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School phobia

(96 Posts)
Crafting Wed 04-Feb-15 21:05:02

On another thread, a couple of GN mentioned school phobia. My DGC has been diagnosed (if this is the right word) with this and is struggling hard with going to school. I would be interested to know if others have had similar problems with their children or grandchildren and how they coped or supported the family.

annsixty Wed 04-Feb-15 21:16:06

My GS has some form of school phobia due to illness and a form of ME which is a sensitve subject and a tricky diagnosis.His school and LEA have accepted his diagnosis after reports from a pediatrician and a psychologist and he is receiving on line tuition and a tutor at home two hours twice a week. He is in his GCSE year and will only take the core subjects to enable him to go on to 6th form. We support his parents whilst feeling very sad for him and them. It is not ideal.

nightowl Wed 04-Feb-15 21:20:13

Crafting you have my sympathies. My son (now 25) was 'diagnosed' with this at around 9 (although his problems were evident from starting school at 3.5 - 4) and statemented. His school age years were a nightmare. In all honesty I would not have believed such a thing truly existed if I hadn't lived with and seen the evidence for myself. It was very hard to accept the attitudes of professionals (even after diagnosis) who sought to blame us for the problems and from well meaning friends who told us we just needed to be 'firmer' with him (if only it had been that easy). I hope people are more understanding nowadays. How old is your DGC?

I can't really advise I'm afraid as every child is different. I only know that for my son we should have considered home schooling at a much earlier stage instead of trying to persevere with trying to get him to go to school. By the time we suggested this as an option his mind was firmly set against any form of education at all and his teenage years were miserable. He is fine now, and whatever you and your family decide, just hold on to the idea that it will work out in the end.

I believe there are also some forums about this issue which may be worth looking at - I would have found these a lifesaver at the time as we felt so alone with the problem.

Crafting Wed 04-Feb-15 21:21:21

Thanks for your reply annsixty. My DH had ME for 10 years to a greater or lesser extent (many years ago before it was recognised in any way) . He is now fit and well. I wish your GS recovery from this debilitating illness as soon as possible. Don't give up hope it can be overcome.

Crafting Wed 04-Feb-15 21:23:19

11 nightowl . It is really difficult to deal with. School had never heard of such a thing but are doing their best to help now.

Penstemmon Wed 04-Feb-15 21:27:41

Sorry to hear that. It can be very tricky to manage. A psychologist may help to identify how/why this has happened and be able to offer strategies and support to help your DGC. Each case will be different and what has helped one may not be the right approach for another.
The LA may be able to provide some support but would have to make provision if the child had a statement of SEND.

annsixty Wed 04-Feb-15 21:30:53

Thank you for your good wishes Crafting my GS had a serious illness at age 13 during which he had 5 general anaesthetics in 8 days and intravenous antibiotics for 8 weeks and it is believed his immune system was damaged during this which triggered the ME. It is a difficult time for all who go through it.

FlicketyB Wed 04-Feb-15 22:00:59

annsixty I find what you say about your GS very interesting. After an accident DD had three general anaesthetics and spent 10 hours in theatre in 10 days and was also on very high doses of antibiotics and she too, from problems she has had since, thinks that what she underwent has damaged her immune system.

nightowl Wed 04-Feb-15 22:14:15

11 is a difficult age as well Crafting isn't it? Transition to secondary school can be very difficult for any child and if things start to go wrong at that stage it can be so distressing for the child. I feel for you, and for you as well annsixty. Just accept any help offered. We never did get to the bottom of my son's problems and he can't explain it himself, but that doesn't mean you won't. Just be kind to yourselves, don't let unthinking remarks made by others get to you, people don't usually mean to be unkind but it's very hard for others to understand. And never ever blame yourselves - maybe you don't (I hope not) but I think there can be a tendency to do that. I beat myself up about this for years but what a waste of energy that was. I developed a kind of mantra that kept me going that was something like 'one day he will find his way and when that day comes he will do it all by himself'. And he did!

Mishap Wed 04-Feb-15 22:14:56

I used to work in what was then called Child Guidance. I had no truck with the idea of school phobia. If a child is unhappy going to school to the point where they cannot bear to go, then something is wrong with the school, either because it is not the right place for this child or because the school is failing to meet the child's needs. Intervening at school would often get to the bottom of it, and it was often found that the child had very good reason not to want to go there; and a change of school was often the answer.

School is an artificial environment for children - some love it and thrive; others are simply in the wrong place for them. It is a hard place to be if it is not right for a child - we cannot have children wasting their precious childhood years somewhere that truly makes them unhappy.

It is very important to start from the assumption that the child should not be diagnosed as abnormal just because they find the environment of school frightening. Maybe the school should have an abnormal diagnosis made!

We had a Steiner school locally and some of these so-called school phobic children felt much happier there. A smaller school is often the answer.

Ana Wed 04-Feb-15 22:23:14

A very sensible and balanced post, Mishap. I do worry that 'school phobia' is going to be the next catch-all diagnosis for children who for whatever reason just don't like going to school.

nightowl Wed 04-Feb-15 22:36:05

I can't entirely agree Mishap as my son was unhappy at school from the first day so I don't think anything was wrong with that particular school. School per se was not right for him. We did look at a Steiner School but I'm afraid his introductory session there was completely mishandled - a shame, because I have a lot of time for The Steiner system.

I do agree that a child should not be diagnosed as 'abnormal' just because they can't handle a school environment. Schools can be very frightening places and fear may be a normal response.

I hope that doesn't happen Ana. When my son was statemented there was a lot of resistance to accepting the term 'school phobia'. The preferred term was 'school refusal'. In my son's case the reports from the Educational Psychologist and Community Paediatrician, subsequently supported by the Child Psychiatrist were instrumental in getting the term 'school phobia' accepted. It didn't stop the stupid Education Welfare Officer threatening us with prosecution though. She and her equally stupid manager soon backed off when we pointed out how foolish they might look if they took us to court for not sending a statemented school phobic child to school confused

rosequartz Wed 04-Feb-15 22:55:24

School phobic children were referred to Child Guidance Clinics years ago as Mishap says - I am not sure what the procedure is these days. They would see the Educational Psychologist and the parents would see the Psychiatric Social Worker. Between them they could get to the bottom of the problems and work towards getting the child back into school - perhaps not the same one but sometimes a much smaller school which was more suitable.
There may be different underlying problems of which the parents or grandparents - or the school - are unaware and school phobia is the result.
A child with a physical illness is in a different category as they may well not be able to physically cope with the day-to-day life in a busy school.

Ana Wed 04-Feb-15 23:01:22

I fully accept that school phobia exists,*nightowl*, and obviously applied in your son's case. It must be a terrible experience for any child to have to go through.

Sometimes parents clutch at straws though, and will latch on to such a diagnosis as a reason for their child's reluctance to attend school or habitual truancy.

nightowl Wed 04-Feb-15 23:29:53

You're right Ana, but if the diagnosis is still as hard to get I don't think such parents would have much success. The difficulty with school phobia is that the professionals may have to accept parents' word for the child's response, if they are unable to get the child into school and the child can't or won't talk about it. I think the professionals at one stage thought we were exaggerating or making excuses. Then came a day when we carried an eight year old in to the school entrance, him kicking and screaming all the way and my husband and I looking as if we had done ten rounds with Mike Tyson. We deposited him on the floor in front of the head teacher who looked down at this extremely distressed child and said 'I see what you're up against now' before walking away!

I am not proud of that moment. Up until then we had accepted the received wisdom that we had to be firm and eventually our son would settle in school. I think that was the point at which we recognised that this was not the way and we gave ourselves permission to stop forcing a terrified child into doing the very thing that terrified him.

Anyway, enough about my son. I'm not sure that my experiences are of any help to those of you struggling with this problem now, other than to say that against all the odds my son has turned out to be a quirky, sociable, intelligent, well educated, interesting and loving man. I am more proud of him than I can say, not because of what he has achieved, but because he turned his life around all by himself and is happy! Please believe it can happen for your children and grandchildren as well.

crun Thu 05-Feb-15 00:26:34

I developed a fear of going to school after my parents were divorced when I was ten, I used to get stomach aches in the morning, and was sent to see a shrink.

That got me labelled as a neurotic from a broken home, and it has blighted my healthcare for life. "It's just anxiety, ignore the symptoms and they'll go away" was the advice, and that's been the standing diagnosis for everything for the last 45 years.

I had difficulty mixing with other kids before my parents were divorced, and with hindsight I think I have Asperger's.

Crafting Thu 05-Feb-15 06:18:35

On the contrary nightowl it's comforting to hear that things turned out so well for your son. My DGC has been seen by a child psychologist who diagnosed the school phobia and anxiety and depression. It is with their help scool is being tried again. Bullying seems to be the problem that brought it all to a head but may not be the root cause. Fortunately DGC is loved and supported through it by all the family but it is not easy.

TriciaF Thu 05-Feb-15 09:36:44

I was based in a Child Guidance Clinic too - most points have already been made by others.
Also, it does seem to affect very sensitive children, who often have a stubborn streak. I did sympathise with some who had to transfer to a huge, impersonal comprehensive school, where they were expected to move from class to class with different teachers, after being with the same teacher most of the time in their Primary school.
We had a few small specialised teaching units where they could be introduced gradually and slowly get used to leaving the safety of home.

Ariadne Thu 05-Feb-15 09:47:58

I was Head of Y7 early in my career, and I agree that the transfer to a huge secondary school can be very difficult for some children. We had a yearly intake of 240, which was the size of some of the smaller feeder schools!

I ran lots of induction days and evenings, children could come in and just experience being there (Ys11 and 13 were on study leave by then) and I tried to visit all the feeder schools (but there were about 35..) to talk to our future students and listen to their questions and anxieties. But some children, especially if their friends weren't coming to our school, could be very unhappy.

It's difficult for parents and carers too.

Falconbird Thu 05-Feb-15 09:54:38

TriciaF You may have seen my post about my son who was school phobic. He had exactly the same temperament as you describe - sensitive but stubborn. Back then they were very unsympathetic and it was a very awful time for everyone - I'm talking about the 80s and very early nineties.

He is a very successful adult now.

Mishap Thu 05-Feb-15 10:00:25

It worries me that a child should be diagnosed with anxiety and depression simply on the basis that they find school too much for them. It is about context. If that child is obviously anxious and depressed at home, then that is fair enough; but if it applies specifically to the school context, then the child does not warrant that diagnosis. School (or that particular school) is not right for them.

Nightowl - how very harrowing for you and your OH and your child to have to go through such a dreadful experience just to get the problem taken seriously. I am glad that all turned out well in the end.

At one stage I had a child who dreaded and hated school and believe me, the saying that a family is only as happy as its saddest member is certainly very true! The basic problem was that the school was not meeting her needs - they expected her to be academic, when she was artistic, musical, fanciful and living in a happy dream world - as well as having a degree of dyslexia. Going to school to be made to feel a fool day after day was intolerable to her, as it would be to any adult if that were transposed to the work context.

Children are not bred to go to school - it is not a natural phenomenon - and not all of them will be able to tolerate it. They do not need to have a diagnostic label stuck on them because they are simply themselves. They need the adults around them to find a way of them receiving an education in a way that suits them.

nightowl Thu 05-Feb-15 10:20:30

Thank you Mishap. I do so agree with everything you say about school not being a natural environment for a child. Some will love it (my older two did) but some simply can't cope with it.

Crafting my son was also diagnosed with anxiety but fortunately by a wonderful child psychiatrist who refused to actually put the label on him, if that makes sense. Her view was that it was 'par for the course' with school phobia rather than a psychiatric disorder. We were able to explain to her that he was not depressed or anxious at home when school was not an issue. During school holidays for example the pressure lifted and he was a different child. Unfortunately the other professionals used this as an example of him 'manipulating' us and of us 'being too soft'. Ho hum, we eventually grew very thick skins!

Mishap Thu 05-Feb-15 10:32:26

Oh - the "professionals" often do blame the parents. Sometimes they are right and a bit of advice is needed, but it has become a catch-all cop-out.

Crafting Thu 05-Feb-15 15:04:25

Thank you all for your helpful comments. Unfortunately DGC was told that there was no bullying and was not believed for many months. This led to total breakdown of self confidence and the belief that no one at school would listen (although parents did and gave huge support). Only when the EA became involved did the school admit there was bullying but by then the damage was done. The depression and anxiety is not just at school as the breakdown of self confidence now affects relationships with other children elsewhere too.

gillybob Thu 05-Feb-15 15:22:19

Can anyone explain the diference between a child "hating" school and not wanting to go and a school phobia please?

Mishap I found your earlier post (10.00)extremely helpful.