Dear Therapist:

My 16-year-old son has a slight learning disability and has never really been able to sit still all day. Now he is in...[high school] from 7:30 am until 8:30 pm. He is not doing well...and his...[principal]...suggested that we take him to therapy. I am not sure what/how that can possibly help. It isn't a mental health issue but more likely he just isn't cut out for his schedule. Do you think therapy would benefit him? How could a therapist help? What other suggestions might you have?



It sounds like the...[principal’s]...suggestion may be based on his sense that your son’s trouble with the school schedule may be related to issues other than simply his learning disability. Certainly, learning issues can cause your son to have trouble focusing for long periods of time. However, other factors may be involved.

Not only can learning issues make it more difficult for your son to learn, but they can sap his energy—due to the higher level of mental focus that it can take for him to keep up. Additionally, trouble learning can lower your son’s positive feelings about himself. This can lead to an increasing sense of futility, especially in an environment in which he feels that he cannot compete with his peers.

Another possibility is that your son may have symptoms of ADHD that are unrelated to his learning disability—or which are exacerbated by his trouble learning. Since higher mental and emotional output is required for someone with learning disabilities, this can seem like trouble with attention and hyperactivity. It can be difficult to discern ADHD symptoms from those ddirectly related to learning difficulties.

If your son feels badly about himself because he compares himself to his classmates—or there are other symptoms that the...[principal] noticing, these may be what the he is picking up on. Without a better understanding of the...principal’s...specific concerns, a clear recommendation cannot be made.

I suggest that you have a meeting with your son’s...[principal]...and teachers. All aspects of the situation should be discussed, in order to achieve a better understanding as to the sources of their concerns. They should be made aware of the extent of your son’s learning disability in order to help separate learning issues from other possible problems. If a school counselor or a special education professional is involved, they should be included in the meeting to help in this process. If not, you should consider having someone who has worked with your son join the meeting to help the school to get a better understanding of the whole picture and all its parts.


Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

 psychotherapist in private practice

 Brooklyn, NY   |   Far Rockaway, NY

 author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 718-258-5317