If Something Is Wrong

You've learned about organic causes for defiant behavior in Chapters 1 and 3, and how best to address these health concerns at home. Now take a look at how these issues are identified, addressed, and hopefully resolved within the school system, and also some key points that have resolved many behavior and academic problems with a few simple screenings.

Vision and Hearing

Always rule out vision and hearing problems. Children may not realize they have a vision or hearing impairment. Trouble hearing and seeing can make school one big frustrating endeavor for a youngster, and remember that frustration can definitely factor into defiant behavior. Farsightedness can make reading and writing difficult; nearsightedness can make looking at the board difficult. Other problems like astigmatism or the failure of eyes to work together as a team (some examples are strabismus and amblyopia) could also be at play. Left untreated, some vision problems can get worse and can even result in vision loss.


Most schools offer vision and hearing screenings. These are designed to catch some, but not all, hearing and vision problems, and so are distinct from comprehensive exams. If you suspect a hearing or vision difficulty, ask for a referral to a specialist who can conduct a comprehensive exam.

Similar problems can arise with hearing difficulties. If your child exhibits defiant behavior and has trouble in school, a hearing difficulty that impedes learning could also be a root cause. As with vision problems, hearing difficulties left untreated can get worse. Rule out any vision and hearing problems as a first step toward resolving academic difficulties, and make sure your child gets a comprehensive exam if a screening doesn't turn up anything.


Most teachers have a good idea of what ADHD is, and how to teach kids who have it. If the teacher brings up the possibility, or if you know your child has ADHD but doesn't seem to be getting help learning despite this disorder, establish a kind, proactive presence with the teacher as soon as possible and gather some information about what's going on in the classroom. Once you have a clear understanding, ask what sorts of strategies he can recommend to help your child learn and refrain from disrupting the rest of the class (this will be a prime concern for the teacher). Don't go around the teacher's back and speak with a principal or vice principal if the teacher is doing an effective job or making suggestions that are worth trying, as this could be awkward for the teacher and cause him to become resentful of you and your child.


Dysgraphia is a writing deficiency. Children without any type of neural trauma can be dysgraphic if they have difficulty writing legibly and correctly for their age despite thorough instruction. Dysgraphia is unrelated to reading ability; it's simply difficulty writing, although it can co-occur with other learning disabilities. If your child is dysgraphic, she may experience pain during writing, have trouble with small motor skills, grip her pencil incorrectly, refuse or drag her heels when faced with writing tasks, and have terrible penmanship. Adults with dysgraphia often cope by typing everything, but if your child doesn't have that opportunity in school, she may not have another way to cope. Ask for a screening.

Learning Disabilities and Special Needs

Learning disabilities and special needs can be a source of frustration and questions of self-worth for your child. If your child has preexisting special needs, make sure she has access to the facilities and interventions granted by the government, and use the “sweet pain in the side” strategy unless your child is being victimized by the teacher or school, or if other children's cruelty is going unchecked. If that's the case, see the section called “Being on Your Child's Side” below.

If some of the first, simple interventions you and a teacher propose don't work, it may be a sign your child has LD. Again, have a conversation with the teacher in which you ask what she's seeing in the classroom, and offer insights into your child's behavior at home that may be helpful in creating a bigger picture. Testing is crucial; you need an accurate assessment of what's wrong in order to develop an effective treatment plan. Request that your child be tested, and put your request in writing. It's kindest if you hand-deliver the paper to the teacher and explain that you'll also send a copy to the principal's office. Putting the request in writing will make it official, and if you hand-deliver it or give the teacher a heads-up, and you already have established a positive relationship, this request won't put her on the defensive. Finally, treatment plans, as you've read in other sections of this book, should be based on proven research.

If your child has other special needs such as a physical disability, frustration and questions of self-worth could be affecting school performance. You must still rule out vision and hearing problems, then consider the possibility of ADHD or LD. Then, make sure your child has the necessary tools and treatment plans for the best education possible, and continue to be a “sweet pain in the side” in order to make sure she has access to everything she needs. Remember that you have many rights as a parent! You're a member of the IEP team, and you have a voice in what the team decides. For more information, look at the book Nolo's IEP Guide: Learning Disabilities by Nolo Press.

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