A Little Advice Needed from the Science Bloggers…

31Jan09

Actually, it just occurred to me to ask you guys (and gals… I mean that in the collective sense) for some guidance now that I’m getting a little traffic and a lot of you have some science know-how.

My 7 year old son is incredibly bright and intellectual.  Unfortunately, he is a little emotionally immature in some ways, which I hear is not uncommon in bright children.  He scored in the 99th percentile on the academically and intellectually gifted assessment test at his school.  Much to my delight, he particularly enjoys science and is also very artistically inclined (yeah! he takes after me!).  Unfortunately, he has a major issue with keeping focused.  He just absolutely cannot stay on task with anything.  He can’t follow through with chores at home without being constantly prodded and redirected and he is having problems completing assignments at school.  He has always been like that since I can remember.  Well, as you can imagine, this presents quite a problem for us at home, for his teacher, and to the other students in the class whom he distracts.  My son feels frustrated when he gets in trouble and genuinely feels remorseful.  He cries and says very frequently that he is incapable of controlling himself.  I didn’t buy it at first but I’m starting to believe that is the truth.

I just had a conference with his teacher and she asked me if I had considered putting him on medication for attention deficit.  She by no means was trying to persuade me in either direction but more so presented the idea as a possible option.  She shared her experiences with me regarding previous students and their improvements (she’s been teaching for 16 years).  She merely suggested that I speak to a counselor and/or pediatrician regarding the option.  She and I have tried checklists, giving him a time limit with a timer, reward incentives, taking away privileges, talking to him, redirecting him, isolating him from other kids and distractions, etc… only with limited success.

When I first had children I was really opposed to this type of medication and always felt that parents and doctors were quick to medicate children that really just needed some discipline at home.  Now that I am confronted with this situation I am starting to reevaluate my beliefs.  I am not leaning in either direction and do not want to make any sort of decision until I have engorged myself with knowlege.  I’m obsessive like that!  (Actually, I won’t even purchase a vacuum cleaner without researching it for 3 days first…) Oh, just so you know, he doesn’t have any other behavior problems; he isn’t in the least bit hyperactive or aggressive or anything of the sort.  As a matter of fact, he is incredibly well behaved when we go out.  It’s just the whole staying on task thing…  My fear is that if he continues to have these problems at school, he will constantly be in trouble (both with his teacher and by me) and will eventually feel defeated and start to loathe school.  It would be a shame for him to waste his incredible intellectual abilities simply because he does not have the attention span.  Plus, at some point he will start to fall behind in school if he does not pay attention.  He can only teach himself so much.

So I guess what I’m getting at here is that I would like to know if any of you have personal experiences to share or can give me good resources where I can learn more to make a well informed decision.  Thanks in advance!

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14 Responses to “A Little Advice Needed from the Science Bloggers…”

  1. 1 Nic

    I can only offer anecdotal advice. The inside of my head is loud and noisy; there is a lot going on and it can be really frustrating and annoying. There have been two things that have helped me. One is daily exercise which seems to quiet things down to a reasonable level. The other is yoga which I feel is helping me learn how to quiet things down myself and how to direct my focus.

    I wish you and your son a lot of luck. I think it is a good idea to keep open communication with him to see how things progress.

  2. 2 JimS

    I’ll share one thought with you… my nephew was having a very hard time focusing at 8 years. My mother was diagnosed as celiac sprue and her doctor recommended that we get tested. (Luckily I tested negative.) My nephew tested positive and my sister took all gluten out of his diet. In two weeks his entire outlook changed. His attention span increased and he had a little growth spurt.

    Best of luck,
    Jim

    • 3 extrovertscientist

      Thanks, Jim, for the advice. I will definitely be speaking both with a pediatrician and a counselor to get some professional advice and will explore all my options. Actually, I heard the gluten-free diet works great with autistic children as well. If I can get by with a change in diet only, I will certainly try it!

  3. No, don’t do it. It is likely he is just bored. I have noticed similar behaviour in v. intelligent children. Make sure he has sufficient challenges in his life, including sports, and gently help him to understand that doing the boring stuff is also part of life.

    It may be that this school is not for him. Look for alternatives.

    • 5 extrovertscientist

      Hmmm… I might give martial arts a try. It definitely can’t hurt and I think it would be good for him to blow off a little steam. Thanks for the advice!

  4. 6 InkRose

    I’m another anecdote, I’m afraid. I don’t have kids (yet), but I can remember just phasing out in school all the time, and being yanked back into the classroom from whatever I happened to be contemplating at the time, usually by the fifth or so increasingly loud call by the teacher, or the kid next to me giving my chair a kick. Especially 1st through 6th or 7th grade. I know it affected my grades quite a bit, because when I started “junior high” (age 12/13, grade 7th-9th) both my test scores and class grades, everything shot up from a ~6.8 average at the end of 6th (on a 4-10 scale) to 9.X at the end of 9th. So the early lows weren’t for lack of smarts (I remember in 4th grade, I never did my English homework for the whole year, and was only found out when at the end of spring semester the teacher wanted to look through our books; I’d answered well enough all year without doing the homework that she never suspected anything. We started English as our first foreign language in 3rd grade back then). I just couldn’t keep my mind from wandering whenever I was the slightest bit bored. I later found that for me, music helped enormously. Whenever I had to study for exams or concentrate for long periods of time on something, I’d put some of my favourite music on headphones and cram away. This realisazion only came to me sometime around 8th grade, though, and my mom never believed it even though she saw the test scores…

    Obviously I never had any medication (I grew up in rural Finland, went to school in the early to mid-90s), and thinking back on it, wouldn’t want to have had any, though I do see how this would make things so much easier for all concerned. OTOH, it also manifests in an almost opposite way, so that when I’m really focused on something, I’m completely dead to the world. I forget to eat, don’t hear when I’m asked questions, etc… The wife sometimes fails to appreciate my powers of concentration, I’m afraid. 😉

    I still often find it hard to concentrate on listening to someone talking about something. Much of the time, like the previous commenter, there’s just so many things going on in my mind that it really takes a bit of effort to keep them from interfering with what I’m supposed to be hearing. I’m sure yoga would be a lot of help for me, too, but I’ve never had the opportunity locally yet. I have done a few martial arts along the way, and that’s one thing I’ve always been intrigued by, ever since I was a kid. This might be something worth looking into, for your kid, Extrovert, if he’s at all interested. The junior courses are usually fairly playful, but with a certain amount of discipline from the get-go, and introducing more and more exact and exacting rules as they grow and progress. Often they start with lots of fun movement practice, rolls, cartwheels, etc., all learned sort of on the sly while playing different versions of tag and other things. I still hugely enjoy all that acrobatics stuff, though I’ve been forced to give most of that up.

    Wow, this has turned into a huge long ramble. Sorry about that, other readers, and gracious host. It’s just that telling one thing brings five others to mind and they’re all related and somehow connected to what I thought I was trying to say. I’ve never been very good at being concise, excepting the occasional fit of poetry-writing. But that I will NOT go into now. I swear.

    I really don’t have much advice to give, I’m afraid. I was never medicated, got decent grades the years it mattered, got into university, got bored, switched to watchmaking, and am deliriously happy with my life, and the choices I’ve made so far. Now, the environment I grew up in is hugely different from the ultra-competitive US school system, and I can’t know what my parents would’ve done in such a situation, where even 1st year grades affect your chances of getting into a good university. But just from a gut feeling, I’d try to explore at least a few other avenues before medicating. If your kid’s at all like I was (and it sounds like he is), losing privileges probably doesn’t have much real effect, because the fun place is in his head anyway, and that can’t be closed off easily. Oh god, here I went again… (Really, really, really sorry you guys)

    In any case, I wish you both all the best. I know you’re in for interesting times, certainly, and it will take truckloads of patience to figure out a way for him to separate the sidetracks from the main line. But I’m sure you’ll get there.

    And again, apologies for all the rambling.

    • 7 extrovertscientist

      No apologies needed, InkRose! I found your post to be very helpful. Actually, it sounds like my son shares many of your qualities. I failed to mention that when he gets interested in something he becomes rather obsessive and hyperfocused…. nothing else matters! He got into this kick of origami and he made tons and tons of origami until it was just overflowing the house and I had to get it under control! He will take up something incessantly until he just gets tired of it and never does it again.

      In general he is very musical and artistic so maybe I will put him in music lessons and perhaps martial arts. Both might teach him how to redirect his straying attention. As for listening to music while he is doing his work, I hadn’t thought of it but that really may help. I think it’s a great idea and I’m sure that if it works at home, his teacher is willing to allow him to do it at school. Thanks again for your great insight!

  5. 8 Justin

    More anecdotes, I’m afraid.

    I am a reasonably intelligent person, but I always did very poorly in school. I NEVER did my homework & had a very difficult time paying attention in class. I was probably paddled more than any other kid at my school (thankfully that doesn’t happen in schools anymore.)

    Overall, during grade school, I was a C student. When I took standardized tests, though, I consistently scored in at least the 95th percentile. Because of my poor grades, though, I didn’t go to college after high school until I was 24.

    Before I started going to school, I talked to my doctor about what had happened through my earlier education and he asked if I had ever tried medication for ADHD. It was not something that was ever even considered (my mom was of the mindset that children were being overmedicated and that it was a discipline problem.) I started taking Adderall before I enrolled in school; I am now in my Junior year and I have a 3.9 GPA. At first I thought that my improved performance was due to me getting more mature with age, and I went off of the medication for one quarter. My average GPA for that quarter was a 3.45.

    I’m not saying that you should just go and put your son on medication, but it actually helped me greatly.

    Good luck.

    • 9 extrovertscientist

      Thanks for your input, Justin. I’m very glad to hear that it’s working out for you. I definitely want to hear all sides- the good, the bad, and the ugly. I know there is no perfect solution so it’s just a matter of weighing the risks to the benefits. Keep up the good work!

  6. Hello, lovely blog!

    Medication at a young age does not sit well with me either, as a mother to seven and eight year olds I understand your concerns. I would encourage you to firstly enquire locally (perhaps with an ADD parents support group?) for a good paediatrician who can ascertain whether or not your son is attention deficit.
    The proactive approaches of diet, excercise and stress relief sound much more appealling than medication. However as an adult with recently-diagnosed ADD, I can look back on a very disruptive education which proved a great loss on my part as I couldn’t make the most of my education offered to me at the time. Like Ink Rose I scored extremely high without doing much coursework but looking back, I wish I could have done so much more and realised maximum potential.
    I think in your case, it’s great to know Mom’s on side, looking for the best approach. If anything, I’d say avoid meds until he hits adolescence if possible.

    Good luck 🙂

  7. I’ve always though that the “prescribing power” that our society has put into the hands of out elementary teachers is a bit scary. You mentioned that your son scored in the 99th percentile on an academic exam… and the teacher is wanting to give him mind-altering pills? I’m not exactly sure what that says about tha state of our education system… but there’s a message in there somewhere.

    Personally, I’ve found that regular aerobic exercise increases my focus… and wheat gluten… its was toxic to my system.

  8. I only have more anecdotal evidence to add, but my uncle was very similar to your son. Intelligent, artistic, a little socially and emotionally awkward. He had a lot of trouble focusing while growing up (in our family he’s famous for taking seven years to finish undergrad, a record that I came close to breaking), and he was well into adulthood before he finally sought diagnosis. He takes medicine for adult ADD now, and I know he wishes he had tried medication sooner.

    Whether or not your son is in the same boat, I can’t say. I’ve always been very similar to my uncle, but I think my problems were more because I was bored and unstimulated rather than having anything chemically wrong with me.

    • 13 extrovertscientist

      Hey El, thanks for sharing your experience. I’m still thoroughly considering the options. As far as how long it took to do undergrad… Don’t feel bad! I went to school for 8 years and got 2 associate degrees. Ha ha. I had 110 credits at the community college. Of course I was nickel and diming it the whole way but that’s not the important part.

      Anyway, I’m thinking my son’s biggest challenge is impulse control and that often comes in the form of inattentiveness.

  9. 14 whysharksmatter

    I am not yet a parent either, but I agree with some people above- the kid probably just isn’t challenged enough. Schools aren’t geared towards the 99% percentile.

    I would recommend making some outside-of-class homework to keep him stimulated. Science can be fun and challenging, and there are TONS of free online resources that teach science concepts.

    Again, if he likes my “shark o’ the week” posts, I’ve made a full length documentary about it… contact me through Andrew and I can mail you a copy.


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