kitchen table math, the sequel: FedUp Mom on emotional vs academic problems

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

FedUp Mom on emotional vs academic problems

FedUp Mom writes:
I am thoroughly skeptical of the ability of "experts" to determine whether a child's problem is emotional or academic.

Our Younger Daughter was refused admission to a LD school on the grounds that her problems were "emotional and behavioral, not academic." After a year of a great deal of academic work on our parts, guess what -- no more emotional or behavioral problems on her part.

It turned out that her emotional problems were caused by underlying academic problems. Basically, she wasn't learning how to read, which caused anxiety, which caused bad behavior.


ms_teacher said...

I can relate to this post. If you go to my blog & click on the tag "the youngest," you'll read my son's story as a 3rd grader. In 3rd grade, he was diagnosed with severe anxiety and after months of battling our neighborhood school (with the highest test scores in our city) he was moved to a school in the district where I worked.

While it took a full year of intensive work from us and with a lot of help from his new school family within two years, he was off his prescribed medication - by his choice.

I am proud to report that he is doing fine both academically, socially, and emotionally. And, I am also a much more aware teacher that certain behaviors may in fact have underlying academic causes.

Luke said...

Isn't that what all those educational-themed movies are about: The interplay between behavior and learning? "Stand and Deliver," "Take the Lead," etc. have kids who are fringe, lacking any real motivation or instruction, who experience incredible change when given something real and valuable to do.


Barry Garelick said...


Correct and I've seen it in classrooms. A student who doesn't do the work, goofs off, etc. In some cases, a conference with the parents, getting the kid caught up with homework, resolving whatever conflict there was at home, etc, and suddenly the student is doing grade A work. Much easier to write off such students as having "low cognitive ability".

palisadesk said...

Anxiety can also be the first link in the chain, preceding the academic or behavioral issues. Temperament and personality characteristics tend to be very hard-wired (modifiable, but present from the outset), and an anxious child may have trouble with the academics precisely because of her anxiety. Add in a sprinkle of perfectionism or limited resilience, and you have a young person who may find normal learning struggles an impossible challenge.

Unfortunately the children like this that I have known have not had the family resources to afford counseling or therapy; they had warm and supportive families, but mastering the basics in school was a tough path with many pitfalls. Eventually these children needed IEPs because of their academic needs -- but their academic needs were consequent to their emotional fragility, not to a lack of good teaching (in their case at least).

Fortunately, maturity and support can help a child overcome, or at least cope satisfactorily, with the challenge of anxiety in relation to normal pressures. One student I was very worried about in first grade is now in middle school and holding her own. Because of her own difficulties, she is a very compassionate person and a mentor to others. She is bright, but her grades don't reflect her ability -- over time, I hope that gap will close.

ms_teacher said...

paliadesk, you've described my son, who is often noted for his compassion and is well liked by his peers and teachers a like.

In K-2 at his neighborhood school, he was well-liked by everyone at his school. When the anxiety hit him full force, he suddenly became "oppositionally defiant" by a school that quite simply, refused to accommodate him in any way. As a person in the educational system, I became frustrated and couldn't help but thinking of those parents who are outside of this system dealing with this same type of situation.

"Miraculously" once we moved him to a school much more conducive to working with him, the label of "OD" went away. As I said previously, he is entering 11th grade this year and is a well-adjusted kid. Does he still deal with anxiety? Yes. However, he knows how to deal with it (exercising on a daily basis has helped enormously).

Catherine Johnson said...

oh my gosh - I have to catch up with comments - !

Also, and I MUST put this on my to-do list, I need to re-find the Mary Damer observation about the percent of behavior problems that are attributable to academic problems ----- !

Catherine Johnson said...

Here are all Mary Damer posts.

I don't see a percent figure for behavior problems, but I do find this observation:

Research supports the underlying thesis of our problem-solving process: the heart of successful behavior management is good instruction. Effective teaching becomes an even more essential variable for managing student behavior when one or more of the following conditions is present: (a) a student has a particularly chaotic home environment, (b) a student’s learning problems are extensive and complex, or (c) a student’s behavior is especially impulsive.

palisadesk said...

Catherine, I think the Mary Damer info you're looking for is in her book, Managing the Unmanageable Student , co-authored by Elaine McEwan. Unfortunately my copy is at school so I can't look it up for you right now.

There are tons of useful resources in that book about both academic and behavioral intervention.