Q: My 5-year-old son was expelled from his preschool earlier this year for behavioral issues. (Notably, it happened after I complained about an adult male caregiver showing unusual interest in him and asking me to send personal information about my child after he entered public school.) My spouse and I had our child evaluated by an occupational therapist who said he was a very bright child who gets bored easily. She had no concerns about him or his behavior.
At his next preschool, my son did fine. However, at graduation in May, his teacher — who taught public school for 30 years before transitioning to preschool — told us she worried he might be on the spectrum. She said he became easily frustrated with himself and others; more worryingly, she said he gravitated toward the older kids (specifically fifth graders. It was a private pre-K through 5 school), especially the ones who would get him into trouble. She did emphasize my son is very intelligent and a good kid; she is just concerned his kindergarten teacher may not have patience with him.
My son is entering kindergarten in August. We are incredibly worried about him. We don’t want him in trouble or worse, kicked out of school (a friend’s grandchild was kicked out of the same kindergarten our son will attend). Our pediatrician hasn’t been much help. What do we do?
A: Thank you for writing in; you have been through quite an ordeal with your son. I understand why you are worried about a future expulsion, but the circumstances surrounding your son’s expulsion earlier this year sound troubling and possibly worthy of contacting your local authorities. Inappropriate interest in a student coupled with expelling the student when you questioned should be examined more closely.
For now, you have taken the important step of contacting an occupational therapist, well done. The role of an OT is in the name: They are specialists in helping children perform in everyday activities and situations, whether physically, cognitively or sensorially. To be clear, an OT does not diagnose autism or giftedness and, while they may suggest diagnoses such as anxiety or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, it is best to seek out a developmental pediatrician or children’s neuropsychiatrist for a fuller picture of your son.
While you are pursuing other specialists, it’s important to dive deeper into the developmental needs of a 5-year-old. There are vastly different behaviors based on where your child is in his fifth year (closer to five or closer to six). For instance a 5-year-old may be sunny and easy whereas a 5½-year-old could be combative and quarrelsome with his friends. These shifts can be upsetting for parents and can lead to confusion. What is developmentally typical? What are outliers that require attention? For instance, he spent an entire year in preschool with no one flagging any behaviors. Does this mean that the teachers were skilled in understanding the nervous systems of young children? Does this mean that the teachers didn’t pay attention to him at all? It is information, and you should definitely check out more developmental information for his age.
As for his teacher last year and her reports of his behavior, I am not as interested in her armchair diagnosis and would instead zoom out to the larger picture. He is bright, he is drawn to older kids and is easily frustrated with himself. “When I consider the trio of concerns mentioned: expulsion from preschool, low frustration tolerance and gravitating to older playmates, the first thing that comes to mind is immature development,” says pediatric psychologist Mona Delahooke, whom I brought your question to. “Like the parent said, [he is] a ‘good, intelligent kid,’ one I imagine is likely early in developing what we call ‘self-regulation’ and whose social-emotional skills are still emerging. This would also explain why he […]
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