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School Phobia: When Your Child Has Anxiety about Going to School

Posted by Emmie

“Isn’t it wonderful that you consider getting your 15-year-old off to school with less fighting than usual a good day? Isn’t it great that your threshold is so low?” This is what my friend said to me this morning after our morning check-in phone call.

I guess I should give a little background. I have a 15-year-old with an anxiety disorder and Type I (insulin dependent) diabetes. Last year, when he started 9th grade, he started having anxiety attacks and his blood sugar numbers were very high. His doctors attributed it to anxiety and the stress of starting high school. We decided that to lessen his anxiety, he could stay home if he had a high blood sugar number or even go in later, when his number came down. This actually caused more anxiety, because he worried every night whether he’d be high or low in the morning and then worry that if he was low he’d have to go to school or if he was high he’d stay home and miss work. So, again, we decided together on a plan of action and put him on the home and hospital program, where he could do school from home and conference call in to classes and use the computer to connect with teachers. That backfired as well, as he became more withdrawn and depressed and stopped taking care of the diabetes altogether. We needed a new plan.

We decided to get him back to school just prior to Spring break. He went backwards through the day — last period for a few days, and then the last two periods, etc. He made it through his days, but refused to do any work outside of school. When summer came, he would not leave the house. He was a mess! I found a program out of state that deals with children with mental health issues and chronic illness. After quite a battle with the insurance company, he was admitted and was there for 6 weeks over the summer. The diabetes came back under control, but not the anxiety.

This child has had anxiety his whole life, but we had always figured out ways to accommodate his fears and he has had wonderful, caring teachers every year. For those of you who have read my blogs, this is the child who had Zombie Phobia when he was 11. It seems that when he was diagnosed with diabetes a year and a half ago, the anxiety just took over. It paralyzes him and rules his life.

After he was released from the hospital, we were 1 week into the school year. I could not get him to go to school. He had “School Phobia,” I was told. He would hyperventilate, shake, and vomit. The school agreed to work him in slowly again, this time from first period, adding a period every few days. Many days he got there late because he refused to leave the house. I made it clear he was not staying home; that was NOT an option. The mornings have been horrible, as you can imagine. It has been very difficult, because this was very real to him and it was obviously causing him great pain and discomfort. The only way to deal with a fear is to face it and I had to push him daily to do this. Most days he spent a great deal of the day texting me (totally against school rules). He said that was the only thing getting him through the day. I’d get texts that said, “I am going to puke.” “I can’t breathe.” “This is going so SLOW.” “I don’t know what bus number to get on.” “I’m genuinely sorry for the hard time this morning. Please forgive me.”

His first full day was in mid-October. I praised him out the whazoo and all he said when I said, “YAY! YOU made it through the day!” was, “Barely. I almost threw up.” So negative! He still refuses to do any work at home on his own. The county has provided a tutor to help him make up work from the days he was not there. He will only do work on the days she comes. Baby steps…

This morning he tells me that he has PSATs and does not know where to go. He has a resource class first period and usually it is just him and one teacher, who just so happens to also be the basketball coach. I say, “Ask Mr. D.”  He replies, “He won’t know, he is only the basketball coach!” “I am sure he could call someone,” I tell him. “No, who would he call?” is his response. I suggest stopping into the guidance office or the nurse’s office (his biggest advocate!). His response? “I WON’T HAVE TIME!” Sigh. Then he says, “If I end up in a room full of kids I don’t know, I will refuse to take it!” I just say, “Okay.” I know when I need to stop. He is NOT looking for a solution. As it turns out, there was a table set up as soon as he walked in the door with staff directing students to their PSAT session.

Today he was rather grumpy, but on a 1-10 scale, I’d say he was a 5. So you can see why I considered today a GOOD day!


About Emmie

I am a mom of two boys, ages 16 and 22, both with ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression. I have remarried and my husband has 2 boys, ages 13 and 16. The 13 year old lives with us, and has some behavioral problems and attachment issues. There is always something happening at our house!

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