My 15-year old is struggling in her sophomore year of high school. She is failing or practically failing several classes, and has gotten to the point that she hates going to school. She refuses to work with a tutor, and will not do homework even though as far as we know she is capable of it. She will focus on what she likes, but if it is something she doesn’t want to do, will just not do it. I have tried various forms of privilege removal and other so-called punishments, and they do not work. She won’t talk to me and shuts herself in her room. What are your suggestions?

It appears as though either something academics-related is overwhelming your daughter, or she may be depressed or anxious about something else (friends, relationship, etc). It is very often so hard to tell what is in an adolescent girl’s mind, particularly when they “shut down”. I would begin by attempting to clarify how she feels about different aspects of her life, without taking a punitive approach. If she won’t talk to you, or you feel her issues are beyond what you can handle alone, have her see a therapist who can mediate a conversation between you and your daughter, assess your daughter clinically to rule out a cognitive or emotional problem disrupting her ability to function optimally, and provide an opportunity for your daughter to talk to someone objective about what bothers her.


I live with my husband and 6-year old child in a two-family home with my mother. She of course spends a great deal of time with my son after he is home from school and on the weekends. She treats my son like her own child, spoiling my routines for him, and allowing him to do the opposite of what I have established. I have attempted to speak to her about this, but she believes she knows best, and undermines me at every turn. Meanwhile, my son runs rampant in the house because the rules are inconsistent. What should I do?

Your mother seems to feel that she can naturally transfer her role as your mother to her grandchild. She raised you, and you turned out OK, right? So, how do you set some limits and create boundaries? First of all, thank her for all her help in caring for your son. Let her know she did such a good job raising you that you feel confident you are a good mother. Let her know that you need her to trust her, and for her to trust that you can make good decisions for your own child. Let her know that children need consistent rules from the adults in their lives, assert yourself (nicely) by establishing yourself as your son’s mother, and set up some rules about how you want certain things to be done. If she cannot abide by this, and you are chronically uncomfortable with her behavior, perhaps you can think about another child care arrangement.


I am a teacher, and one of my students, who has a learning disability, has begun to act out in awful ways. What can I do?

Your student could be drawing attention away from his academic difficulties; expressing his frustration about school-related or other challenges; failing to understand what is expected of him; expressing fear, anxiety or depression; reacting to feeling overwhelmed; avoiding certain social or academic tasks; or is acting out for one of many other reasons. At this point, you could speak to the parent in an effort to get more information about the student’s home life/stressors, and follow up with a request to meet with the IEP team to re-evaluate and/or reassess the services he is getting.


My son has an IEP but I am not convinced the school is providing the appropriate services as delineated in his IEP. What should I do?

First, have a meeting with the IEP or school-based support team at your child’s school, and review the interventions he is receiving and how they are monitoring his progress. If the team is unable to provide you with a satisfactory answer to your concerns, you can explore parent advocacy resources at, or contact an independent educational advocate or special education attorney.


Recently someone told me my son no longer has Asperger’s disorder, he has Autism Spectrum disorder. Can you explain this?

In the past, there were five disorders included under the category Pervasive Developmental Disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 4th Edition (DSM-4), characterized by socialization and communication delays: PDD-NOS, Autism, Asperger syndrome, Rett syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder.

The DSM-5 was released in 2013, and the classification for pervasive developmental disorders was updated. The grouping of disorders, which includes Asperger syndrome, has been removed and replaced with the general category of Autism Spectrum Disorder. The American Psychiatric Association indicated that this supports more accurate diagnoses. In addition to the diagnostic criteria, the DSM-5 uses severity levels and other distinguishing features to further describe the type of ASD the individual may have.


What is RTI?

RTI ("Response to Intervention") is a method or procedure that refers to students’ responses to research-based instruction. In the past, a student had to show a “severe discrepancy” between intellectual ability and achievement, be considered learning disabled, and qualify for special education, all before intervention could be provided. RTI provides a way to address the needs of at-risk students just when they begin to struggle, before they fail, using empirically sound instruction, at three tiers of intensity. Objective data is gathered to see how well the student responds. If there is not a satisfactory response, a comprehensive evaluation can be done, in school or privately, to assess for a learning disability.


How do I pick a school for my autistic child who is going to be starting Kindergarten?

Many factors should be taken into account when choosing a specialized school for an autistic child. First and most obvious would be the academic program and teacher training and experience. Other factors to keep in mind are: how does the school handle maladaptive behaviors; what are visiting policies; is there medical support; are the physical characteristics of the school in line with your child’s sensory needs; how will you communicate with your child’s teachers and related service providers; is staff development and staff supervision provided. I also recommend consulting with a specialist to help you choose the right placement.


I am an adult with ADHD and still have a lot of trouble getting organized and getting things done in my home and at work. What do you recommend?

There is no need to tolerate disorder and disorganization in your home or work setting. Small changes can bring about peace of mind and less clutter. Here are just a few things you can do:

    1. Use alarms on clocks or your phone to alert you when you are spending too much time doing something, to reorder medication, to make phone calls, etc.
  • Join a support group.
  • Use pegs, hooks, containers, baskets, folders, labels and any other materials to help you organize your home or desk.
  • Deal with your paperwork—throw out old magazines and newspapers, find out if you can throw out bank statements, etc.
  • Don’t spread yourself thin. Learn how to say no or ask for help.
  • Try to finish one task before starting another.
  • Get help from a friend or relative for difficult-to-accomplish multistep tasks such as paying bills.
  • Make lists and cross things off as they get done.
  • Enlist a nonjudgmental friend or relative to help you de-clutter your home (including closets). Make piles (keep, toss, donate).
  • Throw out junk mail immediately after walking in the front door.



Ask Dr. Hope
Dr. Hope is happy to respond directly to questions about mental health issues such as childhood depression, learning disabilities, behavior problems, and a whole lot more. The information obtained in Ask Dr. Hope is not exhaustive and there is no guarantee of its utility. Responses are provided for general informational and educational purposes only, and are intended to support a relationship between the reader and their mental health professional. If you or the person you ask about is in distress, please contact a physician or the nearest emergency room.

Ask Dr. Hope is NOT intended for: emergencies such as suicidal or homicidal intent, conducting an interview for a class assignment, replacing professional medical care or treatment, providing a diagnosis, or dispensing advice.