The Bad Fit: Could Your Child’s “Learning Disorder” be a Misdiagnosis?

by Patrick on September 28, 2010

Illustration of PatrickI met with a mother a few days ago to discuss how her daughter was progressing. Her daughter had been “diagnosed” with ADHD and an auditory processing disorder. Her previous school was making weekly (sometimes daily!) phone calls to report on the “problem child.” That mother seemed to be carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders.

Her eyes were heavy with tears, and I thought of all those sleepless nights she spent worrying about her daughter’s future.

The thing was: I didn’t see these problems at all.

I mean, I had concerns for the child, she definitely had something going on, but I wasn’t getting any huge red flags. Maybe a few small yellow ones popped up. A little investigating with the parent and some questioning of the child revealed an old school classroom of dictation and coral reading. The student did lots of desk work, shared answers publicly, and was reprimanded for wrong ones.

All together it seemed her old classroom was a place of high anxiety. It wasn’t the safe place she needed to reach her potential. In fact the classroom was actually increasing her problems.

This child and the teacher were simply a bad fit. You always hear about the one teacher. The one who gets you better than any other before them.

Well the opposite is also true. There will be a teacher who seems to bring out the worst in you. Who brings out your flaws and fails to recognize your strengths.

It’s not the child’s fault or even the teacher’s really. It’s just not the right relationship match.

What I would advise is taking a moment or two to start asking question and getting to the heart of the matter before jumping to any diagnostic conclusions.

Before slapping a label on the problem, getting curious could be the cure.

  • Ask the teacher to explain the day and how they’re going about teaching each subject area.
  • Ask about group work and opportunities for hands on learning.
  • If you can, try observing in the classroom for the morning.
  • Talk to your child about the issues the teachers bringing up. Try to figure out where these problems might be stemming from.
  • Most importantly reflect about how your child is in other settings outside school. Think about their home life and extra curricular activities. A diagnosis would translate in all areas of their daily life. Before jumping to any conclusions get curious and start researching.

Want more tips on making the school year run smoothly? Get 45 information-packed minutes of Melissa, Queenie and Patrick giving their best tools and techniques for free. Click here to listen.


Margaret Ross September 28, 2010 at 7:19 pm

You need more parents to know this, how true, you are on target. it’s really quite bad when the parent and child are a misfit as well. After 35 years in education, it would be wonderful to have a magic wand; however, tolerant, but concerned and knowledgeable teachers and administrators that have adequate training and time and small classrooms is helpful for good communication and learning, both emotional and educational.
Vote for politicians that support small class size.

Melissa September 28, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Ummmm. . . you’re kind of a genius and I’m so excited you’re my business partner. Well said, friend!

Melissa September 28, 2010 at 8:40 pm

Margaret, I can’t agree with you more about how a small class size is the most effective and enjoyable way to raise student achievement and love of learning!

Hartley Steiner September 28, 2010 at 8:47 pm

I think you are absolutely right in that kid all learn differently – -and more important than any of my son’s accommodations, IEP goals or labels is getting the RIGHT FIT teacher.

Thank you for talking about something us moms in the special needs community already know! 🙂

Hartley Steiner
Award Winning Author of
This is Gabriel Making Sense of School

Megan Lubaszka September 28, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Hartley – WOW – just popped over to your site and your tagline blew me away. I can’t wait to read more! Our mom (Melissa and I) is an SLP and I’ve always been so fascinated by SPD and autism. Moms like you are my hero, and thank you for sharing your journey.
Megan Lubaszka´s last blog post ..The Bad Fit- Could Your Child’s “Learning Disorder” be a Misdiagnosis

Barbara September 29, 2010 at 5:23 am

Great advice. Bad fit is an often missed possibility among a range of reasons for a really bad school situation.