. But they often don’t know why.
- Sticking the label “lazy” on a child serves no useful purpose.
- If the only tool a parent has in their toolbox is “punishment”, then we need to find ways to support parents in exploring other options.
The school year has just started. Taking a “Wait and see – let’s see if he grows out of it” approach may not be the best strategy. There are many adults with undiagnosed ADHD. For those who are finally diagnosed in their 20s and 30s, many wish they had received treatment sooner.
Brian Kenny M.S.W., R.S.W.