Christmas in June: Finding a New School for My Son
The teachers and administrators never got my son and his challenges, and they refused to understand. So see ya!
My son, Ricochet, has been struggling with school avoidance in one form or another for three years. The first two years, he’d cry and scream about going to school, and some days I couldn’t get him there. By the second year, he started getting creative and told stories about being wronged at school, a clever ploy to appeal to my humanity that worked at first.
This year, now in sixth grade, school avoidance started as morning refusal and we endured many a meltdown in the guidance counselor’s office. A few weeks in, though, Ricochet was able to tell us what was bothering him (mostly related to sensory overload and anxiety), and the school made accommodations to alleviate those issues. I also drew up a behavior contract around our expectation that he attend school and Ricochet and his dad and I all signed it. Within a week, Ricochet’s avoidance behaviors were gone! It was like magic, and it was certainly a much-needed reprieve for this momma.
You can never count on things to last forever with kids with neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD, though. The other shoe will inevitably drop — it’s just a matter of how and when.
About four or five months after the school avoidance behaviors vanished, the other shoe dropped — on me. Now, instead of refusing to go to school in the mornings, Ricochet was going to the office around 10 or 11 a.m. wanting to call home due to one sudden illness of another. There was throwing up (a long-time staple in his excuse arsenal), itchy rashes, headaches, severe stomach pains, and so on. My poor little guy turned into a hypochondriac.
The first couple calls seemed legit, and I’d drive over and pick him up early. But when the calls became daily, I started to refuse to pick him up early. That escalated his desperation, and he was often in the office for an hour or more still pushing, melting down, and trying to calm down.
I pleaded with his school to recognize his behavior as a message. I made plea after plea explaining how this was a manifestation of his anxiety and discomfort at school. When it got to the point that he was hurting himself to try to come home, there was an emergency school meeting, where the staff again refused to see his behavior as anything other than lazy and defiant. So he continued to go to the office, until they decided to write a referral for “refusing to go back to class” and told him the next time he would “lose recess and lunch.” Want a kid with ADHD and anxiety to comply? Scare them! That will do it, at least for a little while.
At that point, we began the annual end-of-school countdown. Each day I’d remind Ricochet of how many weeks were left, and each day he’d remind me how that feels like an eternity. We kept working at getting through it, and he did OK for a couple weeks. Then, with just three weeks left, he refused to go to school one morning. He said Mondays are the worst. Rather than fight and stress everyone out, I accepted that Mondays are terrible, realized that the following Monday was a holiday and the Monday after that was testing, and let him stay home on what would have been his last terrible Monday since testing would change the schedule. We called it a “mental health day!”
Then we made a plan to get through the next two weeks and two days. His therapist suggested that he attend only half-days the rest of the year. On testing days, and the few days of review before testing, that wasn’t an option. However, there were five school days after testing when we could do shorter days. He left early one day, went in late the next day, attended in full the next two days, and didn’t go at all the last day – his reward for making it through to the end.
We did a little happy dance in our seats as we drove away from that school for the last time. Ricochet will not be returning to a school that refuses to understand, show compassion, and accommodate disabilities.
There’s nowhere to go but up from here.
Updated on May 27, 2021