HS son still refusing school-when do I say enough is enough?

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This topic contains 14 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by  ADHDmomma 1 week, 1 day ago.

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  • #82104

    dmu1970
    Participant

    My 17 yo son (no IEP – useless 504) has not been able to consistently go to school this year. He has missed about 35 percent and is currently failing physical ed, almost failing chemistry and other grades are so so. This most recent school refusal last week resulted in a consequence that the school, my husband and I came up with (and he was aware of) after the last time he refused to go back in February. So he has lost all of his electronics (school came and took them and locked them up there) and gets them back once he attends school for 10 days straight. The 3 days following the day they took all of his electronics (except his phone by the way) he continued to refuse to go to school saying “what’s the point – you took all of my motivation away” and repeatedly arguing about how stupid the punishment was, how it was too long, and how it just made him feel worse and even more hopeless.
    Tomorrow we meet with school to discuss sending him to a special program they offer for kids like him – small class size, school psychologist there full time, all hw is done at school, later start time and end time each day, daily morning mental health check , daily group therapy, helping elementary school kids with reading, incentives for coming to School – tokens they can trade for gift cards. He is refusing to go to it yet every time we try to send him back to school after a few days out he falls apart, says he’s overwhelmed, shuts down more.
    When do I say ok enough – you have tried lots of different things since September and now it’s april and he still can’t get there consistently. He is so miserable. (He sees psych and is on medicine btw for adhd and depress/anxiety. Do we demand he go to that program – even though he doesn’t want to- so he can meet kids with similar issues he can maybe relate to, which could help him learn how to identify when overwhelmed and how to ask for help, motivation to go to school with token system, not having any hw to bring home, oh yeah and modified PE (which he currently has a 28 in bc of absences – he HATES physical ed btw!). He still gets Regents diploma – only downside is he has to drop chemistry class bc they don’t have a teacher there to teach that). We are so depressed and frustrated watching his self esteem continue to dwindle over all of this.
    Advice ?

  • #82136

    cmkstorrs
    Participant

    It must be incredibly frustrating to do everything you can to try to help your son, only to see him fight every single thing you do. I don’t envy your position at all.

    Is home schooling by distance learning a possibility? Can he complete his coursework for high school that way?

    Coming from someone who works with teens in a school setting, I find that many students I have encountered with ADHD don’t find a lot of success in a regular high school program. Many of them find some success in distance learning, where they can hyper-focus on one course at a time, instead of having to spread out their learning among many different subjects at once.

    Another question I have for you: When he does attend school, does he come home feeling happy and fulfilled? Or is he miserable? Is he happier at home or at school?

  • #82207

    donsense
    Participant

    One solution which may or may not be suitable.
    When i was approximately this age and finishing high school in a new school I still had not learned how to complete homework at home. A necessary skill if one thinks of going to college or university. I could literally stare at the work needed but never do any more than doodle. I hated myself for this huge chara+ter flaw that meant I was not suitable material for the career I imagined.i could complete at school if I had detention but never when i was at home. Evntually it caught up to me on my 16th Birthday and i was expelled from school for not completing assignments in three different classes. My father who hoped that at least one of his children would graduate University had established rules for the 8 of us who made it this far in life. We didnt have to pay board and room if we were in full time attandance in school. This meant i had to get a job quickly and as i had worked summers for the last 2 years it wasnt that difficult. It was in retail and only lasted til christmas. The next job was worse and i left that voluntarily when my previous employer called with an opening in the jewellry receiving Department of a A major department chain.
    Thrilled at first i bought a brand new car after a few months but soon realized that my quick decision was leaving me no funds after paying board. I continued to read the want ads and seek better employment but soon realized my qualifications and education left little prospects and they no better than what i already had.
    Then I read an advert for HS dropouts from the armed forces They had a program that educated you and put you through the same training as all recruits. With an opportunity to go to Military College after the first 2 years. I was more than willing to enroll but my parents had already lived through a war with one son overseas. My father in fact was a concientious objector. They finally recognized that this would be the only way for me to live up to and pay for my choices and learn the discipline necessary to go on to university.
    Although i completed the hs portion or most of it i did not (attend University as a student but did guest lecture there many years later . My military education taught important life lessons. It also served well in a successful career, rising to a VP of a major international Actuarial and consulting firm and later as a successful entrepreneur in Benefits and Pension Consulting. Never did learn to work from home but never left the office til the work was done.
    Now if only they had some courses in relationships.

  • #82250

    ADHDmomma
    Keymaster

    School refusal is super, SUPER tough. I know, my son has struggled with it for almost 6 years now.

    Here’s what I’ve learned over that time:
    1. No amount of punishment will change the refusal. Why? Because you’re not addressing the actual problem, the reason behind the refusal. For my son, there’s always a specific reason for each refusal. Granted, he can’t always pinpoint it and he’s not always willing to talk about it. However, whenever we discover the issue and address it for him (talking to teachers, etc…), then he can get back to school. Sometimes it’s as small an issue as the hallways being too crowded and loud. Other times it’s incessant bullying, not understanding the material in class, teachers telling him to “try harder,” feeling overwhelmed, feeling hopeless to do well so why bother, etc…. So, taking his screens didn’t help because it didn’t address what he’s struggling with. Ask a simple question: “How can we help you?”

    2. The ADHD brain is motivated by interest and urgency, not importance. While taking screens may instill some urgency at first, it’s not sustainable. So that’s not a useful option for “motivating” a kid to do well in school.

    Secrets of Your ADHD Brain

    3. Our kids are struggle and suffering in school more than we can imagine. And, they are trying way harder than we realize. Some kids are just not good at school, even highly intelligent kids, and that’s ok. One’s high school grades aren’t the only factor that determine someone’s future level of success. Kids can only endure so much stress before they shut down.

    Why School Stress Is Devastating for Our Children

    That alternative school sounds awesome – wish we had something like that available. Of course, if he isn’t willing to give it a try, more than going through the motions, it’s not going to change anything.

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

  • #84235

    dmu1970
    Participant

    Hello- so to answer some of the questions asked –

    Yes he can complete his diploma from home – we have offered that to him. Although school doesn’t want to see that happen
    When he comes home from school he is miserable and doesn’t want to leave his room. He gets absolutely no enjoyment out of school- especially this year.

    He is happier at home and calls himself a homebody. He doesn’t like sports or any clubs. He has friends thankfully so that’s good.

    He could never do the military unfortunately. The physical part of it would kill him. He has scoliosis, chronic joint pain, asthma and connective tissue disease which causes the pain as well as severe skin sensitivity (he went on a field trip in 8th grade to Washington DC- he came home with 2nd degree burns from the sun).

    Penny – I sent the link to article Why School stress is devastating to our children to his guidance counselor, social worker and director of special education. We had a meeting few days after that and it didn’t seem to sink in with them. They basically advised me to let them handle him- that he has to feel the consequences of his actions in order to see any change.
    Meanwhile He refuses to go to school today – first time since he lost his electronics for those 10 days last month. So clearly that didn’t work….RIGHT??!!

    So I get email from school today telling me to drop his electronics off tomorrow am at school for another 10 days. Yet my son told me if we took them away again it would only make him more depressed. He told me today he feels like no one ever really listens to him and I thought to myself yeah that’s how I feel about his school not listening to me!! Ugghhh !!

    • #84350

      ADHDmomma
      Keymaster

      “Feeling the consequences” will not change the physiology of his brain. They don’t seem to understand that ADHD is a physical difference in the brain and not a character flaw. This crap gets me so angry. (I deal with the same ignorance for my son.)

      Why in the world is the school holding his electronics? Are they school issued? If your family owns them they have ZERO right to have them or control them. I’ve never heard of such a thing. I have no words…

      Yes, taking away the things he actually gets enjoyment out of in life will only make him give up trying at all. And if it hasn’t changed the school behavior it isn’t going to (it never would have). There’s an issue (or many) that are not being addressed and so his brain has chosen flight and freeze.

      This school is obviously very toxic for him. If it’s a public school, I’d be filing a discrimination claim with the US Office of Civil Rights right now.

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

      • This reply was modified 1 week, 3 days ago by  ADHDmomma.
  • #84239

    SkinOfMyTeeth
    Participant

    He could never do the military unfortunately. The physical part of it would kill him. He has scoliosis, chronic joint pain, asthma and connective tissue disease which causes the pain as well as severe skin sensitivity (he went on a field trip in 8th grade to Washington DC- he came home with 2nd degree burns from the sun).

    Why is a child with those problems required to take gym class?

    I realize that every school is different with different requirements to be excused from gym. However, if I had those problems I think I’d hate gym class as well.

    He told me today he feels like no one ever really listens to him and I thought to myself yeah that’s how I feel about his school not listening to me!! Ugghhh !!

    Maybe you need to tell the school that yourself? They have remote learning but don’t want him to take it? They demand they hold his electronics (as if that would stop him from using yours?). I know school boards and the legal system require us parents to follow the law. We are not however without voice.

  • #84246

    donsense
    Participant

    One of the reasons for me thinking I would be able to Study in the armed forcies was the sense of accomplishment i gained while working. The right workplace can be a great place to gain self esteem.
    I might have missed it But is there anything else that interests him. Is he a weather geek, does he follow specific blogs, twitterverse or FB or snapchat sectionas. Do any of his friends participate in aNything he likes. I was a member of a large youth group that were always doing something., Assisting with food banks, reading to those who were visually challenged. Some were candy stripers and hospital volunteers. Others who could drive and had access to a vehilcle were taking seniors to medical appointments. Amazingly these were all self esteem building activities. They also exposed us to career and educational activities we might have never imagined. Is he into cars or trucks?
    Some were into music and quickly learned their rudimentary education in this field needed major time investment. Others used their online prowess to assist those who are not so gifted. Boys and girls club of america have some great after school programs as well, as do other community dropin centers. At the very least these things look great on a resumé or CV.
    I think others are right, we do very well at things we are interested in and maybe some of that feel good can help produce results elsewhere or attempts at things a little more challenging/ less interesting.
    Don.

    • This reply was modified 1 week, 4 days ago by  donsense.
    • This reply was modified 1 week, 4 days ago by  donsense. Reason: Typo
    • This reply was modified 1 week, 4 days ago by  donsense. Reason: Typo
    • This reply was modified 1 week, 1 day ago by  ADHDmomma.
  • #84340

    ADHDinPGH
    Participant

    Wow, I can relate — to your son! In high school it became evident that even though I was always one of the smartest kids, I just wasn’t good at school. I always felt misunderstood by everyone: teachers, parents, and even my friends. I was so depressed and anxious with undiagnosed ADHD until the end of sophomore year. My teachers would berate me, telling me I was wasting all my potential. One morning, I missed the bus again after recently having started on Adderall and Zoloft and my dad was so angry he said, “No f’ing doctor is going to help you with your problem.” That was 20 years ago and I remember it like it was this morning.

    If online school had existed, I would have loved it because I could have worked at my own pace using my own methods. No guidance counselor to tell me I needed to study in silence (I can’t!), no classmates to distract me and make me feel incapable. No teachers to tell me I’m just lazy and punish me.

    Your son may need a more kinesthetic environment to engage his senses and help him get out some energy — that could help to keep the energy from coming out emotionally.

    He feels misunderstood and he’s probably very right. Has he read articles on this site? It can be really validating. Have you tried an ADHD coach or does your area offer VoTech programs?

    After almost failing high school and then failing out of college three times, I decided to go to hair school. The kinesthetic nature was good for me, but it took me 2 years to complete a 10 month program because a big part of ADHD is being unable to self-motivate. I missed so much school and graduation was based on hours logged, so it really took a lot to graduate. It was hard for me to get up in the morning to catch my train because ADHDers are usually not morning people. I couldn’t motivate myself to get out the door in spite of the consequences. I still have trouble with getting myself going to do household chores since I live alone and there’s no one there to nag me to do the dishes.

    He may also legitimately not see the point in school, or see the path to the future. As ADHDers, our relationship with time is skewed. Time isn’t linear to us. We live in the moment, often unable to see how current actions lead to future situations. It can be hard to set goals and pursue a path when you really internalize that life happens in the moment. For me, when I was younger (until I was like 30, really) I just couldn’t set goals because I couldn’t see a path past my current situation.

    It took all of my 20s to get a job that paid me a truly living wage. But I also had to put in a log of legwork to improve my relationship to my ADHD to earn a job that paid well and offered benefits. My employer ignored my requests for reasonable accommodation. My desk was next to someone who legitimately has Tourette’s and I couldn’t stand the constant outbursts as they were very distracting. I finally ended up in an office of two doing work that is constantly changing with short project deadlines — great for keeping me engaged and helping me work under pressure.

    I guess my point is: find out what your son needs from you to be successful. As frustrating as it may be for you, I can almost guarantee he is infinitely more frustrated by feeling misunderstood and probably not even being able to understand himself and why he can’t “just be normal” at a time in his life when being “normal” and assimilating is the most important thing there is, socially. Punishment won’t work and may quite possibly only alienate him from you further.

    If his doctor doesn’t *specialize* in ADHD I would also suggest finding one that does. It can make all the difference in not only getting him the help he most needs, but in validating how he feels and how he experiences life.

    Best of luck to him and to you!

  • #84343

    ADHDinPGH
    Participant

    I also just have to say, reading that the guidance counselor and special ed instructors want to handle him themselves so he can “feel the consequences” turns my stomach and I can almost guarantee that isn’t going to work. First of all, it insinuates that they understand your child better than you do, which it sounds like they don’t. If they think taking away his electronics will modify his behavior, they do not understand ADHD. To bring it back to the “time isn’t linear” point, consequences for ADHD-related defiance should be immediate and impactful. If they are long-term (10 days is an eternity at 17) then there is no light at the end of the tunnel so why modify your behavior at all?

    Your son needs you to be his biggest cheerleader. He needs to know you are in his corner, that you hear him and you are doing your best to understand him, and that if he can articulate what he thinks MIGHT work, that you will go to bat for him. You need to be his ally in this, and it sounds like you are truly trying to do that. Don’t let doctors or teachers bully you about what is best for him. As a young adult, if he says distance learning is best for him then trust him. It gives him practice in making major life choices but also will give him confidence knowing that you trust him and that you know he is self-aware.

    Be aware that with distance learning, he will still need to maintain some kind of regular schedule to get work done, even if that means every night at 6pm he does some or that he takes a set break for an hour or something mid day.

    I’ve had many guidance counselors and even mental health professionals who thought because of their degrees, they knew best, but because they didn’t understand the nuances of ADHD their advice was offbase at best and sometimes downright damaging. This is again why an ADHD specialist AND a coach are extremely helpful.

    Sorry for another long reply, I just empathize so much with your son’s situation that I can *feel* all those high school emotions coming back and my heart just aches for him. Darn non-linear time experiences!

  • #84396

    dmu1970
    Participant

    I want all of you who have responded to know how much I appreciate you taking time out of your day to help. I know how busy we all are – and being a fellow ADHDer myself I know how easy it is to say “oh I’ll just answer this quickly” and suddenly an hour has gone by!!!

    I have actually thought about copying several of the responses here and email them to his school. So they can see that there are other people out there saying the same exact things I am constantly trying to tell them. I feel so alone and misunderstood when I talk with them. That’s why talking to everyone here is so necessary for my own mental health 🙂

    And Here is the Latest email from his guidance counselor and social worker:

    We are here to focus with him on the next 17 days of school.

    He can articulate his concerns to us when he returns to the building. If he feels like he is not going to do the Chemistry project, it is understood that he will receive Regents credit for the course- still a really positive accomplishment after such a challenging year.

    The requirements for PE are a state education requirement. If he does not complete the requirements, that is fine and we will re-develop a plan for next year after this year is complete.

    Our doors are always open for him to initiate conversation.

    So I have my own thoughts on this email but wondered what you guys thought before I respond. I doubt myself sometimes because of how close I am to the situation.

  • #84404

    dmu1970
    Participant

    Penny –

    “Why in the world is the school holding his electronics? Are they school issued? If your family owns them they have ZERO right to have them or control them. I’ve never heard of such a thing. I have no words…”

    So this was actually a mutually agreed thing – we own the electronics but they offered to keep them at the school so he didn’t try to find them here in the house – that is something he would try to do – find them and use them without us knowing. They also came up with the idea of losing them for 10 days the next time he skipped school -which at the time I agreed to. We were at our wits end over all the school he had missed and over his recent inpt psych admission (he has depression and anxiety and oppositional defiant disorder in addition to his adhd) and I was concerned that part of what was going on with him was related to possible electronics addiction. There is strong family hx of addiction issues and he has a lot of the signs of them. At that time I was actually telling school I thought maybe we should remove them completely. I mean if you are addicted to drugs you don’t keep them in the house do you ? But they thought that was a bit too much which my own therapist agreed with. We were just desperate …….

    So there was a little more going on there than maybe I had explained. That being said I realize now that it was stupid and that’s why when he refused to go to school on Monday and they responded by telling me to bring the electronics in on my way to work and they would lock them up again I told them absolutely not – that we are never doing that again.

    “Yes, taking away the things he actually gets enjoyment out of in life will only make him give up trying at all.”

    This is what he tells us ALL THE TIME. He tells us – if you take away my electronics you realize I will only get more depressed? And that’s what happens.

    ” And if it hasn’t changed the school behavior it isn’t going to (it never would have). There’s an issue (or many) that are not being addressed and so his brain has chosen flight and freeze.”

    And that is exactly right – it didnt’ change the behavior and as far as the underlying issues being addressed ? He has a language disorder which includes difficulty with vocabulary – when he was evaluated by speech pathologist years ago and diagnosed they recommended services and school of course denied it because he wasn’t having problems at the time. So over the last few years when things have become harder, especially this year, I have mentioned the language d/o several times in meetings but somehow they always gloss right on over that. And the ‘flight and freeze’ part ? I actually bought Jerome Schultz’s book you had recommnended and I even sent them a huge paragraph from the book which included this specific quote. I got an email back saying “why don’t we meet in person”.

    “This school is obviously very toxic for him. If it’s a public school, I’d be filing a discrimination claim with the US Office of Civil Rights right now. ”

    So here is what i want to know now – would you still consider the discrimination claim ?

    Denise

    • #84509

      ADHDmomma
      Keymaster

      I would still consider a complaint – either civil rights federally or with your state’s department of ed special education department. I filed a state complaint on a charter school my son attended a few years ago. They completely broke him always telling him to try harder and to do better. It was so bad he started self-harming — the only time in his life.

      This is the reason I’d still make a formal complaint:
      “he has to feel the consequences of his actions in order to see any change”

      That is NOT how you help kids with disability in school. The state has to be compliant with IDEA law and this is clearly not how the law says to address disabilities. Not only do they need to get this school and staff in line for your son, but for the hundreds of kids like him who will walk through those doors in the future. I pulled my son from that Charter school and filed the complaint after we left, just for that reason (and a little bit vengeance, if I’m being honest). They were found to be non-compliant and administrators and special ed staff were mandated to complete 10 hours of SPED training in 30 days.

      As for your son and where he is right now… sit down and have a chat with him to come up with a plan together. Let him know you now realize how hard school is for him to get through each day. Remind him that you know he wants to succeed and they you want to do everything you can to help him do that. Ask him specifically what are the barriers and struggles he thinks are preventing his success. Make a plan to address each. Write all of this down — it’s exponentially more impactful. Show him his feelings are valid, that you know his struggle is real, and that you’re on his side and you have his back.

      One last thing… many kids with ADHD/autism struggle with sensory issues. They can literally feel like they’re being assaulted throughout the day in a loud, chaotic, out-of-their-control environment like school. That’s the biggest reason my son went to half-days in person. He feels like he’s constantly under siege in that environment. He was constantly on edge, agitated, angry and desperate. No one should live like that. 🙁

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

  • #84423

    SkinOfMyTeeth
    Participant

    He could never do the military unfortunately. The physical part of it would kill him. He has scoliosis, chronic joint pain, asthma and connective tissue disease which causes the pain as well as severe skin sensitivity (he went on a field trip in 8th grade to Washington DC- he came home with 2nd degree burns from the sun).

    The requirements for PE are a state education requirement. If he does not complete the requirements, that is fine and we will re-develop a plan for next year after this year is complete.

    I get that PE is a requirement.

    What must also be true is that a child with “scoliosis, chronic joint pain, asthma and connective tissue disease” can be excused from PE. You only mentioned that he was failing PE, no other courses. Won’t his doctor get him out of PE?

    I’ve read all your posts and am 99.9% sure it’s PE that’s causing his school refusal.

    Of course, I could be wrong, but sometimes it takes a view from afar to see the details. This is going back a ways but, when I was in school a doctor’s note that a student wasn’t physically able to participate would waive the PE requirement.

    If it is just the PE class, he’ll fail it next year as well. I’m running down the list of activities we did in PE and can’t see how any of them from track and field to wrestling could even be attempted let alone successfully done by a student with all those physical problems.

    I gotta tell you, I’m on your son’s side with this one versus the school. PE would be a living hell and I wouldn’t go either. Most likely he just can’t or is too embarrassed to state it that way.

    You are, unfortunately, stuck in the middle with the school making ridiculous demands to hold his tech (as if you can’t be trusted to not given in and give them to him) and your son not communicating exactly what the problem is.

    Something tells me money is at the root of the school’s stubborn stance. I don’t know, but would bet they’ll lose funding if he gets excused from PE or finishes his diploma remotely.

  • #84427

    donsense
    Participant

    Perhaps its time to recognize that your sons pecadillos as i now call them after 60 years of living them need a do over with professional assistance. It is important to him and you that no one is giving up but that the solution(s) might need some time additional expertise that the school and you alone do not have but you are going to get it. When that is taken care of a meeting of your expert coach and you and the school reps might be arranged at a neutral sight, or you may decide an other school might allow him to start over again with a cleaner slate. And no one will be tempted to remove his electronics.
    For ADDers H school is difficult enough without a host of other adaptive issues that make maturing so difficult for us. Since that takes us many years longer than neurotypicals taking an additional year to navigate these motivation issues may not be so bad. In fact they are life lessons that neuro males do not fully develop until their mid 20s and male Adders age 30 (long term motivation)

    I never did learn to work or study from home but found working on site was my adaptive life lesson. I also understand that these other co morbid conditions make each one of us uniquely different. I had no hyper touch sensitivity to any materials until they suddenly appeared at age 65 Thyroid storm (Graves) meds raised my TSH to normal levels. If they had existed in HS i would have stayed home forever.
    Your son has a complex group of conditions that seem to be exacerbated by what is happening to him at this age. Please seek expert assistance and take as much time as necessary to get beyond this. He is only seventeen. Given the obstacles he and you are dealing with i commend both of you for getting this far and seeking help from far and wide.

    • This reply was modified 1 week, 2 days ago by  donsense.

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