Helping a high schooler with organization skills
October 24, 2018 11:42 AM   Subscribe

My niece is a senior in high school, and is in danger of not graduating due to her grades. It's not that she isn't getting concepts, it's her organization. What can we do at this point to help her establish a system for getting her assignments done and turned in on time, and improve her test-taking skills?

I wish I had known the extent of the problem before--I just moved back to where my family is after years of being away. Here's what's going on: my niece is smart, but a mess when it comes to organization. She failed a math test (and currently has an F) because she forgot her calculator and didn't occur to her until after to ask her teacher if they had a spare. She has Ds in two other classes because she missed assignments. In classes that she completes the work, she's doing great.

She's taken the SAT twice and scored 900 and 950. Math is a perennial problem for her; my brother (her dad) says he offers to help her but she won't ask for help "if her life depends on it". I'm thinking that we need to start helping and not just ask, but I'm not sure how to do this. Do we schedule mandatory homework sessions? I'm not working full time right now and am willing to spend some time one-on-one with her if needed.

There are complicating factors, of course. She has a boyfriend that is in one of her classes that's she's got a D in. I wouldn't be surprised if his presence is a huge distraction. She also works part time; I already talked with my brother about cutting her hours down so she can spend more time studying. He says that she spends more time knitting than anything else, so the knitting needles will likely be confiscated until she completes her assignments.

I suggested that she get screened for ADHD and/or learning disabilities (I used to teach at the college level and know that these do not always present the same for girls as they do for boys--she has not been screened yet but I figure it's worth ruling that out). Other than that, I'm a loss. Has anyone else tried an intervention for a similar situation? What can we do as a family to help her? I realize at this point that a traditional college is likely out of reach; I'm fully supportive of her going to a community college to save money and catch up before transferring (she ultimately wants to become a librarian or do fashion design). But her organization problems will follow her there if we don't do something. At the very least, she needs to graduate high school. Help!
posted by Fuego to Education (37 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think you need to prioritise the ADHD screening, and that everything else will flow from the outcome of that. I mean obviously lists would help, but assuming there is an ADHD diagnosis, no list or coping skill is going to help her brain click in to asking to borrow a calculator. ADHD meds will.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:51 AM on October 24, 2018 [28 favorites]


If you are seriously contemplating confiscating the knitting needles of a senior in high school—one who you think might have ADHD—I kind of wonder if there is non-academic-related stuff going on here which sanctions and force and mandatory activities will not improve.
posted by XMLicious at 11:59 AM on October 24, 2018 [28 favorites]


I would start by teaching her how to use a calendar, an electronic one shared with her parents. Set a basic number of requirements: must note all assignments and tests, plus work schedule. Not keeping this up means removal of privileges. Knitting time should be blocked into the schedule; it will help her learn how to strive for balance and how to manage a thing she likes alongside things that aren't fun.

As an adjunct, maybe teach her some of the basic principles of Getting Things Done (I have my issues with the underlying assumptions of GTD but the principal techniques are sound) or bullet journaling - either the classic paper kind or, if she can't keep up with a notebook, electronic. Maybe take it up with her, sort of as a hobby, but make sure the emphasis is on the organization and not hand-lettering the name of the month in 27 colors and 3 textures.

This is a harder concept, but not asking for help is a form of perfectionism (seasoned heavily with internalized sexism often) and it's the most ridiculous form of self-defeating behavior, and the whole family needs to pitch in on treating the not-asking as a problem and failure, including maintaining a running narrative about how people ask each other for help and demonstrating how to ask for help.

From a formal standpoint, you might start with an assessment by an occupational therapist (it will likely take a while to get in to see a testing psychiatrist anyway), as these are executive function failures. She may just need to work with an OT, or the OT can possibly refer to maybe a study skills or similar program. But I would be frustrated, as a parent, to pay an OT to teach my kid how to use a calendar, so I honestly would start that today as an internal project while the appointments get set up.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:06 PM on October 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


Yeah, this describes my high school senior daughter as well. She was diagnosed with inattentive-type ADHD when she was in 3rd grade, but we avoided meds for her until this summer because we were a bit leery. She spent three weeks in July at Landmark College in Putney VT, which is expressly for kids with executive function issues, ASD, etc., and they helped with some organizational skills, but strongly recommended trying meds. She is now taking 40mg of Vyvance, and is getting homework done and turned in on time, did well enough on her SATs, manages a 15-hour/week after school job, and generally doing well. She has a few side effects from the medication, but nothing drastic, and is well-monitored by her prescribing nurse.
posted by briank at 12:10 PM on October 24, 2018 [5 favorites]


Your niece may have some kind of executive functioning disorder. If she finds solace/stability while knitting, that could be an incredible tool for her to do while studying. Please consider that she is doing the best she can and encourage your brother to investigate why she is struggling to complete work in those particular classes, with her forgetting her calculator etc as being symptoms of a greater issue rather than the cause.
posted by Hermione Granger at 12:10 PM on October 24, 2018 [14 favorites]


Where is your niece's opinion in all this? Does she want to do better? Does she know exactly what it will take to "become a librarian or do fashion design?" Until and unless she has buy-in, this isn't going to get better. Have her grades always been low or is this a new thing? Like, was she an A/B student in grades 9-11 and now suddenly she's failing? There are SO MANY complicating factors that could be playing into this.

Definitely get that screen for ADHD and/or learning disabilities. I would maybe start with a therapist who specializes in teens. Once you get your foot in the door, it's easier to get to the next step.
posted by cooker girl at 12:11 PM on October 24, 2018 [17 favorites]


But I would be frustrated, as a parent, to pay an OT to teach my kid how to use a calendar, so I honestly would start that today as an internal project while the appointments get set up.

I get how and why it would be frustrating to parents to do this, but speaking as a walking executive function disorder myself, family efforts to 'help' me get organised made things 1000% worse for everyone involved, with lots of yelling and crying and damaging of relationships. Tips and tricks that work well for more neurotypical kids can absolutely backfire here. My own efforts to improve with note-taking, calendar-keeping, and bullet-journaling played very poorly with my perfectionism -- I spent hours trying to get the paperwork right and then had no time left to actually do the homework. (And then I'd usually lose the planner/journal. Hell, I even lost my copy of my OT planning workbook. And my copy of GTD.)

Professional intervention is the way to go here, if it's at all possible.
posted by halation at 12:17 PM on October 24, 2018 [32 favorites]


And no one thought to get this kid an ADHD assessment before now? At this late stage in her schooling a lot of the damage is probably done, but in any case, this is ADHD behavior. If this has been going on for a long time, it's not even the "girl" kind of ADD that is often missed, this is classic, boy-style, obvious ADHD that should have been caught years ago.

Coupled with what is likely depression.... understandable when everyone around her seems bent on holding her personally responsible for something outside of her control, and responds to her legitimate struggles by taking away harmless joys like knitting.

Not to knock on your brother but this does not seem to have been handled well. I feel for this girl.
posted by coffeeand at 12:19 PM on October 24, 2018 [26 favorites]


Lots of good advice here - I'm going to second one of Lyn Never's points because it stood out to me when I read your question. She needs to learn how to ask for help, and it's really important. I learned this pretty late, and it was definitely tied in with perfectionism and a need to get praise for "figuring it out on (my) own." Everybody needs this skill, no matter what.
posted by queensissy at 12:21 PM on October 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


I agree with cooker girl; she needs to be more aware of and part of the process. That includes the knowledge of a potential ADHD diagnosis and that it's a common thing that many people live with. She should know she can achieve her goals, but she make not even be aware of the steps required to get there.

It also seems like she needs to have advocates and learn to be her own advocate. Part of the latter means giving her the tools to do that. I have ADHD and struggled with things similar to this (to a lesser degree but undiagnosed) in high school. The vast majority of the time I felt HOPELESS, like I had no options other than failing. I never received testing for anything until adulthood, but just knowing about it has been a boon for me. All of my parent's efforts to get me on track were totally incorrect and failed me and what I needed. Their clear and evident frustration had the opposite affect than what they'd hoped for. It made me feel even more hopeless and unworthy.

A lot of people are also pointing out that organizational habits can sometimes get in the way of productivity for folks with ADHD, which is also very true. Simplification and routines are always best, with the addition of support from teachers and staff at her school. It shouldn't be a life changer if she forgets her calculator, and teachers can be on the lookout for stuff like that.
posted by ancient star at 12:24 PM on October 24, 2018 [4 favorites]


Thanks for the answers so far, everyone. I agree that this has been a failing of my brother and his ex to do anything before now. I also agree that taking away her most-loved hobby entirely is not the answer here. I like the idea of building a schedule for her that incorporates some self-care by accounting time for her interests. I'm trying to talk to her about speaking up and being her own advocate--I know she looks up to me a lot (she's talked about how she wants to go to the same schools I did even though our academic paths are quite different). Being closer to her and helping her is one of the reasons I moved back to be in the area. I feel horrible that I didn't know how bad it had gotten until now. I plan on getting some time with her soon to discuss one on one and setting up some check-ins with her for getting her on track.

Also, we are in the Denver area, so any therapist/tutor/program recommendations you have would be quite helpful. Thanks!
posted by Fuego at 12:27 PM on October 24, 2018 [6 favorites]


Fuego - Please feel free to reach out and message me if you want to! I almost did not graduate high school; I had to have a scary meeting with my mom and the principle. I am now a staff researcher at an Ivy League university. I would be happy to share my story with her!
posted by ancient star at 12:34 PM on October 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


I'd like to point out that knitting isn't just a thing she likes. It's a self-soothing activity that's helpful in managing anxiety. It was one of the things that got me through college because I also didn't get diagnosed with anxiety until much later.

It's problematic that she's relying on it to the exclusion of getting help. But it's so important to make sure she has access to safe help, or losing that one tool will simply escalate the behavior she uses to manage her anxiety.

I was also diagnosed with ADHD late in life. And my parents put a lot of the blame on me for not explicitly asking for help. They would threaten to send me to a shrink, but with so much stigma behind it, I was terrified that I would be institutionalized. So I just pushed it down and kicked the can a bit further down the road. And I realize that puts a lot of unwarranted stigma into needing residential care which I'm still unpacking.

She needs to learn to ask for help. But it needs to be safe for her to do that. Developing that sense of safety, when it sounds like it's a completely foreign process to her, will take time and patience and a lot of emotional labor for the adults around her to not use guilt or shame to motivate change in her.
posted by politikitty at 12:43 PM on October 24, 2018 [14 favorites]


Everything you're talking about doing -- forcing help on her, taking away her hobby, taking her away from work that she's probably competent at, focusing on her boyfriend, etc. -- seems almost designed to increase her stress and decrease her ability to be at all happy. This will very likely result in a complete shutdown or worse. It will increase her stress, and stress decreases the ability to think, learn, and listen to others.
posted by amtho at 12:54 PM on October 24, 2018 [10 favorites]


I would like to point out that we are not forcing help on her, there are no plans to do anything without her consent. We are also not taking away her hobby or her work or banning her from seeing her boyfriend. Please recognize that taking account of her situation and the factors involved does not equal a plan to immediately remove her from the things that she loves.

By saying, "I'm thinking that we need to start helping and not just ask" I did not mean that we are forcing anything on her without consent. I meant that we need to not just shrug our shoulders and say OK when she says she doesn't need help when she clearly does.
posted by Fuego at 1:02 PM on October 24, 2018 [7 favorites]


As an aunt, I think you are in a good position to sit down with her and talk to her about what is going on and how she feels about some of the options. I assume she knows is this a big deal. However there can be some family dynamics involved where some kids would welcome help (if it was the right kind that actually helped) while others find their own desire to do well gets complicated by family dynamics of wanting to rebel while others really don't see school work as important or useful. Getting sense of that from her can help shape your recommendations for her parents.

Another thought is that if you know she is not on the Ivy League college track, she might be able to adjust her course load to keep the ones that she is good at and maybe drop the ones that are just too painful. Certainly if she is struggling in any AP class, she should drop down a level. (My kids were in a school where all senior were expected to be taking multiple AP classes, this may not apply to her.) Math, in particular, might go better for her later, after she has some better coping tools. Assuming she has had a few years of high school math already, she probably doesn't need it to graduate. If she does need it for her college major, most community colleges offer remedial math classes (because so many students need it) If she is too overwhelmed and just going through the motions, she isn't really learning it anyway and if she has been struggling for a few years in math, she might not really have the foundation for what she is expected to be learning.
posted by metahawk at 1:27 PM on October 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


I was your niece in high school. My SAT score was 850 total (I guess the scores have changed since the 90s but even back then that was considered bottom of the barrel). I'm smart and am successful now but I am still a terrible test taker and have to really focus on my organization skills.

I believe I have ADHD. My parents didn't believe in it and said I was lazy or self destructive for my whole childhood. I was raised to believe I was a moral failure for it. Later in life I went on an antidepressant that also happens to be used for ADHD and my whole life turned around for the better. I still feel disorganized by default but my med has helped me identify specific habits that counter it.

I strongly encourage seeking ADHD assessment and also letting your niece know there is at least one other woman out there who was in the same spot, bombed her SAT and GRE despite private tutoring, and still ended up with a kick-ass adult life thanks to taking charge of her neurological needs.
posted by joan_holloway at 2:31 PM on October 24, 2018 [4 favorites]


I agree that this has been a failing of my brother and his ex to do anything before now.

No, this is a failing of your niece. You even said your brother has been offering to help her with homework and she has declined.

She's old enough to learn that there are consequences to her choices and behaviors. Offer to help, yeah, but you can't force this. Some kids need to fail in order to learn that they need to make different decisions.

But it's also on her to own that she has created this situation. It won't change if she doesn't think it needs to.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:35 PM on October 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'm super concerned that you've managed to make this so much about you. You're okay with her career choices? You're blaming her brother? You should have gotten more involved sooner? I can't tell why you think your niece's academic performance really has anything at all to do with you. What is all this "we" nonsense?

From what you've described, she's a senior who's done really well for years and is now doing poorly in three classes. You're not describing a student with a disability--you're describing a senior who's dating and is possibly also partying (I mean, "forgetting" to ask a teacher for a calculator? I hope nobody actually believes that).

I'm a high school special ed teacher, nominated as Teacher of the Year in my state, and I really doubt this is a disability or ADHD because she's managed to make it through 11 years of school without there ever being a single concern. Kids don't suddenly become THAT disorganized overnight. And she doesn't appear to be all that disorganized if she can manage to get assignments done for other classes. ADHD and executive function issues aren't selective per subject. Either a kid can organize or they can't.

I also have to say that the way you frame this is concerning. You're blaming her dad and really hyperbolic (college is out of reach? she may not graduate from high school?) about what appears to be one F and two D's in her senior year. Of course she's going to graduate. Of course she can go to college. Why are you inserting yourself into this and being so catastrophic about her life?

Honestly I think the best you can do is offer to help and then take a giant step back.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:49 PM on October 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


>> No, this is a failing of your niece. You even said your brother has been offering to help her with homework and she has declined.


I hope you pay more attention to the posters who have familiarity with ADHD and how it manifests in young women. While it's easy to make assertions like "a high school senior should be able to do this" there's a whole dynamic between your niece and your brother implied in the above comment that may not exist.

At any rate, I graduated high school by the skin of my teeth, because I had a lot of help and because I switched schools and took adult ed classes to make up for credits I'd missed. I was 37 when I finally got the ADHD diagnosis that I knew I needed at 14. There's a lot I would have done differently if I could take my 37 yr old brain and implant it in my 17yr old body but fundamentally, she doesn't have the life experience to know what questions she needs to ask right now and she's anxious as hell, clearly. I'm glad you're looking for professional assistance - she needs it.
posted by annathea at 2:50 PM on October 24, 2018 [14 favorites]


I agree with the recommendation to have Niece assessed for ADHD and would add a screening for mental health disorders like anxiety or depression and an assessment for a math-based learning disability.

My thought is that forgetting your calculator is a very ADHD thing to do. Not asking to borrow a calculator could be an ADHD thing to do, an anxiety thing to do (I am too anxious to ask for help, and I would rather take an F than speak up), or an inability to do the work thing to do (I'm going to fail this test anyway; if I say I didn't have a calculator, no one will realize that I don't understand the concepts, either). Having more information on her academic skills, cognitive profile, and mental health will help you start tease out those threads.

There are two books I really like to help parents (and devoted aunts!) understand executive functioning challenges in kids. They are "Late, Lost and Unprepared" and "Smart but Scattered Teens: The "Executive Skills" Program for Helping Teens Reach Their Potential." I think these are helpful in moving adults from "I don't understand what's wrong with her" to seeing that the child lacks specific skills that can be taught explicitly OR accommodated out of importance.

Here is another example using the calculator. You can help Niece make a reusable checklist of things she needs for school each day and prompt her to use the checklist at a certain time every day. This is better than mom or dad asking "Do you have everything?!?!?!" as she leaves the house. While she is learning the skill, you can arrange with her teachers to keep an extra calculator on hand and put it on her desk at the beginning of class.

I was a lot like your niece (still am; I feel personally attacked by the titles of those EF books). From personal experience, I will disagree with metahawk's advice for her to drop her harder math and science classes as a senior. I did that (at exactly this time in the school year, come to think of it) and I regret it to this day. It negatively affected my college choices (one of my teachers, in another subject area, declined to write a letter of recommendation because of it), and I had a lot of anxiety about math and science for years afterward. In retrospect, I very likely could have been successful with a tutor and maybe some mental health support and I wish my family had done that.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:51 PM on October 24, 2018 [7 favorites]


Yes, get her assessed for ADHD and come up with an IEP if that's what's going on, but also ... maybe let's stop with the armchair diagnoses and pile-on about whose moral failing this is?

Back to the actual question.... I find Trello to be helpful for juggling activities/projects that have several steps that need to move through a process to completion. It's like a marriage of GTD and Kanban philosophies. Might not be so useful for regular homework or worksheets, but could she use it for writing papers? (Plan, Outline, Write, Revise, Turn In)

A planner might also help, if she has buy-in to use it. I really prefer the paper ones, but I am also an Old.

Pomodoros are pretty great for chunking time. If she's looking at the 5-6 hours of after-school time before bed as one big block, she might feel meh about starting homework, but if she agrees to 2 or 3 pomodoros a day (and schedules them in her planner!), that's a quantifiable metric that she and the rest of the family can use to measure success and build organizational habits.
posted by basalganglia at 2:56 PM on October 24, 2018


I'm a high school special ed teacher, nominated as Teacher of the Year in my state, and I really doubt this is a disability or ADHD because she's managed to make it through 11 years of school without there ever being a single concern. Kids don't suddenly become THAT disorganized overnight. And she doesn't appear to be all that disorganized if she can manage to get assignments done for other classes. ADHD and executive function issues aren't selective per subject. Either a kid can organize or they can't.

Executive functioning or attention deficits in bright children are often masked until they reach an academic level that requires them to organize and attend to learn new material, rather than rely on innate cognitive ability or general knowledge. Additionally, selective focus or hyper focus is a well-known symptom of ADHD that often relies on interest.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:56 PM on October 24, 2018 [29 favorites]


I hope you pay more attention to the posters who have familiarity with ADHD and how it manifests in young women.

Hi! I am a woman with ADHD. Diagnosed as an adult. They're already talking about getting her screened for ADHD. If she won't acknowledge that there is something that needs to happen differently, it won't matter what her diagnosis is. She still needs to own that her grades are her responsibility.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:58 PM on October 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


Executive functioning or attention deficits in bright children are often masked until they reach an academic level that requires them to organize and attend to learn new material, rather than rely on innate cognitive ability or general knowledge.

True, but that usually comes well before senior year. Combine it with "I didn't know I could ask for a calculator" and I do think something else, not disability related is going on.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:09 PM on October 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


I am a parent of a high school senior and a sophomore.

1. Get a math tutor asap at least once a week, twice a week if can afford. Math homework should be brought to each session with the math tutor. Many math teachers offer after school help. Find out if help is available and make it mandatory. Math homework is usually given every night, so it should be worked on nightly with tutor or Kahn academy. (My senior son took College Algebra at the community college last year during his junior year but had to drop because it was "too advanced". I found out later that instructor gave free tutoring every Tues, Thurs after class. My son did not take advantage of this. I call this a doofus move. If I would have known I would have demanded that he attend. )
My husband doesn't like to "throw money on a problem" but I am all for paying for private tutoring, even SAT prep which my husband won't pay for either. If I could do it over I would pay for my kid to have a math tutor each year -- if math is not a strong point tutoring can give them the extra time and help needed to understand and master a concept. Hire a math tutor so she can pass her senior year and increase confidence in community college.

2. Dad can give friendly reminders, even if she's annoyed. "What is due tomorrow?" "What is needed tomorrow for your day to go smoothly?" "Do you have your calculator? "Put it in your backpack."

3. You can't work if you're making Cs Ds or Fs.

4. Shut down the knitting until homework is done.

5. Try to use your time wisely -- some homework can be done same day during downtime at school. During lunch, etc.

Expectations from parents crucial. Kids usually rise to the expectation. Dad should spell out some expectations while also reminding her that she is awesome and capable and all that stuff.
posted by loveandhappiness at 3:37 PM on October 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


As the parent of a teen at the same age, it is impossible to force teenagers to do what you want them to do. You can only encourage.

First, don't take away the knitting. She's almost an adult, and that would be insulting at the very least.

Don't take away her job. Holding down a job is one successful adult thing she's doing.

Don't interfere with your brother's parenting. You're an aunt, so act like one.

This doesn't mean "don't meddle." What I mean is, play to your strengths in this situation.

You are an adult who is not the girl's parent. You, theoretically, hold no power over her. You can be someone she listens to, and trusts. This doesn't mean you enable her, but you can talk with her.

Girls generally have a harder time in high school than do boys, for a variety of biological and cultural reasons.

The best thing to do is to give the girl some time, maybe consider doing a year of revision after high school or something.

But you cannot force teenagers to do what they are not ready to do. It just makes a challenging situation worse.
posted by JamesBay at 5:22 PM on October 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


When my son went off a cliff like this it turned out to be anxiety related. The more we fussed, the worse it got. Because the anxiety was disconnecting his brain from every discussion/strategy/assignment. Once we turned from “why aren’t you just asking for help?” to managing anxiety, he started to turn it around.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:31 PM on October 24, 2018 [4 favorites]


Sometimes people just kind of freak out in senior year, for a variety of reasons. My best friend in high school duped us all - we were all huge creative nerds with great grades and test scores and extracurriculars and worriedly making portfolios and applying to colleges and enthusiastic about moving out and all that stuff and it turns out he lied to us by omission the entire year, graduated by the skin of his teeth, hadn't applied to any schools and had given up any plans he might have had before. Not helping him figure stuff out and know he had options is hands down my biggest regret. His situation was really complicated and I think that making sure he kind of faded out of the planned course of life was his way of protesting. Afterwards I've always taken special notice of folks who are doing this or have done it.

I think you're in a good position to give your niece an out. Not everybody has to go to college the expected way, or have great grades, or do as an adult what they planned when they were a child. If she's dealing with ADHD or anxiety or any number of other things, it will be great if you can help her gather smart tools in response to a diagnosis, yes. But the goal shouldn't be to get a diagnosis and then force herself back on track with no outward changes. Explore community colleges, internships, advancing at her job, taking advantage of opportunities she might have from your extended family. Learn about what to do if she doesn't manage to graduate this year - it's not like life just stops if she fails, what happens and what are her options? There's this wide open world of choices that can be terrifying and you can help research and explore them with her.

Also, knitting is, at its core, math. It has also been shown to help people with PTSD to process trauma and anxiety. It's also a fantastic fashion skill that leads to a number of others quite naturally. Please no matter what your family does do not take away her knitting, even temporarily. You might suggest that she uses it as a timing device - "let yourself knit for ten minutes and then do assigned reading for twenty, repeat" or whatever, but don't take away her coping mechanism.
posted by Mizu at 7:27 PM on October 24, 2018 [5 favorites]


To be clear, this is not completely out of the blue. She has never been a straight-A student. She struggled her freshman year as well. I am not being "hyperbolic" by saying that she is potentially not graduating. That is actually the situation she is facing right now. After talking further with my brother tonight I learned that my niece has previously been treated for depression, although now she is no longer on medication for it (I'm also aware that this could be resurfacing and that anxiety is a likely issue here). We talked about getting her assessed for ADHD and the major issue right now is that she's on her mother's insurance, but her mother is extremely reluctant to undertake any sort of mental health treatment for her daughter (getting her treatment for her depression was a huge bone of contention, according to my brother). We are Latinx and there is still a major stigma against therapy or mental health treatment--my brother's side of the family is very much pro-therapy, but my ex-sister-in-law's side is the exact opposite.

I used the "we" in my question not because I was making this about myself, but because our family as a unit--something affects one of us and it affects all of us. We are all in this together to help everyone succeed. I do not feel the need for her to take life course approved by me, if anything I am the ONE person in her life who does not believe she needs to go to college to be successful, but realistically if she wants to be a librarian she will need to take steps on that path. I do not place the blame on my brother for this situation, however, the family dynamic with her mother is not great and the mother has a tendency to trample all over everyone to get her way. I care deeply about my niece and want her to succeed, and realistically, graduating high school is step one to getting her to her dreams. So THAT'S what this has to do with me. I give a shit about her, OK?
posted by Fuego at 8:39 PM on October 24, 2018 [13 favorites]


Sit with her after dinner for an hour and a half and have her complete her work while you do some of yours. If she's the type to not tell you her assignments, ask that her teachers write them down for her at the end of each class or something similar. You want to know what her homework is, and to check that it's done. You want to know what upcoming assignments and tests there are, and to make sure she's prepared and on point.
posted by xammerboy at 10:14 PM on October 24, 2018


Please in addition to ADHD consider autism spectrum stuff. It can present differently in girls or those assigned female at birth. I had a lot of the same lack of organisation as a child and I got my autism diagnosis this year, at the age of 34. (I also love knitting, for what that's worth)
posted by Acheman at 2:39 AM on October 25, 2018 [6 favorites]


She's lucky to have you on her side. No doubt she's aware she's not doing well, and kids that age can be really prickly, so I would approach her to reinforce the positive while teasing out what's happening. Try to avoid being negative: don't blame your brother, don't say she's not going to get into college because she will, don't say she's not going to graduate--she will but it may require summer school. (I'm really not being fighty here--but upthread you did say those things.)

What I would do is sit down with her and say something like, "You've always been able to do homework and get solid grades, but it seems like something's not clicking right now. Can we figure out what's changed?"

The tricky part is that high school seniors can fall apart for all sorts of reasons, from typical senioritis to deeper anxiety to substance abuse and so on. And I swear I'm not saying this to sound like a jerk, but I cannot tell you the amount of times concerned adults immediately assume kids must have a disability because they're not doing great in school, when the reality is the kid is suddenly dating, drinking, doing drugs, clubbing, creating an Instagram account, gaming, or any one of a hundred other things they care about more than school. Sometimes it's anxiety or other mental health issues. Sometimes the kid just stops giving a shit. Sometimes they get worried about their future and they put the brakes on to slow everything down.

All I'm saying is it's not always a disability but sure, it may be. Sometimes kids don't immediately see the connection between those choices and poor grades. As far as ADHD screening, have her check in with her pediatrician. There's no ADHD test per se, there's the Conner's screening that her GP can give to a teacher and a parent. Your brother can also ask the school to do testing.

Does she have a guidance counselor at school? Can your brother get them to check in with her about credits and graduation?

The Owl Education Group is near you. I would check in with them for recommendations. I know this can feel overwhelming, but try not to get too frustrated--she will eventually graduate and live her life, but she may need to make a few mistakes along the way.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:12 AM on October 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


True, but that usually comes well before senior year. Combine it with "I didn't know I could ask for a calculator" and I do think something else, not disability related is going on.

I'm wondering whether it seems that way to you because of your perspective as a high school level special needs teacher. I know I personally managed pretty well in school (complimented by teachers about how I must have studied for tests when I hadn't studied at all, just soaked in the material like a sponge, from the age of 16 did almost all homework between 11pm & 1am but still got good marks) and the wheels didn't come off until university (many many baffled conversations with tutors who could not understand why a student who seemed very willing and did well face to face could not get herself together to do independent study).

I scraped my degree, left with deep gratitude that I could leave it behind and am just now in my late thirties thinking through whether my ongoing difficulties (not as bad in real life but still there) are ADHD, some other form of executive function disorder or just me being crap and I should just try harder. Other posters comments about perfectionism and organisation systems have literally just made me go ohhhhhh in recognition, major lightbulb moment for me. I know I'm not stupid but it seems like I everyone else finds these things easy so it is embarrassing and I have to cover for myself a lot. I can totally see a teenage me feeling like an idiot for forgetting basic equipment and being too embarrassed to admit it and ask to borrow one.

OP I wish I had more answers for you but I'm glad your niece has you on her side. One perspective from me might be to consider how she finds the job. At that age work was a bit of a double edged sword to me, I struggled in some ways because of the same reasons I later struggled academically so it might be contributing to depression and anxiety if she finds the same. On the other hand if she copes well at work it might be a good source of self-esteem and achievement to her.
posted by Odd Socks at 3:21 AM on October 25, 2018 [6 favorites]


I am the ONE person in her life who does not believe she needs to go to college to be successful, but realistically if she wants to be a librarian she will need to take steps on that path.

I agree with the ADD/executive function thing but since it's been suggested approximately to death, I wanted to pull out this bit. I literally just had a conversation with my mother -- at the age of 31 -- about how much we both wished that I had gone to a community college instead of Small Prestigious Engineering School when I graduated. My experience was that without the skills to deal with my executive dysfunction, it was a miserable, expensive experience.

Yes, your niece will absolutely need to be able to be successful academically to reach her goals. But, there are a whole host of potential paths that could get her there. The library science program that I essentially failed out of (...without the skills to deal with my executive dysfunction) had many, many more returning students and paraprofessionals looking to expand job opportunities than it did 22-year-olds straight out of college. Life is long and complicated. Going off the beaten track here to something non-traditional like a GED or finishing up during the summer and then trying community college might feel to your family like the end of the world, but I'd like to gently suggest that for a person in your niece's position it might feel like a pressure valve has suddenly been released.

If she doesn't graduate, what's her plan?
posted by HtotheH at 5:43 AM on October 25, 2018 [4 favorites]


True, but that usually comes well before senior year. Combine it with "I didn't know I could ask for a calculator" and I do think something else, not disability related is going on.

I'm wondering whether it seems that way to you because of your perspective as a high school level special needs teacher.

This.

In addition to the kids you come in contact with who were diagnosed "well before senior year," there's also a population of kids who get by well enough with some combination of family support, faking it, and innate intelligence that they've never been identified for special ed services. Primarily-inattentive ADHD is particularly likely to go unnoticed. Especially if the kid is also smart. Especially if the kid is a girl. That doesn't mean that they won't someday hit a wall where their methods of compensating for a disability don't work anymore.

I'm not saying that the OP's niece has ADHD, but nothing about the post says that she *doesn't* - especially not the fact that she hasn't already been diagnosed.

Understand that the testing results for adhd can easily be faked. There have been quite a few cases of kids who purposely cheat the test for a false positive so that they can be able to use the adhd excuse when they really just don't want to take responsibility. It's not like they do brain scanning or blood tests. (except in very fancy places).

There's no blood test for ADHD, no matter how fancy a place is. I don't believe that brain scans are any sort of approved diagnostic, either. As a high schooler, any evaluation is almost certain to require input from parents and teachers, so that is not easily faked.
posted by Kriesa at 8:15 AM on October 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


The cultural context helps a lot. Of course you’re involved—you love her and she’s family.

Staying in high school, near you, for another year may not be the worst thing in the world. It sucks to be held back, but it may be worth it if she gets a better foundation. Even financially, taking remedial math in college can be $$$ so scraping by with a D- without getting the skills might not be the best outcome.

My latinx family has some stigma about mental health but it’s more that they associate it with either deeply antisocial behavior (like violence). Or, for less serious issues, they think it’s incorrect to try to force people to be what they’re not. It’s more accepting, in a way—there’s more of a focus adapting to the person’s strength/needs, but also less motivation to use mental health support even when it’s warranted.

I’m not sure exactly whether her family is similar or if they have another issue, but if those sound familiar feel free to PM for advice about handling it. If the family is just unconvinced meds are necessary you can always say her pediatrician says she needs the meds. That has a decent chance.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:31 AM on October 25, 2018


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