Help! My ADHD teen refuses to go to school

Home Welcome to the ADDitude Forums For Adults ADHD Success Stories Help! My ADHD teen refuses to go to school

Viewing 7 reply threads
  • Author
    • #98321

      Hi everyone,
      I have been lurking on here for a few years but this is the first time I have posted something. I think I am mostly doing it to prevent myself from going insane but I appreciate any comments or support. I have a beautiful, bright 14-year-old boy who was diagnosed with ADHD at age 9. He is also identified as gifted although you wouldn’t know it from his report card. He was a very fussy baby, didn’t sleep much, seemed frustrated a lot but hit all his milestones early. Walked early, talked early, read whole books at age 3. He enjoyed junior and senior kindergarten and seemed on the road to a good school experience and then on the first day of grade one his teacher called to ask me if there was something wrong with him because he refused to do anything or say anything. I asked my son if something happened and he said “kindergarten was fun. this isn’t fun”. Since then, school has been a disaster. He loathes going to school, hates all his subjects, refuses to try in most of them, disrupts the class and just shrugs his shoulders when presented with consequences. The teachers tell me he just sits there, even in gym class, he spent last year just sitting on the floor. In 6 of 8 classes last year, he failed because he refused to do a thing. I have tried everything and I mean everything. I became a very active school parent, ran the parent council, spent hours helping him with homework every night, set up rewards and consequences, enrolled him in an organization class, left the workforce for two years so I could spend more time helping him, had endless meetings and phone calls with teachers and principals, paid to have him tested for giftedness, enrolled in parent therapy, sent him to a therapist, social worker, psychiatrist, increased his medication, stopped his medication all together, paid for him to go to special summer camps, replaced all of the shoes, school supplies, and what not that he loses on a regular basis, changed his diet, downloaded hundreds of books, read hundreds of articles, sat through webinars and seminars, sent him to a gifted program (he was eventually asked to leave for refusing to try), tried tough love, tried non-tough love, cried, begged, yelled…Today was his second day of high school. All summer we talked about it and he told me he would try hard and do what he is supposed to do. Today they called me to say he had skipped 4 classes. On only his second day!! When I asked him why he said it was boring. I broke down crying which I’m sure made him feel worse. I have confiscated all of his phone and playstation which are the only things he cares about but he still won’t try. I told him I don’t expect him to get As or even Bs, don’t care if he joins clubs or participates in sports. The only thing I ask is that he gets up and goes to class and gives it a shot. And he refuses to do even that. I don’t know what to do and I’m sorry to admit that if there wasn’t a legal requirement for him to attend school, I would pull him out. I have told all of his teachers and principals over the years that I am trying very hard but I can’t force him to do something he refuses to do, especially in school. They say they sympathize but it’s still my responsibility. I have reinforced over and over again that if he drops out of school he won’t even get a minimum-wage job and he will reduce his chances of success dramatically. He says he doesn’t care, he will just live on the street. I don’t want to be dramatic but this is seriously degrading my quality of life. I am trying to get my career back on track but I am constantly late from trying to get him out of bed and I get called out of meetings because the principal is calling. I have another son who is 2 years younger. He is a good student and a great kid, helps around the house, always has a sunny personality. He hates seeing me so upset and I feel horrible that he is stuck in this situation. I am separated from their father. He is quite involved in my son’s life but he says he can’t handle this school stuff so it is left to me.Sorry for the long-winded post but I don’t know what to do.

    • #98322

      Your son sounds as if he’s been on strike against the educational establishment for 8 or 9 years now!! Poor kid! And poor you & little brother & father!!!

      You have my empathy! I am fortunate that my son was good-tempered, mostly
      (I did find the book “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” a huge help
      [even though I’d already had lots of education/training for good listening & communicating —
      for me, communicating at home was a lot more difficult than other places].
      My anger often came in response to what I felt was my son’s deliberate refusal to cooperate.
      I also found Don’t Shoot the Dog immensely helpful.
      (Funny — I think of my son now as easy-going, but actually… he wasn’t when he was very young).
      Those 2 books, starting a parent support group
      [it didn’t last terribly long — the “apples” we parents wanted to behave better hadn’t fallen far from the tree]
      & getting him on ADHD medicine, & some help from therapy for me made a tremendous difference.
      Maybe especially once I learned to stop letting his anger trigger my anger.
      And having support & prayers from other mothers who had difficult/high-needs children also made a difference.)
      And over the years some of his hyper-activity was dampened by a serious chronic illness.

      When he would have been going into 6th grade
      (he’d had some wonderful supportive & creative teachers in his first years,
      but the middle school, for him was a disaster.
      I think for some teachers —
      who were perhaps like some of your son’s —
      they just didn’t know how to deal with a kid who was soooo bright & creative,
      but had trouble writing, even speaking at times,
      was “different,”
      [okay, maybe a bit weird by the standards of middle school kids… & some other kids]).
      we took him out of school, and home-schooled him.
      (And, eventually his brother, though that was definitely not in the original plan.)
      What a world of difference!
      My blood pressure finally came down
      & my cardiologist, who knew about such things,
      said it was probably because we’d switched to homeschooling.

      My impression from what you’ve said is that your son is gifted
      (as well as having ADHD)
      & that was nurtured until he hit 1st grade
      when he was probably expected to go at the slow pace of kids who were more typical & were behind him in learning?
      And ADHD isn’t always helpful in dealing with being “dumbed down.”
      Some children can deal with that.
      Some of us aren’t so good at it.
      ADHD may make our responses more negative —
      we may know how we want/need to learn,
      so why don’t these people GO AWAY & let us???!!!!!

      (Most of my early teachers came from one-room schools
      where they had to individualize things and have some things everyone could do together.
      Teachers who are trained to just teach one grade may not have those skills.
      My sons were fortunate that their first teachers were outstanding at working with all sorts of kids,
      but they both finally got to a point of really bad matches,
      partly due to the “system” when they got older).

      At some point, my husband started as an adjunct at a local community college,
      & my sons, at about 14 & 17, started taking courses there.
      Because of his other chronic illnesses, the 17-year-old took awhile to graduate with his A.A.,
      but he also finally managed to get a degree,
      a course at a time, from Harvard University’s “extension school” (basically night school).
      The other son went cross-country & finished college easily in 4-years, including study abroad.

      Some things I found helpful were
      doing things together that we both/all 4 liked
      (and could afford).
      Sharing about things that interested us.
      Listening to how others saw my sons.
      ( I wish I’d stood up more for my older son when he was in situations when he got picked on…
      but maybe not.
      We did talk about what might make someone pick on people, things like that
      and maybe how to defuse the tension.)
      Camping & other outdoor activities.
      For awhile, they did a good bit of the dinner cooking.
      (Because they enjoyed it.)
      Helping other people.
      We were active in church —
      I think some kind of supportive community which accepts people who are…quirky?..
      and values all people and looks to serve others is important.

      I can’t imagine what it was like for your son to go from
      reading well on his own,
      being able to do all sorts of things
      & think about life, the world, the universe
      & then to, I’m guessing, a one-size-fits-all school.
      My sons each had to deal with that a little,
      but not until 3rd grade (for the one who’s only dyslexic)
      & 5th grade for the one with ADHD & serious health problems.
      By then, they & we had more support from others,
      but that was the point when we set homeschooling plans in place (or unschooling).

      Sorry this is long. I do have some links to resources which may be helpful which I’ll try to remember to post later.

    • #98325

      I just came across your article whilst searching for this specific topic. Unfortunately I am in exactly the same situation right now, my son will be 14 this month.

      I have just been to the hospital this morning for advice as my son not only refuses to go to school but gets violent and won’t see the Doctor too, during his time in school he has no interest whatsoever, yet in IQ tests he performs well, he is bright but at school has no interest whatsoever and as you wrote he totally loathes school and hates all subjects, now to the point he refuses to go.

      My challenge is now to get my son to the hospital…he’s not physically manageable right now, he’s getting big so I am not sure how it’s going to work out but what options do I have?

      You literally wrote my story, I sincerely hope you find an answer, I will update you on my journey as it progresses and hope to see further replies.

      Sorry for butting in but your post mirrors my story!!!!!

      • This reply was modified 3 years, 4 months ago by craigbkk.
      • #98365

        @eleeovt Sounds like you’ve been very busy trying everything to make it work. My son is very gifted (at least that’s what they tell me). Sadly for him, he doesn’t seem to be able to harness it. In his first year of the gifted program, he had a wonderful teacher who developed individual lesson plans for each of his students. His approach was he needs to know that the kids have learned what he’s taught but he understands that every kid has a different learning style and a different teaching style. He would let the kids decide how they wanted to demonstrate what they had learned. Some chose testing, some spoke in front of the class, some developed a video or a presentation. It was wonderful. That was the only year my son felt good about school and the only year he had any sort of confidence at all. After that, it was back to the same old stuff. In the next year, he was also in a gifted class but the teacher kept sending the boys to the principal and asking them “why can’t you just be quiet like the girls?”. This was unfortunate as I expected special education teachers to understand that not all kids are alike.

    • #98366

      @craigbkk Sorry to hear you’re having such a hard time and thank you for reading and responding to my post. If I can let even one parent know they are not alone, it was worth it to write. I wish that parents of neurotypical kids could visit this forum so that they would see how hard we all work, how we’re willing to do anything, how we’re pulling our hair out daily. One of the toughest things about parenting an ADHD kid is the judgment from other parents and from teachers and their well-meaning suggestions like “have you spoken to someone about this?”, “have you changed his diet?”, “have you explained the consequences”? My answer is always the same “Yes, yes, yes and more yes, we have tried everything, over and over again.” Hugs to you and good luck!

      • #99352

        @Torontomama, we finally got him to the hospital…big struggle….but he saw the Doctor and the hospital was well set up with Social Workers etc. We will go again tomorrow and hopefully he will go willingly without a huge physical struggle.
        The Doctor was thorough and we were there for 5 hours, they have prescribed him zoloft for now as she says he has some anxiety/depression issues, I’m totally confused but do have some faith in this hospital and doctor as they gave us so much time. Previously he was on Conerta, Zyprexia, Abilify and Depakine. He’s been unmedicated for well over a year. Another Doctor told me now is critical due to adolescence as this can turn into Defiance or Conduct Disorder, it may already be there, it’s a minefield.

        I truly hope you are finding a way through, it’s really early days here and he will NOT go to school, threatens self harm or property destruction and will not be questioned. I am with you on the judgemental people out there who have no experience of the reality of our type of situations!

        Sorry if my post is fragmented but so is my head right now! Just so good to have people who understand and are going through the same experiences. We are not alone xxxxx

    • #98367
      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

    • #98416

      Hi Torontomama,

      Siiiiigh. I feel your pain and understand what you are going through.

      My questions for you are are:

      1. I hear that he was diagonosed with ADHD, but is there a comorbid diagnosis? Is he also suffering from depression or anxiety?

      2. If he is suffering from a comorbid condition, has he been treated for it?

      I ask these questions because when my ADHD daughter was in first grade, she got to the point where she no longer wanted to go to school. Her dad literally had to attend school with her for a month and they agreed to shorten her day so she got out at 12:00 p.m. rather than 2:30 p.m.

      During this time, she was treated for anxiety (no meds) by a child psychologist, which helped to lessen her anxiety. Fast forward to third grade (she had no issues in second grade, except the regular ADHD stuff, but she had no problems going to school because she had a caring, firm, loving teacher who “got it” and knew how to deal with her) and “it” shows up….again. She started acting out and walking out of class. Kicked and punched her principal when he tried to keep her inside the school gates. And then eventually refused to go back to school one morning. *My world came crashing down around me*

      I wasted no time getting her to a child psychiatrist who understood that she needed to go to school, otherwise she’d fall behind, lose what confidence she had and continue on a downward spiral. The psychiatrist decided to quickly treat her with meds for anxiety and prescribed a half-dose of Clonidine. Now, it sounds like you’ve tried pretty much everything, but my girl was back in school the very next day. We kept her on it for 3 months, and when the anxiety seemed to be gone, we took her off of it.

      It can still be difficult for her to transition into new environments, but we haven’t had the issue of her refusing to go to school. Some days she may wake up and refuse to go, but I give her space and room to process into it, and then she’s okay. She’s late for school of course, but hey, its something.

      Could your son be suffering from anxiety as well as ADHD? If so, the anxiety will stop him dead in his tracks if not dealt with.

      Also, getting child services involved in your city can help tremendously! They can be a negative force when used the wrong way, but I promise you that they can help you if you reach out to them yourself. Sometimes, Torontomama, you’ve got to let everything fall a part, you’ve got to stop trying so hard and long (I know, they are our kids, so that’s easier said than done) and let them fall. Your son is so used to you trying to figure it all out for him, that he doesn’t have to move a muscle because you will do all the lifting. STOP. STOP lifting. Tell him that its up to him now whether or not he goes to school and let the chips fall where they may. Then pick up the phone and ask for help. Call Children and Family Services in your city and explain to them what’s happening and they can help devise a plan for you. He may nee to attend a different kind of school for kids with emotional disabilities, such as ADHD/Autism, etc.

      Sending you my prayers and heart felt concern!

    • #99343
      mel b

      I hear you all. I am in same boat. 14 year old – won’t go to school.Doesn’t care – says boring. Has unmedicated ADD – refuses meds. Self medicating which doesn’t help motivation. only wants friends, electronics & drugs. AHHH!!!

    • #123996

      I feel you Torontomama, I know the feeling to have a child with ADH. At first, you will struggle on how to take care of their impulsivity, their hyperactivity but at some point, you will also realize how blessed you are to have them. So as a parent just like you, All I can advise you is try to extend more patience to your child and appreciate him/her because no one else will love and understand your child but us parents. There are times our child has their own will and decision which are not productive to them but as long as you are there who will guide them, nothing bad will happen. So just go with the flow and be proud. 🙂

Viewing 7 reply threads

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.