SCT diagnosis should come from trained psychologist, not teacher


Q. My son’s teacher told me that he may have something called Sluggish Cognitive Tempo. I’ve never heard of this. Could you explain a little about the condition?

A. The Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology devoted over 100 pages of this year’s January issue to describing the symptoms of Sluggish Cognitive Tempo (SCT) and differentiating it from Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD). Unlike attention-disorder symptoms, SCT is characterized by daydreaming, fatigue, inertia and slow mental processing. Other symptoms can include confusion, mental fogginess, drowsiness, and poor memory retrieval.

Children diagnosed with SCT usually have difficulty with problem-solving, organization and initiative. They are usually procrastinators and often attempt to get by doing as little work as possible.

SCT is recognized by many as a legitimate condition, but it has yet to be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), which is used by professionals to make a diagnosis. Even though the latest edition, the DSM-V, was released only a year ago, the condition is still too new to be classified as a disorder by the American Psychiatric Association.

As a college psychology instructor, I believe that SCT is a legitimate condition. I have noticed that some students can successfully memorize information for a multiple choice test. However, when they are given a discussion question pertaining to the same information, they will answer it incorrectly or not at all.

Your son should have an evaluation by a psychologist who is trained in testing children. Do not just accept the teacher’s word. Some children certainly have SCT, but others are just lazy and need discipline training more than a psychiatric diagnosis.

Q. My grandson wants to drop out of school and get his GED. He says this is just as good as a diploma. I disagree with him. Please settle the argument for us?

A. The GED, or General Educational Developmental program, was founded on the belief that a high school education is defined by learning certain cognitive skills. With a GED, the state certifies that your grandson can go to college or be employed in the workforce as a high school graduate. It is an attractive option for students who don’t like high school or want to start working early. Even though it seems like a viable alternative, statistically students who take the GED instead of completing high school do not do as well in future pursuits.

James Heckman, an economist at the University of Chicago, conducted a study to validate if students taking the GED were as well-prepared for future academic or vocational pursuits as high school graduates. He discovered that those with GEDs were just as intelligent in terms of cognitive abilities as those who had completed their formal education.

Even though the students had similar academic abilities, Heckman discovered that the two groups were different in several ways. He found that by the age of 22 only 3 percent of the GED students were enrolled in four-year colleges or had completed a post-secondary degree, yet 46 percent of the high school graduates had done so. Heckman also discovered that in terms of annual income, unemployment rates, divorce rates and use of illegal drugs, the GED recipients did not differ from high school drop-outs.

Heckman concluded that many students who took the easier route lacked personality traits such as persistence, conscientiousness and ability to delay gratification. These positive traits are strong predictors of life success. He found that GED holders were often “wise guys who lack the ability to think ahead, persist in tasks, or to adapt to their environment.”

Encourage your grandson to stay in school. Show him this research. Many people with GEDs are successful, but statistically they may have life-long limitations that continue to keep them from achieving their full potential.

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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City. She currently teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. If you have questions, e-mail them to nancyryburn@gmail.com. They will not be answered personally, but could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.