Reply To: Help! My ADHD teen refuses to go to school

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Penny Williams

We have dealt with school refusal on and off for going on 6 years! It’s the hardest thing I’ve had to go through with my son. Punishments don’t work. Rewards don’t work. Physically forcing them inside doesn’t work (yep, they insisted to try that in 5th grade).

Here’s what I finally realized… They are in some kind of pain at school. Whether it be feeling like they’re going to jump out of their skin from boredom; sensory overwhelming; feeling like they don’t fit in; teachers not understanding them and their differences; being picked on; feeling uncomfortable; too distracted in the classroom to be able to accomplish anything; feeling anxious; etc…. So many possibilities. It only gets better by resolving the pain points.

In six years that’s been dozens of different issues. Over the years it’s gotten better. We hit a big shift when I sat down with pen and paper one harrowing morning and asked him to tell me what’s going on that is so upsetting. Then, we went back through the list one-by-one and made a plan on how we were going to make each better. It showed that I took him seriously and that I was willing to do whatever it takes to help him.

Some days, he just can’t tell me what’s bothering him but can’t make himself go (10th grade, about to turn 16). This happened last Friday on the first day of school – said he didn’t feel good but he has burned up that excuse historically so who really knows.

My son only does 3/4 of each school day physically at the school and then he does one online class at home. I’ve accepted that he may not make it through and graduate the traditional way. I’ve accepted that he may need to swtich to fully online (which would be a nightmare because I have to sit with him and do the online class each day that he does now). Or, he just might need to get a GED. Yes, he’s a high IQ student who just isn’t good at school. That doesn’t mean he can’t be successful later. Public high school is a whole lot of people hammering and trying to slam our square peg kids in their round hole. Our kids don’t fit and that’s totally ok. The schools are to blame for not addressing neurodiversity appropriately. We, and our kids, are not to blame.

Why School Stress Is Devastating for Our Children

ADDitude Community Moderator, Parenting ADHD Trainer & Author, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism