I just posted the following response to you about this on another thread:
We sure have dealt with school refusal. And it’s beyond brutal! I don’t think parents and educators have the capacity to understand the level of stress and helplessness that school refusal inflicts if they haven’t lived it. I actually got PTSD from it (my son chased my car in moving car lines, tried to open the door and get out of the MOVING car on a 5-lane road when approaching school, etc…).
He’s in 9th grade now and it is actually quite a bit better right now than the last several years at this time. He’s struggling a great deal academically, but he’s not as stressed and anxious, which are triggers for avoidance. However, it always gets worse in the second semester.
Jerome Schultz’s book, “Nowhere to Hide” explains the reasons for school avoidance in great detail and is awesome. I highly recommend it. The only way to improve school avoidance is to address the specific reasons why the student is refusing/avoiding. For my son, there’s a high level of stress because he’s super intelligent and it’s always implied at school that he’s not living up to his potential. Then, you add other things, and he just can’t take it. Things like, being allowed to change privately for PE only to find that the private bathroom lock is broken and he’s getting in a lot of trouble for not dressing out; talking about death and losing people close to you in class (this happens once a year); being picked on or even annoyed by other students in his classes; frustration from trying but not being able to focus to get classwork done; pep rally/school assembly days; etc……. When we told the school the bathroom lock was broken and they gave him a new place to change, he stopped avoiding for that reason. When an accommodation was added that he never has to attend school assemblies, that avoidance stopped. You get what I’m saying.
I wonder about social anxiety for your son, since he prefers to be at home. I have had significant social anxiety all my life, and that’s exactly how I feel. I used to refuse to go to events or places where I didn’t know anyone because I was petrified. I got grounded a ton for that (when I was 15 or 16, I refused to go to a new church because I didn’t know anyone and every week another week of grounding was added until I was up to like 6 months or so. That just goes to show that if you don’t address the real issue (being socially phobic, not just refusing church/religion) no amount of punishment will help.
You said, “After my own mental breakdown or whatever you want to call it – I have been even more emphatic about focusing on his happiness and mental health first, physical health next and then school grades and stuff.” YES! Mental health and relationships FIRST. Grades and school aren’t everything. Some kids just aren’t good at school, and that’s ok. They can still be wildly successful later on.
Online school might be a good option. It is an option I’ve kept in the back of my mind for high school, in case we get to the point where it feels like the only option besides dropping out.
You talked about his interests — how can you nurture them and provide opportunities for success? That’s awesome. Would he want to take a community college class next semester in one of those areas? Or maybe next summer? You said he’s interested in eating — is he interested in food enough to want to start cooking or take cooking classes? Baking has a lot of science involved. Many schools are now offering career-technical classes/tracks in cooking for those who think they may want to become a chef. You can nurture an interest in gaming too. Are there clubs he could join? Can he take a class in coding or video game design? My daughter is a freshman in college, majoring in art/animation, with the goal of working in the gaming industry. An overwhelming interest in gaming doesn’t have to be a negative.
My son (age 15) spends a LOT of time gaming, and I’ve decided to not feel ashamed about it. That is what he’s good at, what stimulates his mind, and what he really enjoys. He plays games that require strategy and problem solving, so he’s working on those skills, which he needs to improve. Gaming is when he feels good about himself. As long as he gets his homework done, and spends time with friends in person sometimes, I made a conscious choice to just not freak out about it. Now, if he was gaming instead of doing things he has to do, then it would be a different story. Through watching YouTube videos he discovered an interest, and talent, in creating digital music — he loves a good beat (which is totally part of the differences in his neurology). He never had the patience or sensory stamina to learn an instrument, even though we could tell he inherited a musical talent from his dad, who plays several instruments. Digital music and teaching himself the software to create it aligns with his differences and special needs.
Hang in there!
ADDitude Community Moderator, Author & Mentor on Parenting ADHD, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism