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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.

Staying organized can often be a challenge for students with ADHD or learning disabilities. There are a number of strategies for students with ADHD to help them be more successful academically that may be helpful to your son. You mentioned that you have purchased planners for your son, but that they have been unsuccessful. As you have no doubt noticed, the difficulty with using a planner is that your child must first remember to write assignments in the planner and second must keep track of where he’s left the planner. This can just add to a burden.

One possible solution is to continue the idea of a planner or to-do list but use one of the newer online to-do list programs. There are several popular free online programs available, including Remember the Milk, Ta-da Lists, and Backpack. These programs may have several advantages over a traditional planner for your son. First, they take advantage of technology your son is most likely already using (text messaging, instant messaging, and email) as a way of keeping track of tasks. Using technology can be inherently motivating for some teenagers. Many of these programs allow users to add tasks through their email, so if your son has a cell phone capable of sending email he can add tasks as soon as he finds out about them.

Another advantage is that most to-do list programs allow users to share their lists with others. Your son could share his assignment lists with you, his teachers, and anyone else who might need to monitor his progress. This way you can check assignments regularly and communicate with his teachers to ensure he isn’t forgetting anything.

Finally, online to-do list programs have a number of ways of notifying users when deadlines approach. Your son could opt to receive text message reminders on his cell phone, email updates or even instant messages. These programs take away the necessity of checking in a paper planner for assignments, as your son may be more likely to notice a text message reminding him of a project due the next day than remember to look in his planner.

An online program may not solve all of your son’s difficulties with organization and keeping track of tasks, but getting electronic reminders may help him manage his assignments more efficiently. Check out some of the different programs and try a few out to see what works best. Try discussing these programs with your son’s teachers and see if they would be willing to assist him in this process.

Note from LD OnLine: Visit Dr. Silver’s ADHD section to see a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist’s response to the same question.

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