school refusers

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School Refusal
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12-yr-old daughter and school refusal

Hi. My 12-year-old daughter (Y7) has not been in school since December, and only attended for the odd few days between Sept and Dec of this academic year. During those first 3 months, every day, she complained of feeling sick, would shout, scream, throw things, kick, barricade herself in her room, etc, when I tried to get her to go.

At primary school she started refusing in Y5, and in Y6 the head and deputy had to come to the house several times to take her in.

She has had two CAMHS referrals, at 8 and 10; for behavioural difficulties at home, meltdowns, etc, the first time and the second time for refusing school, stealing, and same behavioural problems. She was tested for ASD but did not meet the criteria.

We took her to a private psychiatrist early this year and she was given a clear diagnosis of ADD and ODD (oppositional defiant). The Senco referred her in March to a special needs learning centre but this was rejected on the grounds she has no 'specific' learning difficulty. The Senco has previously said she cannot do an EHCP as my daughter is not in school.

I have asked for help with a home tutor but this has not been accepted. I cannot educate her myself because of her very oppositional behaviour - she will not accept my help and gets angry and frustrated within 5 minutes of sitting down to do work.

It feels like we are in limbo, without any support or help from education services. What provision is there for children like this, with a diagnosed developmental disorder, who cannot function in mainstream school but are not considered suitable for a special needs school? Would be so grateful for any advice as I don't even know if there is anything available to fight for!

Re: 12-yr-old daughter and school refusal

Hi Maire

Sounds like you are certainly having a challenging time. Sorry to hear that but glad you found the site. You didn't leave an email to notify you if a reply, so I hope you check back in when you can.
I don't have any miracle cure, I wish I had! But please know...that you are not alone and there are many on this site who know exactly how you are feeling.

There is an organisation, the name of which escapes me right now but could be Red Balloon? It should be in our resource section. They are familiar with kids who don't fit the norm and may have some suggestions for you as to who might help.
Has your daughter been diagnosed with anxiety as well? What you describe sounds like symptoms of anxiety rather than disorders in themselves but I am not an expert, just going by my own son and many on here who have similar stories of similar behaviour.

Has there been any mention of medication? I was originally dead against medication but as time went on I decided we just had to try it. The first type did nothing unfortunately but the second one has helped. It hasn't fixed the issue but it has given my son a better feeling about himself so that he is in a better place and not feeling depressed. He is actually just now taking some steps to help himself manage his anxiety, the first time I have seen this.
Your daughter could also be depressed because of what she is going through and does not understand why she feels so bad. My son was often angry and refused to do school work at home too.
I did find that when I accepted my son had a mental health issue it helped me and him as I treatd him differently and no longer got caught up in approaching it like a behaviour issue. Schools often treat school refusal as a behaviour issue, but it isn't.

if you can, try taking the idea of school out of the equation at the moment and talk to your daughter about things completely unrelated. Try and build her confidence even for a few moments at a time by engaging her in something she can already do...or ask her for some help with technology that she might know about. Is she interrested in cooking? Ask her to bake something? Find ways to do educational things that have nothing to do with school.
If she is totally stuck at home...try enticing her out for drives in the car. My son preferred drives at night and seemed to calm down by going for a drive. Get her to accompany you to the shops but be ok with her staying in the car. Later you can try asking if she will pop into a shop to get herself something such as a drink. Sounds simple but with no strings attached, that mention of can start to ensure they are still engaging with others. Get family or friends to visit your house if she won't go to visit them.
Does she have any friends (real life or on line?). My son had some on-line friends that played on line games that got him through some tricky spots at your daughter's age. He also played on line with a friend from school and years later they still have some on line contact.

Has the school,looked into any bullying? Are the teachers willing to be flexible? Any child with a mental or physical health issue must be provided with some kind of education from the school so they should come up with the tutors (I think I posted the details on a post earlier this year).
So on the one hand you might need to forget school for the moment until your daughter regains her self esteem and sense of belonging and on the other hand you could look further into what the school will provide further down the track when she is more ready to take some steps herself to re engage with school or at least learning of some kind. She is probably totally bewilderd by her own behaviour at the moment.
Ask your doctor about medication but also about the current diagnosis you have being related or a result of anxiety.

I hope I have been of some help. It's tough when they don't just go off to school like other kids, isn't it, Make sure you get some help yourself or keep meeting friends for a coffee or start a hobby. It helps balance the focus. And from my experience, you really do have to try anf not keep focusing on going to school....they feel under the microscope and that Can lead to some pretty strong defiant behavioir even if they don't have a Defiant or oppositional disorder. Their mental health comes first
Come back and ask any questions you want and let us know how you and your daughter are going,
Take care,

Re: 12-yr-old daughter and school refusal

Hi Linda

Thanks so much for your reply. It's certainly a challenging situation and very isolating as I know no one in a similar situation, so very glad to have found this site.

Have heard of Red Balloon so will take a closer look.

I think much of my daughter's behaviour must be driven by anxiety as you suggest, although not diagnosed specifically - maybe it is considered part of the ADD. (We have noticed increased anxiety in many other public situations too, unrelated to school). Trying to analyse what makes her tick is incredibly difficult as it seems so complex. All her emotions seem heightened, and she will bounce from a state of happy/over-excitability to anger/discontent in an instant with nothing much in between. She is often irrational in her anger and non-accepting of explanations etc. If anything, this seems to be getting worse.

She started taking Strattera (non-stimulant) a couple of months ago, prescribed by the psych. However as he said, it's difficult to measure its effectiveness (increased attention, focus) as she is not in a learning environment. Although she has always struggled to get to sleep or stay asleep, she is now up all night and falling asleep during the day - which again scuppers any attempt at routine.

What you say about backing off from talking about school does sound like a good idea and is something I will put into practice. She has found learning difficult from around Y3 - the most she has ever said about school is that she finds it difficult and doesn't understand anything. I am coming to realise that there may not be any provision for her at the moment that would work (apart from a home tutor). She does like to do things like baking/cooking and I do encourage her although years ago she stopped going to clubs/activities outside home. As for friends, she had two friends in primary who are now at different schools and she seems to be losing contact (although she makes no effort to keep up with them, maybe defensive, as if she doesn't care). I think we could do more about this on her behalf, like inviting friends. I think peer relationships are tricky for her.

When I write it all down like this, it seems like a mountain to climb, and I hardly know where to start to make a difference. It's really hard finding the right balance too between tiptoeing around her to avoid conflict and staying firm to certain boundaries. Quite overwhelming, but then life seems to be overwhelming for her too. We try to focus on the positives, supporting and encouraging her, and remaining calm when she explodes. Emotionally draining for us all.

Thanks for listening - and for emphasising how important her mental health is over other issues. Important to keep that perspective.


Re: 12-yr-old daughter and school refusal

Hi Maire

How are things going at your end? Any feeling of moving forward or still stuck in the same spot?
Have you been able to do something for yourself to take the focus off the whole school thing?
Hope you and your daughter are finding some ways through this as I know just how tough thingd can be.
Take care,
Linda xx