Learning Problem
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School Performance Problems

There are many reasons for teens to underperform at school, including a lack of motivation to do well, problems at home or with peers, poor work habits or study skills, emotional and behavior problems, learning disabilities (such as dyslexia), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, mental retardation or below average intelligence and other medical problems, including anxiety and depression. Also keep in mind that children with sleep problems, such as obstructive sleep apnea, or inadequate sleep, can have problems in school, usually secondary to attentional problems and daytime sleepiness.

It is important to find the reason for your child's poor performance, especially if she is failing, and come up with a treatment plan so that she can perform up to her full potential. Another reason to get your child help, is that doing poorly in school can easily lead to problems with low self-esteem, behavior problems and depression.

It is sometimes difficult to figure out if a child's problems at school are caused by their other medical problems, such as depression, or if these other problems began because of their poor school performance. Children who do poorly at school may be under a lot of stress, and will develop different ways to cope with this stress. Some may externalize their feelings, which can lead to acting out and behavior problems or becoming the class clown. Other children will internalize their feelings, and will develop almost daily complaints of headaches or stomachaches. A thorough evaluation by an experienced professional is usually needed to correctly diagnose children with complex problems.

When you realize your child has a problem at school, you should schedule a meeting with her teacher to discuss the problem. Other resources that may be helpful including talking with the school psychologist or counselor or your Pediatrician.


Even if your child has normal or above average intelligence, without a desire or motivation to succeed at school, it is unlikely that she will do well. There are many reasons for children to have a lack of motivation, including parental expectations that are set too high or too low, social problems, including difficulties at home or at school, and behavior problems.

To help your child develop a positive attitude and motivation toward working hard at school you should:

  • Give your child praise and rewards for doing something well or working hard toward a difficult or challenging problem. Help build self confidence by avoiding frequent criticism and praising hard work.
  • Communicate with your child about school and ask her about her day to show that you are interested.
  • Help her to find something that she has a skill or special interest in, such as music, sports, reading, etc.,
  • Help your child to understand that success has a lot to do with how much time and effort you put into a task, and is not just about how smart or strong she is. Children who believe this are more likely to take on new challenges and work harder on difficult tasks.
  • Set realistic goals and expectations for your children and set up consequences for not meeting these expectations and rewards or privileges for when she does. If your child is making C's, but is working hard at school and at doing her homework, then it may be unreasonable to expect her to make the honor roll. You should instead reward and praise her hard work and not punish her for not living up to your expectations.

Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities can affect how children listen, think, store, retrieve, write, read and communicate information or perform mathematical calculations, and can cause her to have a short attention span without having ADHD. It is common for children with ADHD to also have learning disabilities.

Among the ways that a learning disability can affect the way your child learns is by interfering with the input of information to the brain. This can be a visual perception disability, causing your child to reverse or rotate letters and numbers or to not be able to focus on specific letters and words on a page, or it can be an auditory perception disability, so that similar words sound alike and cause confusion or she may not be able to process words that she hears as fast as people are speaking them (auditory lag).

Learning disabilities can also cause problems with the integration of sensory information, or how the brain processes the sensory data that is sent to it. This can affect the information received from vision, touch, and balance and can affect your child's gross and fine motor skills. Specific integration disabilities include sequencing disabilities, in which your child confuses the sequence of words, letters, math problems, etc. They can also have abstraction, organizational, and memory (affecting visual vs. auditory & short term or long term memory) disabilities.

Children with learning disabilities can also have problems with the way that they output information. These output disabilities can affect the way they talk (language disability) or the way that they write or draw (motor disability).

Most children with learning disabilities have one or more of the above problems, affecting the way that they input, integrate or output information. These problems can cause them to have difficulty at school, but can also cause problems at home and when they play.

Some children with learning disabilities have always had trouble learning new things, while others do well in school at first, but then start to have problems in the fifth or sixth grade as school gets more difficult.

Children with learning disabilities may only have trouble with certain subjects, such as math or reading, and may do well in other classes. They will also have normal intelligence and may do well on standardized tests. Children with learning disabilities are often described as not performing up to their potential. There are tests that your school psychologist or pediatrician can do to look for certain learning disabilities so that a modified education plan can be developed.

The evaluation of children with possible learning disabilities usually includes an assessment of intelligence or an IQ test performed by a psychologist. This will help to determine your child's learning potential. Common IQ tests include the Wechsler and Stanford-Binet intelligence tests and the Kaufman Assesment Battery. These tests and your child's total and subset score will help to identify her strengths and weaknesses.

The different types of Wechsler tests include the WPPSI for pre-school age childrenand the WISC for school age children. The scores for the WISC will include a verbal, performance and full-scale IQ. Children with learning disabilities will usually have a 10-15 point difference between their verbal and performance IQ, and/or a 5-8 point difference in the subtest scores (subtest scatter).

Your child will also be evaluated with a standardized achievement test, to evaluate your child's performance in reading, writing, math and their general knowledge level. Their scores on these tests will be compared to other children in their grade level or of the same age.

To complete the evaluation for a learning disability, your child may also require a medical exam by her pediatrician and a mental health evaluation.


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