Anxiety, Autism, Getting ready for school, Health, Mornings, parenting

Managing severe anxiety and school refusal? A method from the heart.

Unable to get my son Hunter out of bed I try every trick in the book. I make tea, fizzy vitamin C and pancakes. I rubbed his stiff and sore muscles. I suggest how better he will feel once he is up moving around. I remind how he will feel proud of himself for going in on time. The covers are whipped off. The radio is put on. The alarm is left on by the pillow. I beg and plead. I begged. I begged. I leave the room to cry. The covers are back on. His back faces me. I put my hand on his shoulder.  Here we are again I say inside. I make the phone call.

“Hunter will not be in school today. He isn’t feeling well.” Again. Every day.

Anxiety is invisible. It is hard to spot from the outside. It can be hard to name what it is when you have it. The reason for having anxiety can be a multiple and varied. It can take over everything and leave the person affected unable to function.  It leads to people feeling suicidal in extreme cases. Anxiety is complicated, emotional physiological response to fear and uncertainty with very real physical symptoms. Hunters’ included tummy cramps, trouble breathing and migraines. My own includes sweating profusely and my mind going totally blank when asked questions.

These symptoms of anxiety can not be controlled by the sufferer. You can’t stop sweaty hands or tummy cramps. They are just there. A physical response to pressure. What matters is whether of not they over power our whole lives to the point where we can’t function. This happened to Hunter. His anxiety was so severe he couldn’t get out of bed. He couldn’t attend family events. He couldn’t attend school.

Sometimes anxiety looks like laziness. My son certainly appeared lazy. He was staying up late. Then all night. He was unable to sleep so was self soothing by reading or watching his favourite anime’s. Everyone said I wasn’t being tough enough. I should do more. Take away his internet. Take away his computer. Take away his weekly rock school if he didn’t go into school. I should allow him to fail.

“But he is failing,” I said in his Team Around the Child meeting, “Everyday!”

I knew there must be a better way than punishing him further. I just needed to find it. Besides we had tried the reward positive behaviour and

Anxiety creeps in and possibly never leaves. But it is possible to overcome it. Although it may never go completely. We have done it together. Here’s the method I followed.

I realised I couldn’t go on with this situation, neither could my son, neither could his Dad. His younger brothers were missing out on a relaxed family home. The only method that made sense was the following.

Come from the heart.

Hunter needed support. It was clear that he was is a very bad way. He struggled to speak to me about what was going on. He would answer questions vaguely. He told me he was depressed and he had anxiety. He said it was so bad he couldn’t even get out of bed. Slowly I was able to piece together how severe it was and that the main cause was the school environment.

Reduce expectations.

A few years before the problems had come to a head Hunter had told me our expectations of him were too high. I replied it was only because he was so damn talented and capable. But I noted it inside to reduce some of the expectations. Listening to our children is vital. But it wasn’t enough to change our expectations at home.

School life came with demands that he struggled with due to sensory over stimulation and poor organisational skills. Hunter had always struggled with completing home work through primary. At secondary school I am sure it was his inability to organise himself to do home work on time that started the refusals as students at his school receive negative codes if they don’t hand in work. Hunters solution, just don’t go.

Take away the cause of the anxiety where/if possible.

It took us a long time to decide to Home Ed, over 2 years of refusal which became steadily worse, and it wasn’t easy to let go. But as soon as we had done it we saw improvements. During the following weeks and months our son relaxed. He played with his brothers, he ate more, he pushed his long hair out of his eyes and best of all he smiles and laughs with us.

Provide something positive to build confidence.

We needed Hunter to want to get up and go out even though he wasn’t attending school. We wanted him to have social experiences that were enjoyable. Luckily we found some amazing music experiences that have completely changed his life through giving him the confidence to be out and with other people. He has been composing music with 14 other young musicians thanks to a fantastic programme locally. He even went to Birmingham to perform the song they had written together. He also spoke about his anxiety and how playing music with this group helps him to feel better on our County radio station.

After over a year of unschooling at home and lots of music activities Hunter is currently attending sixth form college and his attendance is steadily improving.

He still gets anxious but he is able to manage it because he is living his life on his terms.

I am incredibly proud of him.

*My son chose his own online alias Hunter.