Is It a Learning Disability? A Child Can't Focus in Class, and Is Frequently Tired. Some Doctors Blame Sinuses, but the Fix Is . . Tonsils Come out, and Attention Is Suddenly Switched Back On

Article excerpt

Byline: CHERIE BLACK

Every week, Lexus Dickerson used to have at least one yellow day at school. The St. Augustine second-grader at Otis Mason Elementary School and her 22 classmates are evaluated using traffic light colors. Green means that you had an excellent day. Yellow is a warning of potentially bad behavior. Red is bad.

Lexus, 7, was talkative and had a limited attention span. She missed out on lessons and her grades dropped. She was often tired and sick during class.

Teachers told her grandmother, Julie Taylor, that Lexus probably had a learning disability.

Taylor noticed that her granddaughter didn't sleep well at night and was tired during the day. She thought that could be at the root of the learning difficulty. Several doctors prescribed antibiotics for what they suspected was a sinus problem.

When her granddaughter's sleeping pattern didn't improve, Taylor looked for answers elsewhere.

"She snored and tossed and turned all night," Taylor said. "When your mind and body aren't resting, how can you function?"

St. Augustine pediatrician Ghassan Ghata finally diagnosed the girl with sleep apnea. The condition causes people to repeatedly stop breathing during sleep, sometimes for up to six seconds. She was sent to Nemours Children's Clinic in Jacksonville for removal of her tonsils.

Since having them removed in October, Lexus has logged only green days at school.

"The difference I saw was impeccable," said her teacher, Carolyn Kirby-Dubowsky. "She's never sleepy anymore and her grades are slowly improving."

When children don't get enough sleep, they have more academic and attention problems at school, according to a study released in December by Brown University in Rhode Island. The findings show the behaviors resulting from lack of sleep often mimic attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, a developmental and behavioral disorder characterized by poor concentration, distractibility, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Children and adults with ADHD are easily distracted by sights and sounds in their environment, they cannot concentrate for long periods of time and they are restless and impulsive, or have a tendency to daydream.

"The specific effects of less sleep overlap with kids with ADHD," said Gahan Fallone, lead author of the study and associate professor at the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, Mo. He spoke of his findings at an American Medical Association conference in November. …

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