How Do I Help My 6 Year Old Remember Daily Tasks?

Updated on June 09, 2017
A.K. asks from Graham, WA
19 answers

I have a six year old son who started kindergarten this year. I realize that there is a lot to remember in school, and that he is only six, but it seems that things are getting ridiculous about how much he forgets. I have to tell him to get dressed in the morning. Send him back for underwear. Send him back for socks. Send him back for matching socks. Tell him he needs to take his backpack, remind him not to just drop it on the floor by the door. Remind him to put shoes on. Remind him to get in on the passenger's side of the car.

At school I get a steady flow of reports from the teachers that he is carrying on with the not remembering at school. He has to be reminded to put his name at the top of the paper. To work. To use words. Egyptian hieroglyphs are not words. You have to follow the directions and not just do your own thing. You can't just drop your backpack in the middle of the floor and toodle to your desk, etc. etc. etc. The teachers have to spend their whole day standing over his desk reminding him.

He is my first child and I didn't grow up with any family near by, so I don't really have a good idea if this is every kid, but I did take him to the doctor to rule out ADHD and ADD. He is a normal boy as far as brain activity. He is just letting the parents/teacher be his short term memory for him. That's not okay, but also---he's six. Is that normal for six?

I'm sorry if this is a little long winded, but I was hoping for some advice on how to help him be more dependent on himself.

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So What Happened?

Thank you everyone, I realize it has only been a day or so but I wanted to update you all. I laid out my son's clothing night before last, and just like magic he remembered to put his clothing on! It also worked for pajamas and clothing this morning. Perfect!

I printed out a reminder sheet of the things I want him to do without me telling him and hung it up on the fridge. Time will tell if he sticks with it, but the novelty of checking what he needs to do is once again, magic. I've ordered the behavior chart because I think it will be the most fun/easiest for him.

I'll ask for a social story at school and see if that helps him there. Thanks so much everyone! If all he needs is a few pictures to remind him I can make up a picture sheet for school too!

More Answers

T.F.

answers from Dallas on

I am not parent of a son but I do have a 22 yr old daughter and 17 years experience in the classroom, mostly grades k-5.

Children need structure and routine. Nagging will just make the issue worse.

Make some sort of physical routine chart and schedule so he gets used to a routine. Use stickers or whatever you need to place on the chart when the task is completed. This way he can SEE his chores and SEE what is not completed. It may take some time but get your family in a routine so it begins to flow like good habits. After so many chores are completed... have something fun.... praise him and keep going.

That said... forget about matching socks. Pick your battles.

Also, even my 22 yr old living on her own has to be reminded at times. This is just the norm so don't put too much pressure on him or make him feel inferior because you are reminding him of making him feel he is forgetful and not ok.

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H.W.

answers from Portland on

I do have a son with ADHD and processing delays. He's ten and things are slowly improving, and I wanted to share with you what I've learned has been most helpful for us. This can work for *any* kiddo...

I used to get super frustrated; heck, teachers did too. Instead of getting on my son for things after the fact, I started using a positive narrative. An example "Okay, go find your clothes and put them on....Oops! Kiddo, you forgot your socks!..... Let's go in and brush your teeth now....Great, what's next? Coat or shoes? Backpack!" When I can do this cheerfully, it helps him not to get stressed and he's better able to stay focused.

We did charts, we did picture magnets, you name it, we did it. What worked for us was my being understanding, keeping things as relaxed as possible by allowing him extra time to get ready in the mornings (I would get him up 30 minutes earlier than necessary because he needed time to wake up and putter a bit), and keeping the routine as simple and straightforward as I could. My positive attitude, guidance, and being proactive has helped immensely. Now he will do most of those things himself (with the exception of brushing his teeth, because he's just not fond of it) and when it's time to leave the house, there's no friction.

My attitude: understanding that he needed my leadership (temporarily) helped him to relax and absorb the routine. Kids can't do this if they are stressed. So create the structure that you can create (other posters have given you great ideas) and then know that you are helping your son develop these abilities.

Also, I want to concur with those who suggest getting a clinical evaluation from a psychologist. Our son's ADHD/processing delays was not 'caught' until I contacted the pediatrician about possible cognitive processing delays/verbal processing disorder and the clinic I worked with suggested a screening "to rule out ADHD" (this screening would have 'caught' other issues, not just ADHD).... Having this information was critical to me getting an IEP plan for him. Empowering the teachers to know how to best help one's child is important. I am not, by ANY means, suggesting your son has this, but if you still see some of these behaviors in a year or so, it might be worth some investigation. He may also just be a kid who marches to the beat of a different drum, and if that's the case, I'd work with the teachers and school counselor on creating helpful structure for transitions. Good luck!

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G.♣.

answers from Springfield on

Most of this is very age appropriate, so keep working on it. It could be that he's having more trouble than other students.

You could try making a picture schedule for your morning routine. Try to be specific when you give him directions. To help him do better at school, ask his teacher to make a social story for you to help him out. If the teacher doesn't know what that is, let her know that the resource teachers at the school can help her with that.

Is this a new teacher? Honestly, the teacher should be able to handle this at school. This just doesn't sound all that strange for a kindergartner.

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J.B.

answers from Boston on

Sounds normal to me, but I have two kids with ADHD. IMO unless you've had a full workup for ADHD (Conner's scales completed by parent, child and teachers as well as a full neuro-psych evaluation) you cannot rule it out. It's quite early to make that kind of diagnosis though, so I wouldn't worry about a label or diagnosis now. Just keep in mind though that in the absence of a very thorough evaluation, you shouldn't rule it out if this continues to be a problem in years to come.

Anyway...lots of kids struggle with executive functioning. Some outgrow it and for some, it's a sign of something else (like ADHD). Frankly I think that the heiroglyphs are hilarious and that his teacher should lighten up :-) He might just be a quirky, creative kid who is lost in his own head a bit.

Some strategies that can work are to use visual reminders of how certain parts of the day go. For example in the morning, I used to have a little laminated sheet with some cartoons on it for my kids that covered things like "get dressed" and "brush your teeth" and "get your lunch" etc. I even used ones (without cartoons) for my oldest son when he was 10. That way I could direct him to the sheet instead of nagging him - "what's next on the chart?"

I went to an executive functioning workshop this year and one of the suggestions was to take a picture of the finished result (a full dressed child, an organized and full backpack, the entryway with the backpack hung up, etc.), print it, laminate it and have it ready. That way, you can just say "do you match the picture?" instead of going through a litany of questions. It gets the kids to internalize what the finished process looks like so that they can eventually get there without the visual prompt.

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M.G.

answers from Portland on

Well, I have teen boys who have to be reminded to bring me their laundry, make their bed, empty their trash, do their homework .... they still drop their backpacks on the floor when they come in.

Just trying to give you some perspective.

Lay his clothes out in a pile for him the night before - including the underwear. Stay with him when he gets it on, until he gets it. I did this for my boys especially, longer than they were 6.

Some kids are distracted - who don't have ADHD. It can just be a personality type. Other kids are grumpy (I have one) - you just learn to work with it and find ways to make life easier.

Some teachers get worked up about stuff - we had a horrible teacher for my son and daughter at age 6 - they didn't get my kids. It won't be like this every year. We've had some great ones who recognized that all kids progress at different rates.

Just keep rewarding him when he gets things right - and when he makes progress.

ETA:
I read the other responses. If you feel (or the teacher feels) that the doctor may have missed something, then having him evaluated by a psychologist may be beneficial. My friend's son was just diagnosed and he's 11. He's been struggling since first grade. Sometimes a third opinion is needed - my son was misdiagnosed as being on the spectrum and instead had hearing impairment. Trust your gut.

When my son couldn't hear and wasn't communicating well - we had these little charts - that showed the order of things. I had forgotten about them until I read that some moms use this kind of tool. It does help. But only if he will follow them - so you may have to work with him and reward him for following them.

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C.C.

answers from New York on

This is not about being "his short term memory for him", this is about instructing him / guiding him / telling him what to do. Which is necessary because he is six!

Have you ever told him that underwear is a "must" every day? If you have told him that orally, try writing it on a list for him somewhere (or drawing a picture, etc). As some other posts mentioned, you should not be giving a six-year-old a vague instruction like "get dressed". You need to specify *exactly* what you want him to do (it is a good idea to set his clothes out the night before, too).

As far as at school, that is the teacher's job. I'm not sure why the teacher feels compelled to tell you about "standing over his desk reminding him" - is this a new teacher? But oh well, the school year is almost over now, next year's teacher might be better at handling the situation!

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J.K.

answers from Wausau on

When my kids were his age, we used a magnetic Responsibility Chart. It was a Melissa & Doug product. There are several versions of it now.

The one we used had magnets for tasks that suited young kids as well as older elementary kids. Simple things like Breakfast, Get Dressed, Brush Teeth, chore options, etc. When a kid completes the task, they put a magnet in the square for that day. :-)

One thing I learned with my older child is to take a moment to*not* remind him and let his brain chew on it for a minute. Forgetting to put your shoes on generally results in remembering after you step out the door, for example. Opening the wrong car door means he has to stop and think about why he isn't able to access the right seat easily.

That kind of process is really good for learning to remember stuff. He has to have time to think on his own for remembering to happen. Allow enough time in your daily routines so that you are not rushing and can back off on it a bit. Sometimes, instead of saying, "Grab your backpack." ask him "Do you have what you need to go to school?" and let his brain figure out, "Oh, my backpack!"

Some things don't need reminding at all. Socks, okay. Matching socks? Don't bother. Or if it really bothers you, make sure his socks are paired up in the drawer. I fold one sock into another, even for my own.

This might not apply to your situation, but you said you took him to the doctor for an ADD check. If it was a regular pediatrician with an office visit and a checklist, he was screened but not evaluated. A neuro and/or psych doctor is the type to see to get the ball rolling on the longer process of evaluation. I'm not saying there is anything non-neurotypical with your boy, I just wanted to put it out there because sometimes parents don't know who to talk to about it. :-)

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B.A.

answers from Columbus on

A lot of what you explain is completely normal. Not doing his best work, getting sidetracked, not seeing the need to put matching socks on-- those are normal behaviors.

I think its a bit odd that he's gone through a year of kindergarten and his teacher hasn't been able to manage the behavior yet. Most kindergarten class rooms are so structured that it's hard for kids to not know what they're supposed to be doing. For instance, in my son's class, they start the day but putting their lunch bags in a crate, getting out their take-home folders, and putting their backpack away. Every single day. And there's 14 other kids doing the same thing at the same time.

So if my son put his backpack in the middle of the floor at school and walked to his desk, I'd probably conclude that his memory was fine and he was simply choosing not to follow directions. And I'd handle it like any other behavioral issue. A lot of kids his age like getting individual attention from their teacher, so I have to wonder if he's figured out that being forgetful is a great way to accomplish that.

Even with all of that structure, I know that there are times that he gets distracted during lessons and needs redirection. Almost every boy in his class is the same way. But he loves getting atta-boy's from his teacher and knows that the best way to do so is by doing his best work.

Home is a bit trickier because you don't have the visual example of other kids. But you can still build some structure in. For instance, put an entire set of clothing together the night before. Instead of just telling him to get dressed, tell him to take off his pajamas and put those clothes on. You can create a visual chart of what is expected of him in the morning.

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D.B.

answers from Boston on

Most kids have trouble with a lot of this, and children who are in school with a whole room full of kids with sequential tasks often struggle.

When you say you "send him back" for socks or underwear, what does that mean? He's showing up in the kitchen for breakfast and you are sending him back to his room for (in his mind), one thing? For many kids (most, maybe), "get dressed" is too vague. So is "clean up your room" and "get ready to go."

So, the night before, set out tomorrow's clothes, giving him some choice in the matter but not totally up to him. Base it on the weather and on the day's planned activities (Grandma's birthday vs. school field day, etc.). Limit choices if you have to: "Do you want to wear your orange shirt or your yellow one?" (Show him both shirts and let him pick between the two - don't just use the verbal "orange" or "yellow" labels.) Repeat with pants, socks, underwear. Place the clothes on a chair or other surface with the first things on top (underwear) and then the next things, followed by socks. You can talk him through this as you do it, but put them in order. Socks sit on top of the shoes he will wear. If there's no laundry basket or hamper for dirty pajamas and yesterday's dirty clothes, add one to a corner of his room or the closet.

Put a hook by the door for his backpack. It always goes on the hook. (In school it always goes in his cubby, I imagine.) But there's always a place for it. If you have to, put up a double hook and put a sketch or internet photo or actual photo of his backpack over one hook and a photo of his jacket or coat over the other hook.

Remember that some kids develop visual skills before auditory ones, and other kids are the opposite. So just giving verbal instructions doesn't accomplish the goal. While it's clear to you because you have good verbal skills and see the end result in your mind, he might not be that way. Maybe he's not strong with auditory processing (doesn't mean there's a problem, may just mean he's not there yet), but is better with visual cues.

Do the same thing with his lunch box - put up a photo on the fridge or cabinet showing an open lunch box with the components in place: sandwich in a baggie or square plastic container, juice box/water bottle in its proper corner, ice pack in its place, snack bag or dessert in its proper location. Then show him how to line up his actual lunchbox with the photo and match them.

Do you say, "Clean up the playroom"? Or do you have marked bins for different categories of toys (hot wheels, legos, balls, etc.)? If not, get storage bins or one of those plastic drawer units, and label them (words and photos) with "crayons" and "markers" and "paper" and "paints" and "cars" and whatever else. Then practice focused and limited clean-up: "Pick up all the crayons and put them in the crayon drawer." Only let him pick up crayons until they are all done - that lets him practice staying focused on "crayons" only. Then "pick up cars" or "I'll pick up cars and you do the balls." It's so much more specific than "clean up."

Find other ways to play games that match things and test his memory. Do those "one of these things is not like the others" puzzles; do a jigsaw puzzle with the box cover nearby (compare/contrast), play the "memory tray game" (put out a tray of household objects - a key, a pencil, a toothbrush, a quarter, etc., cover with a towel; remove towel and study for 30-60 seconds, replace towel or remove tray, then see how many things you can remember). Start with fewer objects and less time, build over time. It's a good way to practice memory skills as well as writing skills, but if he's still an emerging writer, play it cooperatively with him listing and you writing them down. Next turn, have him make up the tray and you play the role of guesser.

Sometimes it's not a matter of a diagnosis of ADD or other focusing issue; sometimes it's not an auditory processing issue. Sometimes it's just a kid who hasn't been required to practice these things. So break it down into manageable steps. Yes, you know how to "clean the kitchen" because you've been doing it for years. But he needs to learn to "put the silverware in the dishwasher" and skip the plates and pots/pans. Know what I mean?

If he's not getting nagged at school and home both, he will improve. But as school is out for the summer, you might want to talk to the teachers about things to reinforce all summer. Maybe it's just "put your name on the top of the paper" even if it's just a sketch that's going on the fridge or being send to Aunt Tillie. ONLY work on "name on paper" and nothing else for a week. And do a paper of some sort every day. Week 2: add another skill. 30 seconds, but a new skill that's practiced every day.

You'll see a big improvement if you are very structured and consistent.

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B.C.

answers from Norfolk on

Actually it is extremely normal.
Welcome to parenting!
If it makes you feel any better - some kids don't really out grow this till they are nearly 16.
Some never out grow it at all.
But most get quite a bit better about it around 4th or 5th grade.
You lay out his clothes the night before.
You help/supervise him getting dressed.
You organize him, help him recognize where things belong (make a game of it if you can) and as structured as you keep his schedule - make sure he gets some unstructured free play time to just let it all hang out and be as creative as he can be.
This is playground time, mud pie time, fort building time, etc - you give him an outlet.
Having an outlet ultimately helps him when he needs to stay organized.
You really are only just getting started.
There's no skipping ahead to the finished product here.
He's just got to grow at his own pace.
Oh, and when he DOES remember, help, pick up, put things where they belong - go out of your way to tell him "Good Job! I'm so proud of you!".
Positive re-enforcement will help a lot more than constant nagging.

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M.D.

answers from Pittsburgh on

Based on your post, I'd say the most important thing you can do to start with is pick your battles. Decide what is really essential and remind him of those things. For everything else, let him handle natural consequences.

For example, yes, he must wear underwear so remind him if he forgets that. But when it's time to leave and he looks at his feet to put shoes on, he'll notice that he doesn't have socks on, then he have to go back and get them which means that he doesn't get outside to play as quickly as he's like. And if the socks don't match, ignore it.

Why remind him which door to get into in the car? If he gets in the wrong side, he has the hassle of climbing over to get into his seat - not your problem.

At school it's the same idea - pick the important stuff and put reminder notes and let natural consequences take care of the rest. This fall I had to attach a luggage tag to my son's backpack that said "RED FOLDER" because he was forgetting to bring his homework folder home. And then support the teacher if he/she imposes consequences - for example, if he takes longer to do his work correctly because he is messing around and drawing instead of writing words, then he might need to miss a few minutes of something fun to complete his classwork.

So, yes, this is totally normal for age 6. But you have to let some natural consequences play out so that he's not still this way at age 10. (he will still be a little bit this way at age 10, but hopefully a little less over time)

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T.P.

answers from Indianapolis on

I have to remind my 10 year old. It's called being a kid. Some kids are more organized then other just like adults. He is a normal kid. You just have to keep at him. I know its frustrating but he will eventually get it. My daughter isn't as forgetful as she was. If its something she is interested in she remembers but if its something she doesn't care about or feel isn't important she forgets. Now that she's older she faces punishment for some things. Just create a routine and know that you're going to have to stay on top of him for a while. Don't upset yourself with this. This is one of those obstacles of having kids.

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C.T.

answers from Santa Fe on

I have to remind my 7 year old daughter daily about things so part of this is definitely his age. My son was a lot worse when he was 6/7 about remembering stuff. We have a lot of routines. The clothes get laid out on her floor the night before for example. If she wants to do something in the morning (ride her scooter in the driveway or watch a cartoon) I tell her not until you have done x, x, and x. Have patience...their brains are developing and they are so easily distracted at this age. PS - My son is 13 and it was a long slow process in being self sufficient. He gets himself up, makes his own lunch, gets his own breakfast, keeps his school work organized, gets his backpack ready, etc. Really in the morning all I do is tell him to have a great day before he takes off on his bike for school. Your son will get there.

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W.W.

answers from Washington DC on

Welcome to mamapedia, A.!

Put a hanger in his bedroom with wooden clothes hangers on the bottom. Each of them need to be labeled with the chore he needs to do next. Every time he completes one task, he turns it over.

That will help him stay on task.

Matching socks? Stop fighting over that one. That's a fight not worth fighting.

Have a hook for him to hang his back pack on. Start the routine. It can take up to 3 weeks to make it "happen".

Please take your son to a Clinical Psychologist who specializes in ADD/ADHD. Have him evaluate thoroughly.

Doing hieroglyphics is NOT normal for a six year old. That's pretty advanced, in my opinion, especially if he knows what the signs TRULY represent and mean.

Both of my boys are AD/HD - it's been a long road. I know there are others who have it worse than me. You can make your life easier by setting things out the night before. We call it a "bag drag" (we're military) they had to bring everything out for the next day - clothes, backpack, homework, shoes, notes, etc. Then they went back to their specific place in their rooms.

Routines are KEY. ESSENTIAL. Dinner, bath, brush, book, bed. Same time. Every night. You need to reward for good behavior - not in food or toys - but with words. Catch him being good, in essence. Show him you ARE paying attention.

When he doesn't follow the routine? GENTLY remind him. Don't harp on it. "johnny, that's NOT where we put our back pack. Can you please hang it where it belongs?"

There are a lot of good books out there too. Go to the library and ask them to help you find books on helping to organize your child.

Good luck!

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J.C.

answers from Philadelphia on

When my daughter's were 6 I still helped them get dressed for school since they were not morning people. Then I told them to brush their teeth. I had their backpack by the door. I also had their breakfast ready for them.

My oldest was in third grade and failed a math test because she did not label her answers. (The answer was 8 elephants not 8). Even in 5th grade my oldest would do her homework but then forget to turn it in. I'm quite confident I could have had her labeled ADD but I knew I would not medicate any way so it didn't matter to me. Finally by HS she got her act together.

She is now in the honors college at her university and was elected to hold several leadership positions in her sophomore year. My advice to you is to hang in there, he will get this stuff eventually.

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R.K.

answers from Boston on

I agree that until you have a specialist evaluate him, ADD should not be ruled out.

In the meantime, I would use many of the suggestions below and reframe your thinking from "He is just letting the parents/teacher be his short term memory for him." to "He needs structure to succeed." I say this because, honestly, kids don't get up in the morning and think "I'll just forget everything all day long today." He really is forgetting. It's no picnic for him either.

All my best.

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P.K.

answers from New York on

Make a chart and get him up earlier so he has time to do everything. As he accomplishes each task, he checks it off.

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N.B.

answers from Oklahoma City on

I am a Love and Logic parent.

It took one time of me shoving my granddaughter out on the porch and told her to get in the car, in her pajamas, and she got the idea that we get in the car to leave for school at a certain time. She got up and put her clothes on first thing.

If your kid doesn't wear underwear to school one day he'll find that either his friends will notice his hiney showing and they'll say something or it won't matter. He might figure out he doesn't like it and that will change his mind but truly, wearing underwear doesn't matter.

As for the rest. Push him out the door half ready, put him out without shoes on, without a shirt on, etc....then tell him this is the last time you will let him go back in to finish dressing. That he has 5 minutes.

Start this early so that you do have time to let him go back in.

Then one day you're going to have to follow through and get in, drive to the school, and let him feel the fear that he's going to be in class half naked.

Until HE learns from HIS OWN consequences all he has is you telling him what to do. He has no reason to remember for himself because you do it for him.

Set the alarm and tell him when it goes off he has 5 minutes to be at the door. Then set another alarm that is different and that's the one that says out the door. If he's not ready you take him as is. To put the fear in him you have to follow through. Don't make him go to school in his jammies unless you are prepared for the consequences of that on you. The purpose of doing this is to make him see that he has to be ready or else he'll get to go to school and be embarrassed.

You could put a list by the door that says:

"To be ready for school I must:
Have on underwear, socks, shoes, pants, shirt.
My backpack on my back.
Teeth brushed.
Hair brushed."

When the alarm sounds he should go to that list and make sure it's all done.

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R..

answers from San Antonio on

You just described my son and he is 12...except he is only this way when not on his ADD meds. Between the ages of 6 and 10 I thought I was losing my mind. I mean we do the same things every morning...every single dang morning...in the same order.

Unfortunately he takes his medication after his shower and keeps forgetting the shampoo. I will send him back and he will come out with it still in his hair.

Once his medication kicks in...he can use his own list to double check that he has done his morning routine. I make sure he has extra time to double check the list, himself.

OR...OR...it could just be your child is 6 and forgetful. I thought my son would grow out of it. But he never did...we have to lay out his clothes each night. Pants, shirts, underwear, socks, and belt...and find his shoes.

My daughter by first grade was like, "MOM, I know what I am doing!!" and she did...never forgot to brush her teeth or put on socks or take her vitamin (set at her place at the table). Now that should have clued me into an issue...but I figured he was a boy and just different. Well, he was/is different is brain is wired a bit differently...and now that we know he is able to go with the flow during school hours and let him mind wander free the rest of the time. Good luck!!

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