Home Schooling vs. Traditional School for Children with Anxiety and ADHD

schoolWe can’t tell you if home schooling is “better” or “worse” for children with anxiety or ADHD. That all depends on your specific child and circumstances. What we can do is give you a rundown on some of the benefits, detriments and results that home-schooling can bring.

Home Schooling Benefits

Home schooling allows anxious children to:

  • Learn at their own pace
  • Benefit from customized lesson plans that targets their strengths
  • Receive more one-on-one attention than they would in larger classroom
  • Enjoy learning in a comfortable home setting
  • Avoid stress-inducing tests in a classroom setting
  • Steer clear of in-school bullies, although bullies can certainly be anywhere as our Bullying post notes

But home schooling may also provide an out that prevents parents and children from dealing with the anxiety issues at all. If issues are never addressed, it’s unlikely they will disappear on their own. In fact, ignoring anxiety issues and other mental health concerns can actually serve to make the anxiety deeper and the overall situation even more severe.

When it comes to any mental health issue, avoidance is rarely, if ever, the key to moving beyond it.

Traditional School Benefits

Traditional schooling allows anxious children to:

  • Learn and engage social skills
  • Create a face-to-face support network of their peers
  • Interact with others
  • Practice skills they’ll later need when they’re out in the “real world”
  • Break the comfortable yet not always healthy habit of isolation
  • Meet separation anxiety, school anxiety and other mental health issues head-on instead of avoiding them simply by staying home 

Additional Points to Ponder

Home school requires someone to help instruct and guide the child through his or her lessons. A parent can take the helm, provided a parent has the time and energy available. Full-time home schooling may not be the only option to consider.

Some schools may offer a kind of part-time set up where a child attends school two days per week and engages in home schooling on the other days, according to The Anxious Child website. Schools may also offer the option of providing an aid to provide personal attention to your child, although you probably have to go through some type of process for the school to approve it.

One more option The Anxious Child site notes is making the move to school a gradual one. It says to start small, with something as small as 10 minutes per day or one day per week, and then gradually increasing the time. The school, of course, would also probably need to approve such a schedule to make it work.

Home Schooling and Children with ADHD

An analysis by research professor and Psychology Today writer Peter Gray looked at real-life stories of children diagnosed with ADHD and how those children fared when they switched from traditional school to home schooling.

He collected 28 stories when he sent out a request for stories from Psychology Today readers. The stories consisted of:

  • 19 males, nine females
  • 26 written by parents of the children, one written by an older sister and one written by person who suffered from ADHD who is now an adult
  • 21 started conventional schooling and then switched, seven never attended a traditional school

Gray’s analysis of the stories found that:

  • Most children diagnosed with ADHD are able to function fine without drugs when they’re not in a traditional school
  • ADHD symptoms and characteristics don’t magically disappear when children are out of the traditional school setting, but they tend to be less problematic as they were in school
  • Taking charge of their own education seems do produce great benefits for ADHD-diagnosed children

Medication is more prevalent for children attending conventional schools than it is for home-schooled children, Gray says. Prescribing stimulants for ADHD-diagnosed children in traditional schools is a very common practice to help the students adapt to the setting. That adaptation, however, is not always a beneficial one.

Medication Issues

Medication can be helpful for reducing or controlling some of the more disruptive characteristics of ADHD, but several reader stories also pointed out how stimulants could come with detriments.

Progress Greatly Improved 

One parent noticed short-term improvement, “or at least a perceived improvement,” from medicating the child while at school, yet medication did nothing to fix the underlying issues. It also did nothing for anxiety, which was treated with Prozac. Gray quotes from the story:

“As parents, it was exactly where we didn’t want to be, having a drugged kid just to keep him in school. …”

After continued class disruptions and issues with school authority, the parents finally switched to home schooling and took their child off medication after one month.

“…[H]e  made more progress in 3 months than he had made in 3 years of traditional public school, they wrote.

Paranoid Delusions Halted 

The big sister who wrote in noted her brother had been put on medication at age 7 for ADD. When he finally took himself off at age 15, he both realized and vocalized the meds had for years been plaguing him with paranoid delusions. He went on to attend college and excel as a musician, sans medication. 

Medication Side Effects vs. Medication Benefits 

Other parents who wrote in mentioned certain medications came with horrendous side effects, such as depression, that only worsened the overall problem rather than serving to fix it. And yet still others wrote to say how medication, often started once home schooling began, was one of the most effective and helpful moves they could have made.

Less Problematic ADHD Characteristics

Several stories outline how ADHD characteristics became less prominent when children were no longer in a traditional classroom setting. One child thrived with free-range learning while another “learns fine as long as he’s moving.” A third actually enhanced his social skills as he was comfortable in a home school environment instead of made uncomfortable and self-conscious in a traditional classroom setting.

Taking Charge of Their own Education

Home schooling appears to produce great benefits in the way of ADHD-diagnosed children choosing the topics on which they can freely focus, provided those topics interest them. No lengthy explanation is necessary for this phenomenon. A small, home-school-type facility said it best in one of Gray’s collected stories.

As the facility noted, children with ADHD do their own thing, with or without other children around. When it clicks with what others are doing, that’s great. When it doesn’t, well, they may get the ADD label.

“They get labeled ADD not because they can’t attend but because they have no coping mechanisms for enforced boredom…..”


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