The Case of Jonathan


Jonathan, eleven, was in fifth grade and underachieving. He already had been assigned to an in-school tutor for part of his school day, but he was not doing the homework necessary to keep up with his class. He had trouble concentrating on his work and also exhibited a lack of social responsiveness to both teachers and students. Jonathan, an only child, lived with his mother and had no contact with his father, who had disappeared nine years previously. Jonathan's mother held two jobs, but she had a break after school, and visited with Jonathan then for half an hour. After that, Jonathan was alone. He put himself to bed. This had been their pattern for two years or so, when the mother was invited into school for a collaborative meeting.

Assessment and Intervention

The first collaborative meeting was attended by Jonathan and his mother, all his teachers, including his in-school tutor, the school social worker, the guidance counselor, and the ecosystems consultant. All the school personnel reported a similar perception-that Jonathan was very polite, but seemed to have difficulty paying attention and doing his homework. His mother, who looked somewhat older than her age, had long hair tied back in a ponytail and wore a dungaree jacket with peace signs on it. She indicated a desire to be cooperative but said that she was unable to do much more than she was already doing because of her need to work two jobs. She said that she had lectured Jonathan and even lost her temper with him, but nothing seemed to work. Her attitude in the meeting gave the consultant the impression that following school rules and doing homework were not her highest priorities for her son. She indicated that she was considering asking a friend to move in with her to help with supervision of Jonathan. The consultant diagnosed Jonathan's problem as a motivational deficit disorder stemming from under control and under protection and asked the mother to attempt to provide more supervision. A daily report card was initiated, and the mother was asked to spend more time with Jonathan as well as put more effort into supervising his school work. Jonathan was to be rewarded for satisfactory performance with praise, free time, and special time with his mother.

Four collaborative meetings were held with Jonathan and his mother, but Jonathan's pattern remained unchanged. It was strongly suspected by school personnel that the mother, though agreeing to the collaboration plan, was not really implementing it. When pushed to clarify her home procedures, the mother became angry, and she refused to do anything differently. In a move unseen in several hundred other collaborative sessions, the mother abruptly left the meeting and took her son with her, vowing to transfer him to another school. Jonathan did return to school the next day, however.


Jonathan's mother did not return for further meetings, although the school social worker tried to reengage her interest and maintain communication. The teachers, having witnessed the mother's behavior and having become sympathetic to Jonathan's plight, began to work more positively with him. They interpreted Jonathan's failure to comply less as an intrapsychic problem and more as an interactional result of his circumstances. The in-school tutor, in particular, after consultation with the guidance counselor, social worker, and school consultant, began to develop a closer, more personal relationship with Jonathan and became a kind of surrogate mother. And Jonathan's mother continued to help him in her own way, since she did love him.

Through some combination of collaborative efforts, which are difficult to quantify, Jonathan improved his academic performance dramatically. Poor to failing grades in November were raised to Bs and As in June.


Though Jonathan's mother was unwilling or unable to fully, or officially, cooperate with school efforts, some combination of home and school interventions turned Jonathan around. Perhaps Jonathan simply turned himself around after seeing how much everybody cared, or how helpless they were to help him without his cooperation. Most likely, the loving attention of the in-school tutor and other school personnel was a major factor. It seems likely, in this case, that without collaborative efforts in school on behalf of Jonathan, his pattern of underachievement and depression would have continued or deteriorated.

More case studies:

Greg | Melanie | Jared | Samantha | Jeremy | Marie | Linda | Michael | Jonathan

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