school refusers

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School Refusal
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School just doesn't work for every child

A lot of us come these sites desperately seeking answers. Rarely do we get to read success stories. I am convinced that people do find a path forward for their children at some point, but most likely most parents don’t return to sites like this to tell their story once they are out of their state of despair.

Well I am going to share the story of our 17 year old son. He is very bright, a very quick learner, does complex arithmetic in his head better than most people I know, but has always had little time for the traditional academic setting. He thrives in tangible, tactile oriented learning environments.

Our son started to show signs that school was going to be a problem around two years ago.
Even though he never enjoyed doing anything academic, the school refusal problem was probably socially catalyzed. He got kicked out of his social group, probably mostly due to his strongly opinionated personality, near the end of his school year in June 2016. He struggled with social isolation at the beginning of his next school year in September 2016, but eventually got in with another group of social misfits. His best friend (let’s call her Wendy) was the one who introduced him to the group as she was a friend he had known since kindergarten. It all went well till he started dating a friend of Wendy’s in the summer of 2017. This led to obvious problems with Wendy, resulting in our son and his new girlfriend being summarily dismissed from this group. My son was ostracized enough to the point where he refused to attend school. We managed to get him to attend school off and on till about November 2017 and then he just refused to attend again. He exhibited all the symptoms of depression and anxiety during this time. We got him assessed at the psychiatric clinic and then got him to agree to see a social worker, recommended by the school. He managed to convince our son to try an alternative year round school, which has an optional attendance system. He started the program in April 2018 and lasted in that program for only 4 weeks before he refused to attend that school as well. He had no friends (except for his girlfriend), stayed mostly in the basement and played video games all day. He and his girlfriend, who was an ambitious student inevitably broke up in the summer of 2018.
We as parents have struggled through these past two years with a daily routine of tears, despair, disappointment, fear and anger. We even resorted to pleading. He even stopped wanting to see the social worker who had given him an ultimatum of three choices: School, alternative school or work.
We eventually got him registered into a child social and mental health center. Our son agreed to see his assigned social worker weekly. We still could not get him to return to school and we were under a lot of pressure to find answers for the school which called us every day indicating he had not attended. Here in Canada, school attendance is required by law till he is 18.
During one of our moments of despair we requested a follow up parent meeting with the social worker. This was my wife’s and my second meeting with him. It was after this meeting that things started to turn around for us. By the way, we are university educated and work in the white collar industry. We have three daughters, older than our son, who have all finished undergraduate degrees and gone onto further studies and are now successful professionals. Having our son not attend school was just something very difficult for us to accept. What the social worker told us was, that everything we talked about our son, such as his need to attend school, were our goals we set for him and not his. We needed to understand what he wanted in life. He told us that our son did not yet understand or care about the value or benefits school offered. We needed to focus on his well-being, and not what we or more importantly what society felt was important for him. Finishing or attending school should have been the least of our concerns for him. If he decided he wanted a school education at some point in his life, he could pursue it later. There are lots of options for him in Western Society. His anxiety and mental health issues are affected our perceived social expectations of him. Remove that and we would start to see him come around, if we showed patience and showed him that we were confident he would achieve his own goals in the future.
We did that. We showed him love and support and told him school was our priority, not his.
The social worker also pointed us to another alternative school program which was not provided to us as an option by any of his prior school counselors. Here in Toronto this program
Is called SAL

With his alternative school counselor and his social worker, we contacted SAL and got him registered. They offered a two week course on learning how to enter the real working world. They taught him basic life skills, how to write a resume and they even paid him for the two week course as if it was a job in itself. They then helped him get employment and the program even pays the employer two months’ salary. Our son who does respond well to tactile settings, took this on with enthusiasm.

He attended the class every day, did his resume and got a job in a retail warehouse. We supported him all the way. The minute we stopped pushing him in a direction he did not want to go, we got cooperation and a happy child and most of his mental health issues went away. We even told him it did not matter really if he does not have friends his own age as he responds much better to adults and enjoys the company of young adults much better that adolescents.

We now have a very happy child who never misses a day of work with no signs of anxiety or depression. He even got working on getting his drivers license last month, something he just refused to do before. Where will this all lead? Que sera sera. The most important thing here is that we have a very happy child and parents and a happy home.

That’s our story. I absolutely understand that one size does not fit all children and parents’ and measures for success can be different, but I thought sometimes a forum like this would welcome a positive story.

Re: School just doesn't work for every child

Hi VIctor,

Thank you so much for sharing your positive story - it is so nice to read and thoughtful of you to share.
The story of your son's turnaround and change of direction gives us all hope.
Than you again and all the best for your son.
best wishes,