difficult child failing school - suggestions/advice?

Discussion in 'General Parenting' started by Wonderful Family, Dec 13, 2009.

  1. difficult child is failing most of his classes and is in very real danger of failing 8th grade. He simply just doesn't do the work - both in school and out-of-school. He will do some on occassion; for example, 2 weeks ago I received a call from the prinicipal telling us how proud he was of difficult child for completing a huge assignment and how he was able to break it down to keep it manageable.

    There appears to be no rhyme or reason for the issue and no consistency.

    Punishment is meaningless, the few friends he hangs out with on rare occasions is not something to take away.

    He's a pretty good kid for a difficult child overall, he doesn't sneak out, get into trouble, or cause problems for others - plus he's still afraid of the neighbors from incidents that happened 3+ years ago; he rarely leaves the house. He's unpleasant to live with, to say the least. But its generally just being nasty and rude; we're no longer talking explosions and raging.

    And, in spite of everything, difficult child continues to have a good attitude at school and the teachers like him a lot.

    IEP is in place, I did initially ask for placement at an alternative school when we registered him/started the IEP process again last Spring, but his testing is good and he has "proven" to the school district that he is capable. difficult child is currently in all co-taught classes and has a pretty good case manager.

    difficult child says he isn't depressed; that he knows what it's like; that he just doesn't want to do the work.

    Is it conceivable that a pretty good kid would actually make this choice without there being something else causing it? Of course, difficult child isn't talking.

    This has been THE ongoing issue since kindergarten in everything.

    I'm unsure how much intervention to put in place; letting him fail is a natural consequence, but too be honest, I don't know that this wouldn't be a disaster too. Most likely, we'll come-up with a few new ideas, but none of it solves or addresses the underlying problem (whatever the issue is). We don't want to enable him by giving too much intervention; and failing may be the "answer".

    husband and I believe difficult child is doing better than we ever expected and is hanging in there behavior wise; many rough days, but still better than expected. We really thought we'd be picking up pieces by this point in time and visiting him at the phospital. He just had his "best birthday" since he was 1 and actually enjoyed himself, he's made a lot of headway. The overall improvements are why we struggle so much with trying to figure out the right way to handle this.

    Any suggestions?
    Lasted edited by : Dec 13, 2009
  2. Josie

    Josie Active Member

    How about trying an incentive for passing grades or whatever standard you decide? We did this for my oldest who just wasn't doing the work because she didn't feel like it. At first I was against rewarding her for something she should be doing any way, but I decided that in the real world, people do sometimes get bonuses at work for meeting goals. The incentive would obviously have to be something that motivated him. For my daughter, it was extra money.

    Another idea is to hire a tutor to come after school for a few hours to "help" him do his homework. If he doesn't really need help, then someone to keep him on track.
  3. smallworld

    smallworld Moderator

    This is approximately where we were with our son last year in 9th grade. Although he was medically stable, he was academically underachieving, socially withdrawn and therapy resistant. We decided to have him undergo psychological testing last April to get a read on what was going on his head because he wouldn't talk to us or this therapist. The psychologist who tested him determined that J had an emergent Avoidant Personality Disorder that would develop within 2 to 3 years without intensive therapeutic intervention.

    Our mental health team urged us to send J away from home because we had exhausted all of our local therapeutic options. We used an educational consultant to locate programs that would be a good fit for J.

    J spent 8 weeks over the summer in a wilderness program in Georgia. Wilderness promotes internal change away from all distraction in a 24/7 therapeutic milieu that my son clearly needed and benfited from. J is now continuing to build on the internal changes begun in wilderness at an Residential Treatment Center (RTC) in Utah. We expect him to be there for a total of 9 to 12 months. He is making solid progress, and we are optimistic about his prognosis for the first time in years.

    I will not kid you -- these programs are expensive. We took out a loan to pay for J's year away. Some insurance companies will cover residential therapeutic placements (ours didn't) so you should check with a benefits representative. Depending on whether your son has an IEP and how he is doing in school, some SDs will fund residential placements (ours wouldn't).

    I am not saying this is what you should or should not do, but this is one route that you could consider and that has worked for us. Our son was absolutely not making any progress at home, and it was painful to watch and to experience. We are all a lot happier now.
  4. klmno

    klmno Active Member

    I would still question if he's depressed, even though he doesn't feel like he is. I like the idea of using rewards for him achieving the least little thing at this point (completing one project to start out with, for instance) instead of punishments for not meking effort. I'd steer away from alternative school through the school district because they are usually bigger behavior problems, at least in this area.

    Maybe you can get a trusted psychiatric involved to help determine why he isn't doing more/better. And I'd also recommend a complete physical. Smallworld's solution is great if necessary but many of us can't afford it. You can push for more through the IEP- I am never happy with their typical "we don't need to do anything because we know he's capable".
  5. We've tried every form of incentive available - positive and negative. Nothing makes much of a difference beyond a few days.

    I know difficult child doesn't want to fail.

    We have a great psychiatrist - who gives us his cell phone and we can reach at anytime and actually see's patients for a full hour. We see him about once a month.

    difficult child does have an IEP in places and is in all co-taught classes.

    As soon as difficult child becomes the least little bit uncomfortable, he typically stops trying. He has learned over time to handle some situations, but it's taken years (e.g., he can finally order his own food at McDonald's).

    He's been tested numerous times for autism, always negative; BiPolar (BP) much more obvious as he gets older.

    Small World - can you tell me more about how your son was tested; I believe you were the one that gave me some references to a wilderness camp last summer; Residential Treatment Center (RTC) has been mentioned by psychiatrist numerous times. Aside from cost, husband and I have always been afraid of how difficult child might react; perhaps withdrawing even more since he perceives ANY discussion about going away to such a program as a punishment.
  6. klmno

    klmno Active Member

    Can you get a tutor/mentor? There are people who can be hired or gotten thru an IEP (although the school district will try to avoid this due to cost) who are mentors but also will sit with him and work thru the homework and spend time doing fun stuff with him and just talking to him, too. I think I'd try that. Look for a therapuetic mentor that also tutors.
  7. smallworld

    smallworld Moderator

    The adage of "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink" was very true in our situation. We could put all the supports in place -- IEP, tutors, therapy, medications, etc -- but my son still had to be the one to do the work.

    Wilderness and Residential Treatment Center (RTC) promote the internal change that needs to take place for adolescents to take ownership over their lives and their challenges. by the way, as a result of the intensive therapy he is receiving, my son's medications are being reduced. He is off of Seroquel altogether, and we are in the process of weaning Lamictal to see if he still needs it. We expect to keep Wellbutrin in place for depression and attention isssues.

    Psychological and executive function tests that my son took last April included Delis-Kaplin Executive Function (D-KEFS), Rorschach Inkblot Test, NEPSY-II, TAT, MMPI-A, Animal Choice Test (ACT), Children's Depression Inventory (CDI) and Bell Relationship Inventory for Adolescents (BRIA).

    No teen wants to go to wilderness or Residential Treatment Center (RTC). They are angry when they get there. But the therapists work with them to accept why they are and take accountability for what led up to why their parents placed them there.

    A helpful book on therapeutic placements is What Now? by Paul Case.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2009
  8. jbrain

    jbrain Member

    Your son sounds somewhat like my difficult child 1 dtr. She didn't like school after Kindergarten and just didn't want to do the work. She was diagnosed with a mood disorder-not otherwise specified and also with adhd but I don't know if she actually had it.

    Incentives didn't work with her--there was nothing she wanted enough to work for it. Likewise, taking everything away from her didn't work either.

    She was at an Residential Treatment Center (RTC) for 8 1/2 months when she was 16. They had a pretty good school but again she just didn't do much work.

    It wasn't until she was at a dual diagnosis rehab when she was 17 years old that she began working. And this time it was because she could work on her GED instead of having to get a high school diploma. She worked her tail off and passed the GED exam the first time with flying colors. This was all her idea. We were so relieved to have her at the rehab (she'd been living on the streets) that we didn't even care about the school part of it.

    I don't really have any advice--there was nothing we did that made any difference. She had to decide that her education was important to her and I don't even know why she decided it was important at that point!

    Hang in there,
  9. emotionallybankrupt

    emotionallybankrupt New Member

    The only suggestion I have is to avoid making the school situation a battle at home. This goes completely against my instincts, since I am a teacher, but it was a teacher older and more experienced than I, who finally just suggested to me that I allow school issues and consequences to stay at school, and deal with home behaviors and consequences at home. We were working on so many issues at once that nothing was working anyway, and I was exasperated and exhausted.

    Looking at alternative placements, however, sounds like a good thing. Then, you could even present a choice, like "You can either go to XYZ School and do your best, or we'll move to ABC School and see how that goes. Which would you rather do?"
  10. Thanks everyone. I like the idea of having a "back-up" plan and then letting difficult child more or less make the call.

    More than likely, he will pass into the 9th grade; the school district will send him to summer school to attend classes focused on the testing that is required; of course, this doesn't mean he really learned everything.

    KLMO - your suggestion about the school tutor/mentor, I'm assuming at school, is a good suggestion.

    We don't battle at all over homework. A typical day consists of us asking if he needs help, can I review your homework. We are politely told "no" (as I was a little while ago); but we will never, ever go back to the homework battles that we had a few years ago.

    I agree - you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. It would be so much easier if we had any insight into his head:)
  11. KTMom91

    KTMom91 Well-Known Member

    Failing biology her freshman year was a great wake-up call for Miss KT. Because she was in marching band, she had a full schedule of classes, so in order for her to make up that semester, she ended up taking zero period PE. After scampering around playing flag football at 6 am in 30 degree weather, she got it together.
  12. TerryJ2

    TerryJ2 Well-Known Member

    I am the absolute wrong person to ask, LOL!
    I like the ideas here ... can't add anything. But I can wish you luck.
  13. busywend

    busywend Well-Known Member Staff Member

    My only suggestion is to ask him what would help him. He knows when he is getting to the point of struggling. He knows when he is just being lazy. He knows when he does not understand the material. He knows when....he is the only one that can figure out what can help him.

    It will make him feel in control of his own destiny and will also teach him self awareness. He must learn to recognize his own struggles and when he should do A or when he should do B. This could be the way he gets through his entire life.
  14. pepperidge

    pepperidge New Member

    Sounds much like my eldest son. He hates school. He has some learning issues which make it tough, but has absolutely no desire really to do the work. Even with medications on board, and a much better attitude at home he still hates school.

    It is hard to tell from what you describe whether his behavior at home is still worrisome. I think this is the age for rude behavior, etc, but it seems as if he is still withdrawn. And irritability is a sign of depression in children even if he isn't can't get out of bed type of depressed. My son has been both, now he has a friend and we have much more leverage over him than we had (computer time, time with friend) though we still can't push it too far on the school work front. Is your doctor thinking of tweaking the medications? I wonder if the AD might be having negative impact on his motivation--did have some impact that way on my son.

    Here's a radical idea. Have you ever tried a small dose of stimulant on him? Lamictal keeps my son's mood from depressed/irritable, but the small dose of Adderall he takes helps him focus, and also seems to really bring out a more expansive, emphathetic outgoing kid. We tried many other medications (Wellbutrin, stratetera etc) but Adderall has consistently had this impact on him. The small dose of Risdperdal he takes seems to deal with whatever down side there might be from Adderall. (When he first started it, he had issues with anger when it would wear off in the afternoon).

    I've finally come to the conclusion that my son is never going to get really motivated for school because it is so far removed from his talents/abilities. Not to mention of course the weak exec function that makes it difficult for him to plan his life beyond 25 hrs. What does he really like? Does he have any particular talents?

    good luck.
  15. I do agree and really think difficult child is still somewhat depressed; he never leaves the house to play or hang out with other kids very often; mostly because he rarely gets asked. He is in a pretty good mood most of the time.

    We've discussed going back to a stimulant; but everyone is very leary of it. psychiatrist says it could destabilize him and take a long time just to get where he is. We're trying the Intuiniv (SP) to see if it helps. Given past history with stimulants; it terrifies me to even think of it - he took Risperdal for years to offset the problems with the stimulants. The unwillingness to work at things that are difficult were the same with and without the stimulants.

    The rude behavior typically occurs when he doesn't like something we've asked him to do. Certain things like staying up to 1:00 am are certain to set him off immediately; otherwise, it's over almost before they start.

    I know he still struggles, I can see it in the few manic periods that are more obvious. But I admit that I'm also becoming more and more resistant to trying to help him if he doesn't want it.

    Comments concerning him knowing where he stands (lazy or other) are quite true.

    I'm guessing we'll have no choice but to step aside and let him fail - and then we can step in if he is willing. We'll certainly keep trying and working with the school.

    Funny - I grew up with a cousin that had BiPolar (BP) but was never treated; all of difficult child's life I've heard how much he is like this cousin and I always vowed that it would not happen to mine and I would fight to the ends of the earth to help prevent it. But now, I feel like my hands are tied.

    So sad. He's such a good kid overall.
  16. smallworld

    smallworld Moderator

  17. Wow SmallWorld; the program that I think you mentioned is close to us; and would be quite accessible.

    It certainly is worth considering; husband will be tough to get on-board, though - but it's something to think about as we move forward.

    Is Residential Treatment Center (RTC) really needed after the camp? Your son wrote about my own son.

    Question - do you think the issues with trying to control so much himself is because he was out of control? I know difficult child is much more controlling when he really down and out with the BiPolar (BP). Is it a BiPolar (BP) issue?
  18. pepperidge

    pepperidge New Member

    My only other thought is that I wouldn't hold out too much hope about failing being what turns your son around. After all, if he isn't motivated by good things in the immediate present, why would he care about grades and his future which to him is many many years down the road?

    Letting children fail to turn themselves around is a great idea, but only if they care about the consequences. What we have observed over and over with my son and school is that the consequences (failure etc) matter to us but they don't matter to him. Which is not the same as to say that they don't make an impact--they do reinforce the cycle of failure, low self-esteem, etc. But they are not a wake up call--gee I better do better or I will fail at school. I think for whatever reasons our children get beyond caring about doing well at school, and the question is what are those reasons.

    I really wouldn't hold out hope that that will be the ticket to turn your son around.

    We are watching very carefully this year with my son. If we don't continue to see the small steps forward that we have been seeing, I think he'll be out there with Small world 's son. For my son, though, right now its a big question as to whether he needs a very different form of education or whether it is primarily a depression type thing.

    Good luck. I was going to say that we struggle every day. Actually we don't struggle with him so much anymore. But we struggle in the sense that I am deeply concerned about his future, as I am sure you are too.
  19. klmno

    klmno Active Member

    If you're interested in the mentor/tutor that I mentioned before going with an out-of-home placement- I was actually referring to the type of mentor that comes to your home and spends time with your child. They also might take your child places, tutor him if needed, etc. There are different types so it's worth checking out the company. Big brothers/big sisters have a good basis but can be unreliable and the volunteers are not trained to do anything else and there is a very long waiting list, at least in my area. But there are companies that have mentors that are specially trained and have had extensive background checks. Some only do behavior management (show up to do something fun if the kid behaved; don't show up if the kid hasn't behaved), but some are more "therapeutic mentors" and might be more effective. They still can do tutoring, take him out for fun things, etc. I'm pushing to get one for my son.
  20. Pepperidge - I'm with you - we no longer struggle so much day-to-day (although I'm sure what we do go through would drive parents of PCs crazy - still worlds better than when he was younger) - but it's concern about his future, and why I struggle with just letting him fail.