Asleep at the Desk

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Q: My son is in 5th grade and is struggling in school. He has problems staying organized which is his main problem. It’s not a behavioral issue. The problem is he loses his work, doesn’t complete it and shows no motivation. When you sit down one on one, he understands his work, but at school he’s in his own little world according to his teachers. They said he seems tired. At home it’s the same thing. When asked to do something, he is real slow to do it. It’s like he has no energy, no motivation and makes no effort to do things unless he is told.

His teacher sent this to me today:

He has difficulty paying attention during math lessons. I think, if he had his way, he would put his head down on the desk and sleep. I redirect him several times during the class period to sit up and pay attention. Even when he writes he is slumped down with one hand holding his head. This definitely has an effect on his attitude and the quality of his handwriting.

I’m real concerned for him. Next year if he passes he goes to middle school and if something doesn’t change, he will have a real difficult time. I don’t know what else to do to help him. I work closely with him to keep him organized. We tried incentives, grounding…you name it. Nothing seems to motivate him. Please help!

A: Thank you for writing. Your son sounds like a sweet boy. Despite his struggles, you don’t report that he is being defiant or a behavior problem. Instead, you are concerned that life (and school) is passing him by. You are right to try to address his problems now — before he has to deal with the challenge of middle school.

The very first thing to do is to take your son to his doctor for a complete medical workup. When a child is having the same kind of difficulties at home and at school, there is a strong likelihood that there is an underlying medical problem. For a couple of weeks before the appointment with the doctor, keep a record of when your son goes to sleep, when he gets up, and if he wakes during the night. Also, keep track of his level of activity each day, and his diet. Bring that information as well as the reports from school to the appointment. If the pediatrician determines that your son is perfectly healthy, then please consider taking him to a child psychologist for an evaluation. Careful assessment will help you decide what needs to be done to help your son.

I wish you and your son well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 9 Nov 2008

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2008). Asleep at the Desk. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/11/09/asleep-at-the-desk/