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Homework Help

The following are past questions and answers from Dr. Larry Silver on this topic.

I spend hours helping my daughter with her schoolwork each night, so she appears to be doing better than she is. How do I get the school to test her without letting her fail?

Dr. Silver,

I would love some advice on how to help my daughter.

At this time she has had no formal diagnosis of a learning disability. She is now in second grade and it seems she struggles with everything. I work a lot with her and try to help her understand things, but she never seems to quite "get it."

It now results in tears, frustration, and her thinking she is stupid and hating school. With the huge amount of work we do at home she has managed to be passing her classes, but I don't know that she is really learning.

She barely passed on into first grade because she was having a lot of problems in reading and was behind. That summer I sought the help of a friend who tutors kids in reading using a program that is supposed to be great for learning disabilities. With her help and a lot of work at home, we got her to grade level in reading.

All of her teachers so far have said that they can't quite put their finger on it — she is very hit or miss with things. One day she seems to know it, but then the next she doesn't. She still reverses letters a lot in reading and spelling. I have been told that she should grow out of this — but when?

At this time she struggles greatly with math. She seems to not understand how numbers work. My 5-year-old is able to do a lot of the work she can now do, because of just overhearing all the work I do with her. This is sending up a red flag to me. I know the schools are hard-pressed for the funds to do a lot of what is needed and I hate to waste their time. But that being said, I want to see my daughter get help and not have to work so hard if there is something we can do.

Unfortunately, the problems have not been bad enough for a teacher to say we need to test, but I wonder if I slacked off at home if they would be. It is a terrible place as a mother to be feeling like you need to let your child fail so she can get noticed.

Should I push the school into testing? Do you have any suggestions in helping me figure out what is going on? Thanks for any help you may be able to give.

I share your concerns. From your description, your daughter might have a learning disability. You are correct. By spending so much time with her each night, she appears to be doing better than she really is. Yet, you do not want to take away this help and have her do poorly just to show the school what you mean.

She should be evaluated. A psycho-educational assessment would be best. The first step is to submit a written letter to the principal, requesting a meeting to discuss your concerns with your daughter. The principal is required under education law to schedule this meeting. The classroom teacher, principal, school counselor, and special education person should be present. Share your concerns, using as many examples as you can. Be sure to explain just how much work you do each night. If the school agrees, they will do a formal assessment.

I need to warn you. Most school systems will not evaluate a child until the end of third grade. It is only then that they show enough of a discrepancy to meet their criteria for doing an assessment. If so, you might explore if it is possible to have these studies done privately and then take the results to the school.

Good luck.

My son forgets things everywhere. Is this a sign of a disability?

Hi Dr. Silver,

My son forgets things in school, on the bus, in the park etc. He needs a reminder or he will forget things.

Is this related to any disability? If so, how can he be helped? Also, could it be possible that he can't process multiple tasks at the same time?

Without your son's age, I cannot be specific. But the behaviors you describe suggest that he might have what is called an executive function disorder. He has difficulty organizing schoolwork, and loses, forgets, misplaces papers and other materials. He gets to school and leaves things at home. Then he leaves school and forgets things that need to come home. He might have similar difficulties with his personal belongings (coat, pencils, etc.).

If he has executive function disorder, it might be a reflection of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Inattentive Type or it might be a reflection of a learning disability. I would discuss these problems with his teacher. If the teacher notices the problems as well, speak with the principal about the possibility of having a special education team evaluate him.

(If you want to read more about these problems, look in my book, The Misunderstood Child, Fourth Edition, published by Random House/Three Rivers Press.)

How can I get my daughter to stop procrastinating and do her homework without a fight?

I have a 12-year-old daughter who procrastinates terribly when she is supposed to be doing homework or studying and we are constantly threatening, bribing, reasoning with her to get her to do her work. She is often up late at night still doing it and we're always fighting. She frequently refuses when told to do things she doesn't want to do and I just can't make her.

Her behavior is so stressful to the rest of the family and we are all constantly on edge. How can I get her to complete her assignments without all the defiance and yelling? She is on Focalin and is a good student (with a lot of our badgering to do her work).

Please stop the arguing, bribing, threatening, etc. It is not working and does not work. Shift your focus to why she is acting this way rather than trying to make her change. I have yet to meet a 12-year-old who really wanted to fail or to disappoint his/her parents. There must be a reason and it is your job to find out what it is.

For example, I assume she is on Focalin because she has ADHD. If she takes the medication in the morning, it has probably worn off by about 4 or 5pm. Could this be a reason she struggles at night? Second, if she has ADHD, there is a high likelihood that she also has learning disabilities. Has she been tested to see if she might? If not, do so.

The answer to your question is not to increase the consequences and hope she will change. The challenge is for you to find out why she is struggling and to address the reason. Have you ever sat down with her and said, "I know you don't like to do poorly in school and I know you don't want to disappoint us. Let's work together. Help me understand what is hard about doing the work. Let's figure out together what we can do to help you be more successful."