School Choices

Q: I’m facing a real dilemma regarding my 6-year-old son. His older brothers went to a neighborhood school, and we have been happy with it. The problem now is deciding where to send our next son, who will be entering first grade next year.

Up until now we’ve kept him in a small pre-school because he is particularly active and can act impulsively around other children. My husband and I thought that this smaller school would have caring teachers who are sensitive to his needs, and this has turned out to be true.

The school has been great and we’ve seen major improvements in our son’s behavior. However, the pre-school director feels that our son has ADHD, and has told this to me numerous times, this year and last.

With only 12 boys in the class, they are able to manage his behavior by re-directing him when he gets distracted and rewarding him with either compliments or prizes throughout the school day.

My son is learning and improving socially, and so we are considering keeping him in this small school. Yet, we need to think about his future, and I have my doubts as to whether this school will be the best place for him in the long term.

The alternative is to send him to the same school that all his brothers went to. But this school has a strong policy of mandating children with ADHD to take medication, starting at grade one! I know a number of adults who went to this school and who were on Ritalin or Adderall for most of their school years. I don’t want my son to be in that category.

As we will soon have to start scheduling interviews, any advice you could give us would be most appreciated.

A: You don’t mention what your options are in terms of other schools, so it is difficult to respond. Is there another school, perhaps of another cultural bent, where there is more focus on classroom management skills and more emphasis on positive reinforcement skills?

His behavior still remains an issue in any school, so the source of his behavioral issues needs to be addressed in any case.

September 2019 is nearly a year away. Children at this age mature at different rates.The school may ask you to have him evaluated closer to admission time. However, if you do want to work with this school, you need to find a competent evaluator in order to get an accurate assessment.

Certain conditions may bring out impulsive behavior, but the actual source is not Attention Deficit Disorder. A good evaluator can often differentiate among these differences.

In general, to ascertain if a child has ADHD, a protocol is involved where behavior forms are given to both teacher and parents to see if there is a correlation in their observations of the child.

There are a number of diagnoses that a child could receive. One is oppositional defiant disorder; another is bipolar disorder.

Another is anxiety disorder, hearing or vision loss, or a type of learning disability, causing great frustration and often leading to impulsive behavior. A child could be experiencing an emotional upheaval and is acting out for this reason alone.

Instead of putting the focus on your child’s upcoming school options, it seems more practical to work on ways to help your son in the here and now. Studies show that behavioral therapy, together with medication, provides the best results in assisting those with ADHD.

As your son is managing without medication at this point, you can focus on ways to motivate behavior change, and non-medicinal ways to work on bio-chemical change.

However, one does need to keep in mind that if a child is unable to learn in school and disrupts the classroom greatly, medication is often the only way to keep the child in a mainstream environment.

In the present, working with a therapist focusing on behavioral management and relationships with family members can only enhance your son’s daily life.

There are those who believe that avoiding large amounts of sugar consumption, artificial preservatives and food coloring make a difference in their child’s behavior. An improved, healthier diet, along with exercise, has shown positive results.

And there are some who feel that biofeedback has been helpful for their child.

In general, time will tell what your son’s needs are. B’hatzlachah!