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My 15-year-old son was diagnosed approximately three years ago with the inattentive form of ADHD. He is also a gifted honor student in a very competitive public high school. We should have addressed this issue much sooner, but he was always able to overcome his difficulties so I never gave a thought that he had any learning disability.

His main difficulties are that he constantly forgets things, has difficulty staying on task, misplaces things including homework on a regular basis, and is easily distracted. We have never tried medication, nor have we sought special accommodations in the school.

Ever since he was in the second grade and required to turn in homework, we have received notes home from teachers each quarter of every year about my son failing to turn in work that we know he did. He also forgets to write down assignments and sometimes even forgets that he has a test or quiz in a given class. We have purchased planners but he inevitably loses them or doesn’t use them effectively. Although never diagnosed, I too have many of these same symptoms, so it is difficult for me to assist as I would like.

The main problem at this juncture is that he is seeking a Navy ROTC Scholarship. Therefore, by the Navy’s rules, in the year prior to his being medically evaluated for the scholarship, he cannot take medications to treat ADHD, nor can he receive accommodations that other children do not get, or he will be medically disqualified.

What suggestions do you have, without using medications or school accommodations, for us to help our son be successful? He desires to study Engineering, which is an extremely rigorous program. We are very worried that his disorganization and lack of focus will make things very difficult for him to succeed without using medication or accommodations. Thank you for any help you can provide.


May I first answer the question for all students and then for the specific issues related to your son. Organizational problems might result from ADHD, from a Learning Disability (LD), or from a combination of both. If the problems are secondary to the ADHD, stimulant medication can make a significant difference. If the problems are the result of LD, medication will not help but special education tutoring will help. If the problems are the result of both, medication and special education tutoring will be needed.

The easiest first step for most students is to try a stimulant medication. If successful, great. If not, a psycho-educational assessment will be needed to clarify the issues.

Now for your son. It might be best to get a psycho-educational evaluation first. If the problems relate to LD, a private special education tutor (without accommodations) might be all that is needed. ADHD medications or ADHD accommodations would not be on records.

Note from LD OnLine: Visit our Tech Expert section to see Dr. Tracy Gray’s response to the same question.

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