On the Outside Looking In: School-Phobic Students Incapable of Attending Class
For most students, summer’s end could best be described as a time of wistful resignation and back-to-school jitters. A small percentage of children and adolescents, though, find the start of the academic year literally terrifying.
Experts estimate that about 1 percent of students suffer from a fear so extreme and so debilitating that it renders them incapable of leaving the house and entering the classroom. First identified in the early 1940s, school phobia – which is also sometimes referred to as “school refusal” or “didaskaleinophobia” – presents with symptoms similar to those of agoraphobia (fear of public or unfamiliar places), panic disorder, and separation anxiety.
“It’s generally a problem that’s anxiety-based, where a child gets anxious at the idea of going to school. It may manifest itself in a physical way, stomach pains, leg pains,” John Sargent, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Houston’s Ben Taub General Hospital, said in an Aug. 24, 2008 article in the Houston Chronicle.
“Generally, the child’s fear is real, and the symptoms are real,” Sargent told Chronicle staff writer Jennifer Radcliffe.
About the Disorder
School phobia can affect any student at any age. But according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), the disorder is most common in youth ages 5 to 7 and 11 to 14 – students who may be experiencing anxiety related to transitioning out of elementary school or into high school.
“These children may suffer from a paralyzing fear of leaving the safety of their parents and home,” the AACAP website reports. “The [children’s] panic and refusal to go to school is very difficult for parents to cope with, but these fears and behavior can be treated successfully, with professional help.”
Dogs Enhance Copper Canyon’s Animal-Assisted Therapy Program
Copper Canyon Academy is going to the dogs – and the school’s staff and students think that’s a pretty good place to be.
One of the nation’s premier therapeutic boarding schools for girls, Copper Canyon Academy has been widely recognized and commended for its innovative and successful equine therapy program.
But horses aren’t the only four-legged therapists on the Copper Canyon campus: A small-but-growing program that partners students with dogs is also meeting with considerable success.
Comfort & Familiarity
Susannah Fox, the lead therapist at the school’s Sycamore House and the leader of the canine therapy effort, says the dog program offers an enticing alternative to students who may be hesitant about working in and around the stables. “Many girls feel more comfortable around dogs than they do around horses,” Fox said.
With dogs being such popular family pets in the United States, Fox said, merely being in proximity to the animals can have a calming, touch-of-home effect on individuals who may be hesitant or uncomfortable in a more traditional clinical setting.