Why Does My Child Struggle in School?

Why Does My Child Struggle in School?

The importance of neuropsychological evaluations and what it tells us about how people learn best

Today's students face a tremendous amount of stress to do well academically and be competitive for college. The current generation of school-aged youth are gifted with the incredible range of resources to draw knowledge and information from at the touch of a button, and there seems to be either a workshop, online class/tutorial, or app for nearly everything. But when children learn at a different pace, show signs of struggling in certain areas such as mathematics, science, or essay writing, we begin to think that there is something wrong with them. Why can't they learn things as quickly as their sibling or their peers? Are we too hard on our youth? And is that a good or bad thing?

Part of my goal as a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with school-aged individuals is to ensure that they are able to have the necessary tools and help that they need in order to lead full and meaningful lives. There may be different explanations as to why a child struggles with their academic functioning. It could be due to increasing stressors in their lives (pressure from family, peer pressure and friendships, etc), a health impairment, emotional problems, a learning or a developmental disorder. The first step in tackling the issue is to find out what it may be.

A properly diagnosed learning disorder such as ADHD, reading or mathematics disorder can make a difference in whether a child views themselves as being able to succeed and do well in school if given the necessary academic support. And this often has future repercussions, since previous experiences tend to shape how we continue to navigate the world around us.

A child who struggles with ADHD may find it hard to read books, feel disorganized, or focus on a task at hand, which could result in poor academic functioning (low test scores, missing homework), social (poor attentiveness to others, low peer relationships) and overall functioning (messy room or untidy backpack, losing items frequently). But all this could be even worse if the symptoms go undiagnosed--for the student, their parents/guardians, and family members.

Maybe this has happened so much that this becomes the student's "norm" behavior, and others begin to see it that way too.

Maybe it begins to affect their sense of self, their self-confidence, and self-esteem.

Over time, the ma come to believe that they are hopeless in being able to succeed in school? (Doubt it.) 

Or maybe, there's something else that could better explain what is happening for this struggling individual?

(Possibly this.)

That's why psychological evaluations are important. In particular, neuropsychological evaluations provide us with the information to be able to examine an individual's current cognitive abilities, academic achievement level, memory, attention, executive functioning skills, clinical symptoms and behavioral functioning. Such an evaluation is helpful to be able to determine whether a student struggling with inattention has clinically significant symptoms that can be better explained by a neurological, learning, developmental disorder, or trauma. Because symptoms (like inattention) can be a facet of various conditions (ADHD, Executive Function disorder), a full neuropsychological evaluation is able to rule out certain diagnoses from the most likely candidates.

But the true value of the neuropsychological evaluation is the feedback and recommendations that you receive based on the testing results. The thing I enjoy most about conducting neuropsychological evaluations with school-aged youth is the ability to figure out the best ways to support their learning and continued development. By having a better understanding about their areas of strength and weakness, we are able to determine interventions, offer learning tools, and other strategies that could improve certain areas for them. I particularly highlight the individual's areas of strength, because I have found that this is usually an area with a highly developed skill that could be applied in other areas of their life. For instance, if someone struggles to pay attention in class because they find it boring and also happens to be a talented artist, perhaps they would benefit from learning via multi-modal means (such as drawing their notes by hand, making diagrams, and other visual examples) to make the information stick. Finally, this is also a way to be able to provide psychoeducation to students, families, and teachers about how to best support the student in their continued development and progress.


If you find that you or your child could benefit from a neuropsychological evaluation, contact me to get started! I thoroughly enjoy hearing from all of you who are eager to continue learning and growing each day.


-Dr. Mayo