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Bright AS child is failing at Ivy

hallomarhallomar Registered User Posts: 87 Junior Member
edited March 2010 in Parents Forum
My son is a second-year student at an Ivy League school, and was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome when he was 6. During his elem, middle and high school years, he was a good worker, incredibly bright, and graduated at the top of his class. Now, in college, he can't seem to motivate himself to keep up with his work. He spends most of his time on the Internet, and then gets so behind that he stops going to classes. Last year, he completely lost it during second semester, skipped his mid-terms because he was so far behind, but was able to get a medical leave of absence during the spring. It turns out that he not only had AS but also ADD and some OC. He was put on medication, got lots of therapy and counseling last spring and summer, and this year, it happened all over again. First semester, he attended enough class to get mediocre grades, but this semester, he stopped working and skipped his exams again. We are on the phone with him constantly, trying to motivate him to do work, but to no avail. He likes being at the school, likes dorm life, has friends and a social life for the first time in his life, but he is on the verge of flunking out.
This has been a heartbreaking period for me and my H; I've been avoiding my neighbors and co-workers who have college-age kids so I don't have to hear how well their kids are doing and either lie about mine or tell the whole sad story over and over again.
We have tried everything. Anyone experiencing anything similar?
Post edited by hallomar on

Replies to: Bright AS child is failing at Ivy

  • umcp11umcp11 Registered User Posts: 1,321 Senior Member
    Huh, funny...minus the fact that I've never been diagnosed with Asperger's, ADD, etc. your son and me could be perfect twins.

    Hard-working, high-acheivers all through elementary, middle, and high school.

    Hit college and suddenly the motivation to do the work lags, you get a little behind, you stop going to class, you crash and burn. Etc. Love my friends and other aspects of school, of course.

    I am a junior right now and haven't found the solution. For 3 yrs the cycle has been on repeat. Soon I will graduate with college with little to show for it, which is what you're afraid of happening to your son I imagine (or perhaps you're afraid he won't graduate at all!).

    It is disheartening to read he went through therapy, etc. and yet that didn't seem to help.

    I don't know what to tell you except that this isn't just your son. Maybe if either of us finds out what's going on we can contact each other again and share the wisdom.

    In my case there seems to be something about the work that "triggers" negative emotions in me, so I avoid it at all costs (maybe that means spending time on the internet, or just sitting and watching paint dry or grass grow lol). Schoolwork can trigger a lot of anger, anxiety, and other issues. Perhaps a Spring and a Summer were just not long enough for him to find a coping mechanism for whatever negative feelings the work triggers in him. Or perhaps his study habits are poor. Perhaps it's a combination. Something like this could take longer to figure out....
  • NorthstarmomNorthstarmom Registered User Posts: 24,853 Senior Member
    I'm a Harvard grad who was on academic probation my freshman year after partying too hard. Although I'm not AS, for a variety of reasons, when I went to college was the first time that I had a social life, so I took full advantage of that -- so to speak. So, I also have lots of empathy for your son.

    I did get my act straight after freshman year.

    My experience with Harvard was that Ivies tend to have a lot of faith in their students, so if you get bad grades, the worst that probably will happen to your son is that he'll be asked to take a year off. I know others who for various reasons had bad grades, took time off, then returned and graduated.

    I don't think there's anything that you can do to motivate your son. He may be able to pull his act together and get decent grades the rest of this year or he may have to take time off. Given the fact that he loves college, I'm guessing that if he has to take a year off, he'll do what it takes to return and to be able to get at least passing grades in college. The Ivies have the highest graduation rates in the country because their students are motivated and even if they temporarily screw up, tend to get back on track.

    I don't see any reason to lie about how your son is doing. Either change the subject or tell the truth. Believe me, there are plenty of people whose kids --including bright kids -- stumble in college. Saying this also as the mom of a bright son (NM Commended) who flunked out of a second tier college where he had entered as an auto admit because his stats were so much higher than their norm. I've never lied about what happened to him. I've found lots of people who have empathy. As for those whose kids are doing well, I am happy for them. I also know that no matter how wonderful someone's kid is, at some point something will happen and parents will worry. That's the nature of life.....
  • OlymomOlymom Registered User Posts: 1,689 Senior Member
    If you read through threads here you will find that this is not uncommon -- particularly for the young men.

    There are many different approaches. Many advocate therapy. Others advocate tough love.

    It is clear that your son's situation can not continue. You can definitely go back to the doc and make sure that there isn't still another medical concern (Our DS developed sleep apnea his sophomore year. We are forever grateful to the fraternity brother that heard him snoring and suggested he get checked out for sleep apnea. A sleep study and CPAP machine later and son is much, much better).

    Yelling does not help. Many sons do well with a dose of the hard cold world which can make them value the priviledge of having classes to attend. My DH (a very bright academic!) took a semester off at 19 and bussed tables at Denny's. He was on his own in another city and it was a lonely, hard time. He could have easily fallen in with a bad crowd and gone on to lots of pot and bad choices. He didn't. He got back on the college track and eventually finished a well respected PhD.

    One friend here took her able but . . .well, lazy. . . son to an older cousin in another state. She set kid up with the basics (bed, sheets, teeny car) and gave him two months rent. She clapped on the back and said "find your way!" and left. So far this has been working well as son is much more mature and responsible around older cousin than he was hanging around his childhood home.

    Bringing a kid home is challenging. It can be a safe haven -- but it is also a place where there are long established habits -- such as Mom buys groceries and dinner magically appears around 7 ish.

    You may have some resources at the college. For instance, you can ask his Dean to bring the student in and explain, in detail, what happens next. At some point the school dis-enrolls him and there is not always a guarantee that they will re-accept him later.

    My sons tend to hear other people better than their mother. They have worked harder for others. They have shaped up for others. A green light from you to the Dean to be firm may help get the kid to classes. There may also be some other tools at the Dean's disposal, such as a check in protocal. Every time the kid misses a class, he ends up being summoned somewhere might start to get old. A word from you the RA may also help. Quite frankly, I (a robust mum!) would be emailing his friends saying you were worried and could they please talk to son.

    Your son is NOT going to want you to do any of this (contacting Dean, RA, friends). Sorry. As long as attendance and grades are reasonable, then you can sit quiet. But things going down the toilet means you are in his face and on the case until this is resolved.

    I'll post more later. . . but please know you are not alone.
  • bigtreesbigtrees User Awaiting Email Confirmation Posts: 1,191 Senior Member
    Actually, I don't think you can contact the Dean to find out how your son is doing, or contact the RA, or anyone else UNLESS you son gives them permission to talk with you. He's a legal adult and the privacy laws prevent them from talking with you.

    Bottom line is you can support your son but I think he has to make his own decisions. The OP says that he was smart, bright, and focused in high school (with no social life), and is now distracted, spends tons time with friends, and enjoys being with people. Sounds like he has grown up and has normal challenges in life.
  • OlymomOlymom Registered User Posts: 1,689 Senior Member
    Oh, I think a parent can contact the Dean with worries. RA too. They may tell you that officially the student is an adult, but there might be some trickle down that is helpful.

    No one wants a kid to slid into depression. No one wants a mental illness to go unserved.

    Every situation is different. But I know I have called campus security and asked them to go find my son and make sure he wasn't lying frozen in a ditch. (This after many unreturned emails and phone calls. I was casual the first two weeks and then started to really get worried that we were dealing with silence). When security showed up saying "Your mom is worried," the kid knew he had to communicate. It wasn't his best semester but, as he later said, "I learned that I shouldn't wait to get help."
  • OlymomOlymom Registered User Posts: 1,689 Senior Member
    Here's the letter I email to the fraternity brothers when my son was sinking. It was after this that we began to understand that sleep apnea was a big part of the problem. To the Brothers of Sigma Nu,

    I am a parent of a Sigma Nu member. I am writing to you because I am deeply worried about my son. Winter term was a struggle for him. The spring term seems to also have its challenges. I know he takes his work as a UGA and as Rush chairman very seriously – and somehow work and Sigma Nu and other interests and events have combined to limit his academic success this year and his communications home.

    Somehow we’re going to address this.

    My first thought is to get on a plane to Hanover and just sort things out. I should tell you that on my honeymoon I was rock climbing with my new husband. I threw a sling over a rock projection and tested it with my weight. It held. Alas, I started to slide slightly and that tugged the sling at a new angle. It slid off the projection and I went torpedoing down the cliff face. I still should have been safe because I was roped up and on belay through a piton. Some days are not good days. I hit another rock protrusion as I slid and instantly became a paraplegic.

    It took over a year of effort, but eventually I learned to balance on my paralyzed feet and ambulate using leg braces and a cane. We went on to have many adventures, including living on a tropical island, where our son was born. In recent years I have added fibromyalgia and leg and back spasms to my health problems, so these days traveling isn’t easy.

    Getting to Hanover would be a challenge.

    However, I have dealt with other challenging situations. My first job after college (several years before marriage) was as one of the West’s first lady game wardens. At that time there was great uncertainty on whether or not a woman could be a successful conservation officer. I didn’t want to let my gender down. I also didn’t want to let my mentors down (the state and regional wildlife directors who hired me). I didn’t shoot very well, so I spent $60 each month on ammunition (That bought several hundred rounds. I made about $1080 a month). I practiced with my revolver two nights a week for months and months until I could bag a jackrabbit at fifty yards. I also learned to pack and shoe a mule, set a trap line, blow up beaver dams and found that I could book a hairy ruffian into jail for exceeding the bag limit or spotlighting deer.

    I can figure out what needs to be done and do it, even it is challenging.

    If I have to come to Hanover to help my son, it might as well be a party. I am thinking it would be fun to have a Mother’s Encampment on the lawn of Sigma Nu. I could invite all the Sigma Nu moms to join me. We could sit in lawn chairs, knit tea cozies and exchange recipes and child rearing stories. We could have a comfort waist fashion show and middle-aged yoga demonstrations on the lawn. In the evening we could invite the young women of Dartmouth to a lecture series on topics that interest mothers, like “Proper demeanor and attitudes for prospective daughters-in-law.” We could redecorate your spaces. With a trip to a craft store we could surely apply some artful decoupage and re-purpose “Keggy” into a tasteful end table. We could offer you hours and hours and hours of unsolicited advice. What fun!

    There’s not a doubt in my mind that I could organize and implement a Sigma Nu Mother’s Encampment. I could be there and stay there until I felt, for sure, that my guy was right with the world.

    There may, however, be a better path. You chaps can help by extending the hand of friendship to a Brother. You could start with these:

    1) Be gentle with expectations. You have a mortgage. You need more members. You need the right new members that add in well to your group. Don’t place these heavy burdens on too few shoulders.

    2) Understand the fierce desire to serve. It can be doubly hard for someone to say “I can’t do that right now” when so much of their heart wants to give.

    3) Offer help.

    4) Constantly ask “So, how’s your mother? Talk to her lately?”

    Hopefully everyone’s mother thinks her lad is terrific. I know I do. I’d crawl across a nation’s worth of hot coals for mine. He’s always been beyond amazing and it is hard to know that some parts of his life haven’t gone well lately. It is really, really hard to have his silence instead of his sharing voice.

    I am hoping that you will be the brothers you pledged to be. Please help my son."

    So, the Sigma Nu's were great. They responded to my email. They kept an eye on my kid. The sleep apnea got diagnosed. Son is much better.

    I am not a shy parent. My purpose in life is to raise strong, competent sons who don't need me. But that job isn't done yet. No way would I stand by if I think one is floundering.
  • NorthstarmomNorthstarmom Registered User Posts: 24,853 Senior Member
    From what the parent has posted, it doesn't sound like the kid is depressed. Sounds like he is for the first time enjoying friendships and socializing and probably is socializing too much. If the problem really was due to ADD, OCD, etc. I think that the student wouldn't have done so well in high school. Sounds like more of a problem with preferring partying and socializing to academics.

    I empathize with the parent's concerns, but I don't think the parent's nagging, etc. will change this situation. The son is going to have to straighten out his act, and that may happen if his grades become so poor that his college forces him to take a year off. Being separated from his friends and otherwise feeling the consequences of his behavior may cause him to get back on track.
  • umcp11umcp11 Registered User Posts: 1,321 Senior Member
    ^You can't be too quick to assume that.

    I am definitely not partying my days away just because I have a circle of friends and enjoy their company. Work issues are often very separate from social issues.

    It COULD be that, of course, but it could just as easily not be.

    Regardless, a break from College could help. A semester and a summer was a good start but maybe it just wasn't enough time. And maybe there wasn't enough "real life" thrown in there.
  • KajonKajon Registered User Posts: 4,380 Senior Member
    Hallomar, some how you and your family will work through this tough time. Here is a link from an old thread that may offer you some guidance or empathy. You are not alone!

  • thumper1thumper1 Registered User Posts: 63,930 Senior Member
    The OPs son has a diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome. This kiddo could also be having organizational issues....and is having an inability to know when he's done too much "socializing" and needs to switch gears into the work mode. Also don't know if this is true, but in most high schools, teachers will "remind" you about work missed...it is harder to NOT go to school (your parents will know if you stay home), and this student may have had an IEP or 504 accommodations.

    College is so much more independence than high school. And so much of the "work" is done independently too.

    This bright student may not be in the right place at the right time. In other words, maybe he needs to become a successful college student first, in a different school or different type of school.
  • NorthstarmomNorthstarmom Registered User Posts: 24,853 Senior Member
    This is why I assume he's socializing a lot:

    " He likes being at the school, likes dorm life, has friends and a social life for the first time in his life, but he is on the verge of flunking out. "

    It doesn't sound like when he's skipping class, he's staying in bed sleeping like some very depressed students do.

    Based on what the parent has posted, it also seems like when he was in high school, he was able to handle his academics without his parents being on him all of the time.
  • bigtreesbigtrees User Awaiting Email Confirmation Posts: 1,191 Senior Member
    Thumper, what you describe fits a lot of students whether or not they have aspergers/autism. Inability to balance social life with school life. Forgetting to do assignments. Bad organizational skills.

    It's also a skill you develop in college and something that sets college graduates apart from non-college graduates.
  • momofthreeboysmomofthreeboys Registered User Posts: 15,427 Senior Member
    ^^yes, that was my thought also. Perhaps a combination of immaturity, wrong major, wrong college...so many possible variables. The thread link Kajon posted if I remember had some really good posts about kids who fail out and how to pick up the pieces. Chin up OP it will get better.
  • poetgrlpoetgrl Registered User Posts: 13,334 Senior Member

    It sounds to me like you suffer from perfectionism.

    Sometime perfectionism manifests itself as an inability to even get started because of fear of not doing it well, an inability to take the intervening steps to get to a finished product because you aren't already AT the perfect finished product.

    I'd recommend you look into this possibility. Perfectionism can be really brutal, but it can also be overcome.

    AS for the OP, I'm very sorry to hear your son is in such a difficult position with himself. I hope over time he and you are able to find a good solution. I have no advice except to make sure to get the best professional help you can get and to follow through with that advice. Also, make sure you are getting support for yourself. it sounds like you have a lot on your shoulders. Good luck.
  • NaturallyNaturally Registered User Posts: 1,308 Senior Member
    Sometime perfectionism manifests itself as an inability to even get started because of fear of not doing it well, an inability to take the intervening steps to get to a finished product because you aren't already AT the perfect finished product.

    I'd recommend you look into this possibility. Perfectionism can be really brutal, but it can also be overcome.

    This was me to a T when I was in college the first time. Better to not do the assignment at all than to get a C or B, etc.

    OP, as someone who DID flunk out of college, all I can say is no matter how much support you offer your son, ultimately HE must be willing to self-examine and find a solution to this problem. Maybe he's out partying all the time or maybe he has perfectionism issues or maybe something else is going on, but . . . whatever the case . . . he is not going to be able to solve this if HE does not try to. All you can do is encourage him to think about where he's going in life and why he's acting the way he is instead of putting his head in the sand. I hope he listens to you. Therapy is a good idea if you can get him on board (as in, actually invested in the process, not just attending so Mom will keep shelling out money for college.) But sometimes, as they say, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink.

    Myself, I didn't "grow up" until I'd been on my own, working a couple years. To be honest, I'm glad I flunked out because I think it would've taken much longer to develop a better attitude and good work habits if I'd meandered through until graduation.
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