Eps 385: School avoidance with Jayne Demsky

Episode 383

I am so glad that you are back with me and my amazing guest, Jayne Demsky.  

So many of you have talked to me about school avoidance and how to navigate this, and we’re digging in deep this week!  The good thing – there is hope!  Jayne shares her story & why she’s so passionate about school avoidance, and why we can’t just “make them go.”  Jayne talks about different therapy options like CBT & exposure therapy, the school’s role, underlying causes, & advocating for your child.  We discuss how hard school refusal is on the parents & adults and why punitive consequences do not help.  I ask Jayne what parents should do first when they start seeing school avoidance or refusal, and we finish by chatting about education reform & improving schools for kids and how parents can self-care during challenging times. 

Guest Description 

Over the past ten years, Jayne has been helping families and schools navigate and overcome the challenges of school avoidance.  She founded School Avoidance Alliance in 2014 due to the firestorm of frustration and heartache from her own son’s chronic avoidance and the lack of support and information needed to help him.  Since then, she has helped thousands of parents and educators by sharing what works and what doesn’t, including systemic roadblocks that must be addressed.  She supports families through her booklet, “The Ultimate Guide to Working with your School: The School Avoidance Masterclass for Parents,” her private Facebook group for caregivers, and her bi-weekly parent peer-to-peer support group.  She is equally dedicated to helping schools and is excited about her newest professional development course for educators called “Everything You Need to Know to Get Your Students Back to School.”  Schools all over the United States and abroad have embraced this course, saying, “It is enlightening, comprehensive, informative, and helpful – a 10/10,” and has empowered them to make both small and large changes to improve student outcomes.  She says she is thrilled each time a new family, a group of school professionals, or an agency takes a School Avoidance Alliance course because it truly can change the trajectories of a child and their family’s life.  Of course, the ultimate satisfaction and joy is when she hears kids have returned to school due to her organization’s resources. 

Her work has been featured in The Washington Post, Education Week, Yahoo News, Good Morning Arizona, CBS News New York, and USA Today.

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Takeaways from the show

  • What is school avoidance & school refusal? 
  • What are the signs? 
  • CBT & exposure therapy 
  • The school’s role 
  • Underlying causes 
  • Advocating for your child 
  • Why punitive consequences don’t work 
  • When to intervene & what to do first 
  • Self-care for parents

What does joyful courage mean to you

Having the courage to go after something that you want brings joy.  That’s just the basic – how I get it, and I can see that in my kids & the things they have done that have taken courage & brought them joy.  

It took my son courage to figure out & take the time to figure out what did he really want to do after his education and having the courage to go about that, and it’s making him happy.  Same thing with my daughter, and I had my own whole thing with courage as well.  

I want to share that for many years, once my son started getting better in 2014, I knew I wanted to get involved and help families.  I didn’t have the courage for many years to go after this to try to help parents, and learn and immerse myself, and start interviewing people because I thought, “Someone else has got to be doing this better than me!  Someone’s got to be doing it.  Who the heck am I, and how am I going to make a difference?” 

I was forced to jump in whole hog – I was half in, half out for many years.  I was forced to because my husband quit his job and said, “Jayne, I’m not going back to work.  I hate my job.”  He’d been selling software for years.  He was like, “I can’t do it anymore.  It’s time for you, Babe!  I know you can do it.  You can do it.  Go after this dream.”  I did!  I’m so thankful because he had the courage and belief in me, and I had the courage to take it and run with it.  Every day it takes courage because we always self-doubt.  Every day I wonder.  I’m wondering “Did I talk too much here?”  

It takes courage to get what you want in life and joy.  I love that word, joy. I want everyone to have joy in their lives.  Everyone deserves it. 



School Avoidance Alliance

“For School Avoidance Families: The Ultimate Guide to Working with your School” booklet

“Everything You Need to Know to Get Your Students Back to School” course for educators

Jayne on Twitter

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Jayne Demsky, Casey O'Roarty

Casey O'Roarty 00:05
Hey, welcome to the joyful courage podcast a place for inspiration and transformation as we try and keep it together, while parenting our tweens and teens. This is real work people. And when we can focus on our own growth, and nurturing the connection with our kids, we can move through the turbulence in a way that allows for relationships to remain intact. My name is Casey already, I am your fearless host. I'm a positive discipline trainer, space holder coach and the adolescent lead at Sprout double. I am also the mama to a 20 year old daughter and 17 year old son walking right beside you on this path of raising our kids with positive discipline and conscious parenting. This show is meant to be a resource to you and I work really hard to keep it real, transparent and authentic so that you feel seen and supported today as an interviewer and I have no doubt that what you hear will be useful to you. Please don't forget sharing truly is caring. If you love today's show, please pass the link around snap a screenshot posted on your socials or texted to your friends. Together we can make an even bigger impact on families all around the globe. I'm so glad that you're here. Enjoy the show.

Casey O'Roarty 01:26
All right, listeners. I am so glad that you are back with me and my amazing guests. I'm so excited to be in conversation with Jane Dembski. Over the past 10 years, Jane has been helping families and schools navigate and overcome the challenges of school avoidance you guys so many of you have talked to me about this. And Ben in the question of how do I navigate this? We're gonna talk about it today. She founded school avoidance Alliance in 2014 due to the firestorm of frustration and heartache from her own son's chronic avoidance and the lack of support and information needed to help him. Since then, she has helped 1000s of parents and educators by sharing what works and what doesn't, including systemic roadblocks that must be addressed. She supports families through her booklet The Ultimate Guide to working with your school, the school avoidance masterclass for parents, her private Facebook group for caregivers and her bi weekly parent, peer to peer support group. She is equally dedicated to helping schools and is excited about her newest professional development course for educators called everything you need to know to get your students back to school. Schools all over the United States and abroad have embraced this course saying it is enlightening, comprehensive, informative and helpful a 10 out of 10 and has empowered them to make both small and large changes to improve student outcomes. She says she is thrilled each time a new family a group of school professionals or an agency takes a school avoidance Alliance course because it truly can change the trajectories of a child and their family's life. And of course, the ultimate satisfaction and joy when she hears kids have returned to school. Due to one of her organization's resources. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post Education Week Yahoo News. Good morning, Arizona, CBS News, New York and USA Today. Hi, Jane, welcome to the podcast

Jayne Demsky 03:31
like a you see, so nice to meet you and be here. Thank you so much for the invitation. This is such an important topic. One of the biggest problems is that it's not well known to the general public. So we have to bring it into the mainstream more. And I'm thrilled to be able to talk to your parents out there and any educators listening.

Casey O'Roarty 03:50
Awesome. Well, yeah, I mean, I reached out to you, again, because I had my own experience with school avoidance, which I didn't even know that phrase existed when I was going through it about four years ago, five years ago. And I have a lot of clients and people that I work with people in the community that are struggling with this. And so I searched around, I found you, I was like, Okay, I gotta use this contact form. Hopefully she'll get it. Hopefully she'll be open to talking with me. I was so glad when I heard back from you. Can you share with the listeners about your personal experience that had you moving into this field? Yes.

Jayne Demsky 04:31
Well, you might be able to tell how passionate I am. I was on a podcast a few months ago. It was for highlights magazine. Do you remember the highlights where you had to find?

Casey O'Roarty 04:41
Yes, back when there weren't phones in the dentist's office and all there was to do was look at highlights.

Jayne Demsky 04:46
So anyway, they let me listen to the podcast back after and I heard myself banging on the table because I was just reiterating. And they said you can hear how passionate she is. But um Yeah, it's funny. I was like, That was a nice way to say that student is bagging. So I'm not bagging for you. Thank you. But yeah, so it stems from my own feelings and what my family went through. And it's really hard to, I'm going to explain it to you. But the sad thing is that it's hard for parents going through it, to explain it to other people, unless you've been in it, or learned all about it. Even if you've learned all about it, if you're not living through that you don't know what it's like. I mean, it's the ultimate feeling of, well, this is something that every kid does, why can't I get my kids at school? What did I do wrong. And then on top of that, having to explain it to your friends or your family. That's a whole other story about how people don't understand you talk about that after, but my son's. So there were signs in Intermediate School where he started to miss a day or two here and there, and we didn't understand it. And then into middle school, we started to see more and more issues with doing homework, and a little episodes of crying, and then started to work its way into more missing days of school here and there, it became a problem. He became really isolated, where he all of a sudden didn't want to leave his room, and the saving grace, and this happens a lot when you're trying to help your kid you meet people and angels along the way who helped you. And we were seeing therapists because he had been to a number of therapists, and no one put her name on it at that point. No one called it school refusal school avoidance, they just said it looks like he has an anxiety disorder. Now until one day when this therapist didn't show up, and we happen to be put with another therapist, he told me what it was that it had a name. He's a psychiatrist, also, he's a psychiatrist, but does therapy. And he was the one who became my angel, because he would text me and answer my texts when I was going through heck them hell sorry with my son, to have someone support you when you're going through horrible situations. And he was that which is really hard to find in the psychiatrist. Yeah. And he told me, your son is not functioning, you should take him to an acute hospitalization, and bring you here, your child has to be hospitalized. It's the scariest thing

Casey O'Roarty 07:20
in the world, nothing like it for sure.

Jayne Demsky 07:22
And it's almost become normalized in a way because I speak to so many parents who've had gone through this. But still in the eyes of you know, the general public, it's still really scary. But when you go through it the first time, you're like, I can't believe this is my life. So you went through a short, acute hospitalization, which brought him back and got him back to school. But it essentially really didn't get to the crux of the problem. And then this started happening again, in ninth grade in ninth grade, it became the point where he would not go to school for days at a time. And one day, he just came home like the third or fourth week in school and said, luck on back. I can't not. And we sent him to an inpatient treatment program in Wisconsin, and that's what helped get him on track, because they understood school avoidance, which was really hard to find at that time, and still is now. And they diagnosed him with his social anxiety disorder. And they pretty much said to me, after that six weeks of treatment that your son's bedroom is his cocoon. And he can't go back to that cocoon, that you really need to think about a residential therapeutic boarding school, which I had heard from other people before. And I discounted it because I'm like, I'm not sending my kid away. But the bottom line is, whatever it takes to get your kid healthy again, that is the bottom line. So that was it, whatever it takes. He went to therapy at boarding school did well went to a smaller boarding school do well. He graduated high school, went to college, and he is now an independent human being. He lives on his own with his girlfriend. And as I was telling you earlier, he has his own health insurance has a career he loves. So he found his way. Yeah, why I started this was and I'm sorry, it was such a long story for the audience to hear. First of all, every path is different. My path is not yours. Also, when we went to this 10 years ago, there was much less understanding of it and much less information out there. So it was really difficult. And parents do go through this now because again, you feel stigmatized, your friends don't understand. To this day, a friend still comes up to me and my son started having these issues in 2009. He graduated high school in 2015. And now it was in 2023. And he's a career and she still comes up to me. He goes, How is he doing? Like he has a developmental issue and yeah, he doesn't get it. You know, you just school the board is due to social anxiety. Because other issues which a lot of people have, yeah, it's a really common issue.

Casey O'Roarty 10:04
I think it's a common issue. And I think that there's a variety of tolerance for it in some of our kids have a lower tolerance for that being socially anxious, right? And similar to you, my daughter struggle, those of you that have listened to the podcast, you've heard her come on and talk about this. She struggled with severe anxiety that ultimately led her to completely dropping out of school a few weeks into 11th grade. And yeah, trying to explain what was happening to the people in my life, my list of who I would get on the phone with got very small during that period of time, because I was already in self doubt. I was already like, Oh, God, oh, God, am I doing the right thing. But what's the alternative? Right, it felt like such a freefall, I had no idea where to go for support, I had no idea how to change her mind, she took a stand and said, I'm done. I don't want to do this anymore. Similar, like room was her safe place. At that time, like she would go to Rite Aid to pick up her prescription and sit for 45 minutes in her car trying to will herself in to go pick up her prescription. It was so it was it was so sad. And I remember thinking, how is she ever going to function? How is she ever going to function and then trying to find the right therapist? I mean, I we had one therapist, who I mean, it was about two months after she dropped out of school, we were fearful of an eating disorder. And Rohan comes home and says, Well, my therapist thinks I can go to every other week. I was like, really? I think I want to come in and talk to the scalp. So I go into our next appointment and I was like this and this and this and this and you think she's like progressing towards needing less of your support? And I don't know, but maybe similar to your kid I know, similar to other kids. Rowan could present in the short term as pretty well functioning, right? She wasn't at 1617 Like, oh, yeah, let's dig into my darkness. Stranger therapist, like I'm gonna ride this out. Because you know, they're already so uncomfortable. Right? And for us, it was fine. I mean, I was six month waitlist. So those of you that are reaching out to organizations and people and are like, Darn it, there's a waitlist, just get on the waitlist and keep searching. We got on a waitlist for a DBT adolescent Caregiver Program. Six months I remember being like, What the fuck, six months how is this useful? But I got on it. And sure enough, when we got in six months later, it was a week after or maybe the week before my husband was diagnosed with cancer. Like it could not have been better timing. He's good, by the way. But I didn't realize when I was like six months how perfect Lee aligned it would be with our life, right? So get on the waitlist. So had she been just like an overachieving like school. You know, I'm ready to take on the world. This whole school structure isn't for me, that would be one thing, but ultimately knowing that it was her anxiety and her mental health that was making it so she couldn't do school made it so hard. Plus, again, didn't have the term school avoidance or refusal. So we rolled with it. And she's doing really well now. But man, I'm so hearing you about being in it. And not having people understand it. And like hearing people say things like, well, you just make her go. Like so how, what exactly does that look like? Right?

Jayne Demsky 13:48
Yes, if it were that easy, and I've had friends that say, oh, send them to my house or right, I'll come to your house, I'll get him to school. I said, Good. Come

Casey O'Roarty 13:58
call me back.

Jayne Demsky 14:00
When you can't get support from people, that is huge, because it is so difficult for parents and they need support. clinicians who are in our masterclass from Columbia University, and that I talked to say part of when they treat their kids, they do psycho education with the parents. psychoeducation explains all about what the kid is dealing with and what the therapy will look like and what their role is and what the therapists role is. But the therapists also say, we put our families together in a group to support each other. Because you need to talk to someone else who's going through what you're going through. Yes, so you don't feel so alone. And you learn from each other and you support each other. So this is very hard to find having peer support for school boys. I just want to mention here and I'm so sorry, because I don't want to be a salesperson but I just want to let you let people know that when you buy our school ratings masterclass for parents, we give away right now free access to our bi weekly parent, peer to peer support group. And those families, they have said, just talking to other people has been a godsend to them. And the emails of thanks I've gotten from them, they've made me cry. And these people have made more progress with their kids, because they feel supported. And we share things that we're learning from the school. So that's one thing. Secondly, therapists, okay, we all know in America, the mental health situation stinks providers, it's a problem all over the world actually doesn't help me as an individual person to you and your family. So the first line treatments for school avoidance are cognitive behavioral therapy, which just means thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and how they influence each other. And exposure therapy. Exposure therapy is when a therapist makes some equaled a hierarchy of the child's problems starting with the lowest anxiety producing or fear causing issue. And the highest, so the lowest might be ordering from a waitress in a restaurant. Yeah, individual for each kid. And then the highest would be walking into school, or it might be even other things. The therapist tells me, it really it dependent on the child. So the fear hierarchy is what exposure therapists do. Now, another problem, I hate to dig deeper and the problems but there are solutions. So hold on, hold on.

Casey O'Roarty 16:39
I mean, it's validating to hear, you know, when parents say like, I can't find any help, and nobody knows what to do. This is powerful. So keep going. This is important. Okay,

Jayne Demsky 16:50
so there aren't enough well trained people out there doing exposure therapy as well. But this is where the school comes in, and why we are educating schools, schools, can hopefully one day have an exposure therapist for each school district. That is my wish, and maybe one day it can come through because I think that would be the answer to a lot of the school's problems. But in the meantime, schools can base what we call reintegration strategy based on the theory of exposure therapy. So if a kid's been out of school for three weeks, three months, three years, and the school saying, Well, Mom, you bring him back to school on Monday, and we expect them to be back at school every day. That's just so irrational. And it's not going to happen, the child needs to re integrate slowly. And each going to get as different. It could be as slowly as just making a connection to one human being and that school slowly to feel grounded and supported. And then maybe we can build the kid to going to school for a one period one day a week. Two periods. You know, again, each kid's hierarchy is different. And parents always say, Send me what a reintegration plan looks like. There is none because it's different for each child based on the present level of functioning where that child is today. But we do we will show you what a sample one looks like. But this is where, because we have a lack of therapists out there. This is why the school becomes so important. I will talk about that in a minute when we get to the school's role. But this is really an important piece where the school has the ability to step in and help you. I'm gonna let you talk and get some other questions out there. But we're gonna have to get back to that. Yeah,

Casey O'Roarty 18:42
well, I really appreciate all of that. And you know, DBT Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is what we ended up doing with Rowan, which lives underneath the cognitive behavioral therapy umbrella. And by that time, by the time we got in, I mean, at that point, we were like, Okay, well, you get to study for the GED. So we were done with the school situation, that was our path, and she did get her GED, and then she went to trade school and was able to do an esthetician program. You know, this was like a year and a half later. But what I will say is something I'm really curious about, and I think what I heard when you were talking kind of at the schools are like, okay, show up on Monday, and then we're done. And we talk about the iceberg metaphor, right? And at the tip of the iceberg is school refusal. I'm not going to school, right under the surface exists, anxiety disorder, beliefs about themselves beliefs about school beliefs about the world all of these things. And to think like a reintegration plan can exist without addressing what's going on under the surface is short sighted. And couple that with the child's willingness to do the work, right? I mean, there's no forcing. And fortunately, I guess you can lead a horse to water, you can't make them drink, you can drop the kid off at a therapy appointment. How they use that time and how open they are, is a different conversation. And so I think that's a place that's really difficult for parents. I know it was for me, because I threw all sorts of things at my kid. Well, what about this? What about this? Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. I am done. Right?

Casey O'Roarty 20:43
And again, that's 11th grade. But when you're talking about seventh grade, or fifth grade, right, that's, yeah, I don't know. I don't know, I didn't have that experience.

Jayne Demsky 20:53
You mentioned something really important. The underlying cause? Yeah. So the cause the underlying cause, or causes. The fact of school avoidance is that it usually has co occurring issues at play. So it's most usually not just an emotional health disorder, social anxiety, any kind of anxiety, OCD, PTSD, it usually co occurs with the other situation. And I find out from parents all the time who reiterate this, and the research shows it as well. It can be a co occurring thing where there is a toxic teacher somewhere in that child's schooling that call them out. I found this recently on a peer to peer support group from one of the parents who said she remembered that back in kindergarten, or her son reminded her that in kindergarten, the teacher would give everyone stars or accolades for being a good citizen. And each kid got stars every week. And her son never got a star. And she said, Johnny, when you're going to be, you know, a good citizen or a good boy, because I want to give you your star,

Casey O'Roarty 22:03
when are you going to be worthy of a star? Right? Geez,

Jayne Demsky 22:06
it was a last day of school. And he still didn't get a star. I'm sorry. I don't want to judge. But parents put on your receptors and assertiveness because don't let anyone hurt your child. Yep, we are the mom on the Papa bears. And I think she did go to speak to the principal. But I don't think the principal did anything, and didn't realize the severity of the emotional trauma. And when she told me that, and we've been speaking for a year on the peer support group, I was like, wow, my son had the same thing. It is inpatient program, they had to write stuff. I'm sorry, I did go through his book, don't tell them a few years ago, and he said, In third grade, this teacher who only was a cook, but she treated all the other kids nice, she would pick on my son. And my son was a smart kid, happy kids follow the rules. She called him out and sent him out of the room. He wrote that as being a poignant piece of his past. That was like a little trauma. So there are co occurring issues all the time also. Well, and

Casey O'Roarty 23:20
I just want to stop right there. Because I'm about like, sometimes I see online when you know, because in my world, the whole positive parenting, relationship based parenting, child lead parenting world. There's always those haters who are like, Oh, this generation, they're soft, they're snowflakes, they're blah, blah, blah. And I just want to give a big fu to all of those people. Because five needs to have a situation where they're showing up every day, and some bitch of a teacher has decided you're not good enough for this gold star. They're making all sorts of meaning about that. Like it's still It pisses me off that schools continue to use these punitive systems for behavior management that truly just continue to raise up kids that are easy. Right, whatever that means. Yeah. And continue to shut down kids that don't fit the mold. And it's a lot of time it's our boys. Right? Because school is not designed for them. Anyway, okay, so box,

Jayne Demsky 24:26
you know, everything sparks another thing in my head when you said punitive, that is a huge problem right now in the school. So yeah, I didn't get a chance to address the parents out there that if you are dealing with this right now that there is hope and you can do things kids do get better every day. Kids do get back to school every day. And you advocating for your child can make a difference. And I will tell you things that you can do. Yeah, and this is a problem and we can't blame it on the schools because to be fair, Schools have never had training on school avoidance until we came along. And that's why we created the course. So glad you did. There's been no training on this. Educators are humans and people, and they bring their own misconceptions to the table. And it's really hard. If you're not in the shoes, it looks like manipulation. It really does. If a kid is so scared, the parent feels they're being manipulated by the child, the school does, but it's not the job. So schools, unfortunately, are trading school board and some not all. So every school is different. Every school is led by the superintendent, Director of Special Education, the director of counseling, also director of guidance and what they feel from the bottom up and all the people underneath and it takes to champion within the school district. And this happens now when I'm talking to schools. And I have a school psychologist or social workers, like I want this training, we need to help our kids and I say to them, it takes one person to be the champion of these kids to push upstream. You know, and it's hard because you're talking to your boss, but you got to explain, you know, we've saving kids lives. And also, it's going to save the school money in the long run. I explained that to the schools as well. But so right right now that school boys in many schools is treated like truancy. So therefore punitive actions. In our course, obviously, we show that there is no data that supports that punitive works, it only hurts. And if when schools bring in Department of Child and families when it's not warranted, just because it's truancy, obviously, affairs, neglect. And sure parents aren't responding, of course, but some schools use it because they can't handle it, it creates another tornado of hell for families that they have to fight, in addition to, they have to prove that they are worthy of the children, then they have to deal with childhoods breaking down at home. And then the parent is emotionally breaking down. And I almost had an emotional breakdown. And I speak to

Casey O'Roarty 27:07
parents owe me 200%,

Jayne Demsky 27:09
because it's like, I can't help my child. You don't give up but you're crying, crying. And it's hard to get up off the couch sometimes when you're repeatedly being pushed down. So we need the champions in the schools to teach non punitive school avoidance education, professional development, that's a baseline for everything. And I hear in my calls when I am talking to agencies and juvenile court attendance groups, that they now realize punitive is not working. They want to move toward restorative practice. But the message needs to trickle down to our schools and trickling down is that to trickle you know, how many years does it take to trickle so that's why we can't wait for trickling that's why we each need to do something and get out there. Educate the schools educate ourselves.

Casey O'Roarty 28:03
Well, and it's just really quick, and then we'll move on. But it's crazy to me that it's a criminalizing attendance with a kid who is crippled by mental health issues. I mean, it just blows my mind. It's sad. Yes, yes, yes. Yes. I mean, I could talk to you for five hours. And I'm thinking about the parents that are listening who are like, Okay, I tuned into this because my kid right now, as they listen to us talk is upstairs, will hold this in the teen like high school because that's who my listenership is. It's the older kids. I have a kid who is, you know, two weeks in or two months in or a significant amount of time in to refusing to go to school? What's the first thing that parent needs to do?

Jayne Demsky 28:52
I have a list of some things I want to talk about possum. I don't know if they all go in order. Okay, so it could be an order, but I think that can be done at different times. Okay. The first one, I guess is don't wait to intervene. If you have a gut feeling that something's going on with your child. If they're having problems with their homework and they have been crying fits, that's where it often starts, or

Casey O'Roarty 29:14
is it about the homework in that situation? Or is it something deeper?

Jayne Demsky 29:18
We don't know? It could be anxiety. It could be a undiagnosed learning difference, which happens a lot with school avoiding kids, okay, that their learning difference goes undiagnosed undetected. Don't forget schools are busy, busy places, right? It's hard. So parents always have to watch out and speak up and now even more so than ever, schools are inundated. So you cannot wait for a person at school to reach out and say hey, your child we're seeing problems you are the main person to reach out. Okay, so intervene. Okay. Reaching out to a mental health professional possibly. Definitely call the school. That's one of the first First thing you call the school and tell them your child's having problems, and you want to set up a meeting. And I would always do this in email in written form. So it doesn't fall by the wayside. And when schools get emails from parents, they have to respond in a certain amount of time, when they asked for something called an evaluation, which if you feel your child has a learning difference, or an emotional, mental health disorder, that qualifies as a disability, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, so at that time, that's another step. I don't want to move ahead. But you can write a letter saying you want your child to be evaluated and tested to see if the child has ADHD, or any other learning difference. And if they have a social mental health issue, there always has to be a psych evaluation also in there, and if schools are not doing the psych eval, then they're not doing their job. But that's another story, I just want to let you know that I can't go deep into educational disability law right now. That's okay. On my website, I have it all. And I also have a free downloadable booklet. It's called for school avoidance families, The Ultimate Guide to dealing with your school, and I talk all about educational and disability law, what you should be doing with your school. So that's a must, that you should have because you have rights. Every child has a right to a free, appropriate public education. It's cool to fake in the eyes of the United States Department of Education and Disability Rights. So everyone has the right to a free and appropriate public education. So go to my website and get that request a meeting with the school, they might set you up with the principal, we don't know, the intervention team, that's a group that we don't know exists. And that's usually made up of the principal, maybe someone from the special education department, a school psychologist, a teacher or to maybe a school counselor, and they will sit down and try to help you figure out how they can help you. That's the first line of schools defense, the called the RTI team. They're called different things at different districts. They might not be educated on school avoidance. So you should come to the meeting, if you feel your child has school avoidance, go to my website and get the information or take our master class. So you are educated.

Casey O'Roarty 32:27
Yes, you know, anytime somebody tells me, they're in school to be a teacher, I'm like, Oh, God bless you. Because any more school buildings are required to be so much more than simply teaching academics. And so what I'm hearing you say, and I wanted to pause you, because I really want parents to hear this is if you have a kiddo that is, you know, refusing school, what Jane is saying, get yourself educated before you walk in the door. Because you might need to advocate you might need to educate your school, on how they can be more helpful, you might have to be that person. So okay,

Jayne Demsky 33:11
pause me whenever you can. And that is a really good point, because I started doing all this because when I went through it with my son, I didn't know any of this, right? So my website and our courses, and everything is everything I wish I knew before. I know I could have gotten him back to school quicker. And things would have been different. If I knew all these things. We're talking about the RTI team or the intervention team. Again, not many schools understand School of when so you really want to go in. And that was a mistake, I made thinking they are the experts. They can't be the expert on everything. Because, you know, they're not superhuman. They can't be an expert on ADHD on trauma informed OCD, PTSD, school avoidance, there are humans, so you need to be educated. I was listening to them one of eight suggests they felt everything they did. Same when we went. I eventually got a 504 plan and an IEP individualized education plan. I asked them to tell me what the accommodations and modifications and services should be. I should have known what to tell them. Because we often hear from parents or schools on the special education attorneys tell me this, that if a school says we don't do that, we've never done that. That doesn't mean they can't now,

Casey O'Roarty 34:29
right? It's 2023 every one. That's the other thing too. And I noticed this and my experience is that like, I'm not a big fan like it's time to revolutionize the school system. So there's this other piece, too, which is I felt like this school is the structure that I was trying to force my daughter into. That wasn't the best place for her to learn and a lot of kids don't fit into the traditional school model. You So it's like this work of reconciling all of this, and doing all this work to try to put them in an outdated system. That may have actually been the environment that kind of percolated all of these issues to begin with. Like, what are some other options? I have a client, who homeschooled her kids, has homeschooled her kids and her daughter in seventh grade, decided to go to public school. She gave it two years, this last year has been so rough for her. And she said, I don't want to go back. Her mom said, Great. I'm still homeschooling your younger siblings. Let's make a plan.

Jayne Demsky 35:37
Did it work for them, though? Yeah.

Casey O'Roarty 35:39
So far, so good. That's awesome. And we talk about like, what is it going to look like to create opportunities for you know, socialization, and which I'm sure all the homeschool parents right now are rolling their eyes at me? Because it's like, just because our kids are homeschooled does not mean they don't know how to socialize, right? I think we're really stuck in this idea that all of our kids need to march through this system that is being left in the dust, I mean, Gen Z, they are becoming proficient by watching YouTube. Right? And so there's that piece too. And I don't know the answer to that. I don't know the answer to that. I'm well aware that I just lifted a lid that probably we don't want to be under into too much. But I mean, that's a really big thing to consider to and I know for me, you know, when it was like, Okay, you're dropping out, we have to go have the principal, who we did not know, because we were brand new to the school system. She didn't know who I was, she didn't know our family, Rowan and I walked in. And the principal launched into all sorts of alternatives to dropping out. And I slowly watched my 16 year old, disassociate, like, I could see it in real time. But what were the alternatives that he gave, oh, you can do this program. There's this alternative school. And have you ever thought about this? And I finally had to say, Listen, we, as a family have discussed this, we are already decided, you know, I could see my daughter like shrinking into herself as this adult was not seeing that she was in crisis. And what we have chosen as a family was already done. We just needed her to sign the paper.

Casey O'Roarty 37:34
I'm not some flaky parent who isn't educated on what it is that we were doing. Even though in my head, I was like, Oh, God, I don't know if we're doing the right thing, you know, and finally, she'd signed the paper and we walked back and Rowan was so grateful, you know that I finally got firm inside of my presence and being like, Nope, you know what, this is what we're doing. She's going to move towards a GED. We also looked at the trade school, the tech school in town had a GED program that also came with some on campus classes, which Rowan was like, Hell, no, I'm not doing that. So, you know, did we do the right thing? I don't know. Did she have a few years of like total isolation? Yes. As did the rest of the world because little did we know a few months later, COVID would hit. She had a t shirt that said, socially distant before it was cool.

Jayne Demsky 38:26
I like that one. That's awesome. Yeah,

Casey O'Roarty 38:29
like she had her own. What was it called integration reintegration plan, like your reintegration plan was, get my GED, go through a trade school that was part time, and then make my way as best I can out into the real world, right and have real world experience. I mean, we didn't know that this was the plan. But this was like in hindsight, like,

Jayne Demsky 38:52
so she didn't formally write down the plan out.

Casey O'Roarty 38:54
No, no, no, no, no.

Jayne Demsky 38:54
Because I was like, Wow, your kid is awesome.

Casey O'Roarty 38:57
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Okay. Don't be confused. But it was like, as I look back on her journey, you know, and consider where she is today, which is wrapping up the first quarter full time classes at the community college wanting to get her ultrasound tech certificate, and really the first week of school saying, Wow, school is so different without anxiety. I mean, her reflection,

Jayne Demsky 39:23
yeah. Okay. So you brought up a lot of important points, right, her

Casey O'Roarty 39:27
reflection on that. I mean, I'm realizing to in this conversation listeners, like we're not solving any problems here. I mean, but it's such an important messy, like most of us, we just don't get it. And so I'm feeling like this is a really useful conversation, Jane, and obviously, I'm gonna have to have you come back so that we can talk more but yeah, what are you hearing and what I'm saying and sharing?

Jayne Demsky 39:51
Well, first of all, what you said about, you know, a square peg in a round hole. Yes, there actually is a group in the UK that I've been talking to For years called square peg, and the other one's called not fine in school, they see things differently anyway. But that is true. Not every kid is fit for the traditional school. I do want to give a caveat, though, because that doesn't mean that every child having a problem attending school, should I leave that school 100% It's not the answer to everyone. And there's gonna have to be a lot of things that are looked at before that comes to be. So there are alternative schools, some schools have different programs, some schools are building programs for kids who have school avoidance to try to help them slowly back into school. I heard some schools have night schools now, which is a help maybe because it's a smaller environment, and maybe the circadian rhythms and you know, kids are, you know, they're up late, and I'm the same, I'm an afternoon night person. So like, I still feel bad for kids. And I felt bad for myself when I had to get to high school by 720 in the morning. And I don't agree with that, either. But that's another story with busing, but not every kid fits the mold for that solution, you have to ask yourself and look at your child really objectively.

Casey O'Roarty 41:13
And I will say, noticing, where our narrative makes it different. Like that was the hardest thing for me was, well, this is what you do. Like, this is what you this is what you do. And then you go to college, and then you have a job. And then you go like, I didn't realize how attached to what it should look like. I was I thought it was really easy going like, Joe Yeah, take the lead. And then, you know, when she actually took the lead, I was like, What are you doing? This isn't how it's supposed to look. So

Jayne Demsky 41:48
agreed, you are not the only one. And I am a very open minded person as well. But of course, we're into that mode, go to school, get your degree, go to college, go to vocational school, go to work. And especially if you live in areas of the country where you know, it's all about where your kid goes to college. Yeah, high achieving after work is a horrible pressure. And we should never be comparing ourselves to other people. And my son eventually did find his own path. He did not want to go into an academic, you know, white collar job. He eventually figured out, even though he's super intelligent, and he got A's in chemistry, and physics and calculus, he wanted something else. And luckily, he found it with like two years ago, he is a C and C machinist can't really explain what it is. But it's he does all this kind of programming and measuring. And that takes a lot of patience and brainpower to build specialized parts for defense. Amazing automotive. Yes. And he loves it. He loves working with his hands and his mind that says very crafty,

Casey O'Roarty 43:00
you know, right. That's what we should want for our kids. That's what we should want for our kids.

Jayne Demsky 43:05
And I really am upset that and I want this to happen. I want vocational options to be brought to schools early on when they are younger in elementary school. So kids can be exposed to different options. They don't fit into a mold. And yes, I have learned to let go of that when I was in crisis, my son, and I tell all parents get the heck off Facebook, you will get yourself so sick. If you were looking at all the graduation pictures of Prom pictures do not go on, I took it off my phone for many years. So don't do that to yourself. Don't torture yourself. Your kids are individuals. And I was just thinking that today with my daughter also my daughter also suffered from anxiety disorder, but not school avoidance. Is she older or younger? She's younger, she's going to be a senior in college right now. She's a younger child. She's five years behind him. And every day that kid went to school, I was grateful to the universe and to her that she was able to function. Now I know she's a very social kid. And that propelled her and because I learned from my son, I knew how to get her the individualized education plan. I knew my rights. I knew what accommodations modifications to get her and she did have all that. And, you know, she had signs of social anxiety and she still does where she doesn't like to, you know, call people on the phone or relies on email. But she's now 21 And I see her slowly growing and changing and evolving as she gets older, where she is pushing herself and learning that I have to face people on the phone. You know they do evolve. I know you said that with your daughter. She is evolving into her own creature and she is going to make it work. Yeah. And your daughter did and my son did. And I believe this for all the parents I talked to because there's nothing inherently wrong with these kids who have school avoidance, they might have a learning difference, they might have a mental health issue, they might have been traumatized. But there's nothing wrong with these kids, you know, so and each kid has a unique special part of them. And that's where, you know, we also educate schools. We talk about that. And you have to look at all not look at all the deficits when you're writing reports about these kids. Also, what do they bring to the table? Every kid has something different. I just spoke to a school principal the other day, and he told me, he realizes what we realize that education has to change. And we have to bring in more engaging topics and things to meet kids and have them learn things that they're interested in. So he said, Okay, so in the fall, we are starting a class on game theory, or maybe like building games or video games, or because that takes a lot of intelligence. It's gonna lead to it. And he had other things like learning the history of their state and their town and other things. And I said, Well, how did you choose his classes? Did you ask the kids what they wanted? Because, yeah, obviously do a survey of the kids, what do they want? And he said, interestingly enough, they didn't know what they wanted.

Casey O'Roarty 46:10
Nobody's asked. And I

Jayne Demsky 46:13
said, You know what? I'm not surprised. Because no one asked or they haven't been exposed to anything. When do you find what you're interested in? I didn't find out what I was interested in till I was 45. Yeah, I mean, I had the interest like tennis and you know, going out with my friends and blah, blah, but I didn't realize I wasn't exposed to things in elementary school and middle school in high school. I just took my classes. No one told me you know, about flowers, and, you know, being out in nature and anything?

Casey O'Roarty 46:44
Yeah, I think that. I mean, again, the rabbit hole of everything that's getting better at school. The other thing that I want to ask you though, too, as we wrap up, because it's a road, right, and it's a long road. And so what were some of the things, Jane, as you moved through it with your son, through the ups and downs, and the roller coaster, how did you take care of yourself, so that you could be with what was going on with your son? What were some of the things that you did for you, that helped you just be the advocate that he needed.

Jayne Demsky 47:23
I am a determined human. So luckily, I had that inmate, I told myself, I would never give up. So just the feeling of knowing that you're not giving up on your child, no matter how disabled I was, with my own emotional distress or fear. I didn't want my son to see it. And I just kept persevering. But it's not that easy all the time. If you've been beaten down, beaten down, and you don't have anyone in your corner, like I had the psychiatrist in my corner and my husband, we were pretty much on the same page. At the beginning, we weren't on the same page. That's also common problem, where one parent is like, grab the kid, pull him out of bed, roll mulika I don't give a crap. Or yelling. My husband yell at him. You cannot yell at these kids. Don't berate them. They don't want to be this way. Yeah. So what I do for myself, I went back to my psychiatrist. I've always been on meds off and on my life, so thankful for those antidepressants and anti anxiety, strong advocate. I'm sorry, people are really against that. But it's helped me throughout my whole life, and many people shouldn't get it from them. And that drug Prozac has been in the market for I don't know how many years of people are dying, it's not killing them.

Casey O'Roarty 48:33
My daughter on Thanksgiving, she wrote on her Instagram story. Today, I am thankful for Prozac. So yes, it was a game changer for her.

Jayne Demsky 48:43
I went back to my psychiatrists, and I didn't make time for myself. I didn't make time for myself to work out then because I was wrapped in a cocoon. And I should have done better I should have gone out for walks, I shouldn't have been at more

Casey O'Roarty 48:55
light. You could have we're not going to say should we'll say Could I could have.

Jayne Demsky 48:59
Right I was I was just on that computer all hours of the night looking. And that's another reason why we made the course because I can't tell you how many hours I went on. I was reading case law, trying to find out you know how to deal with the school because they didn't understand it. And I had a fight you know, a whole different way. I don't want you wasting your time online. It's really hard to find this information. That's why I just put it all in one spot you have enough to deal with with yourself and your child.

Casey O'Roarty 49:26
I love that. I love that you've created this resource and listeners, I'm going to ask Jane for the links. They're going to all be in the show notes so that you can get your hands on this and I'll just share my experience. What I did for myself is I took long walks. Being outside was helpful being away from the house was helpful. Like I said earlier I shortened my list. I shortened my list of people that I was going to be as far as on the phone with like friends and family. There were some people that it was like I will text with you. I am not going to get on the phone with You because they're judging you and don't get it. Yeah. And I already had enough self judgment. I didn't need to hear from, you know, other people that I was like, What are you doing? Like, believe me, that is the question I'm asking myself, I don't need you to be asking it. So shortening that list was a self care for me. And I also would leave Voice Memos like a voice diary. I didn't do that a lot. But it's so interesting to go back and to listen to some of that maybe one day I'll positive things or things you were experienced, just things I was experiencing, like, Okay, so here's today, this is what's going on. Wow. That's how I feel. That's powerful. I had a therapist too. But it was another place where I could really just express without getting any feedback, just as piecing it from my body. Right. So Mamas and Papas who are listening who are in this, you have to figure out what is useful to you and make sure that you make time for yourself, because this is a process that requires endurance and stamina.

Jayne Demsky 51:05
So true. Thank you for saying that, right? Because we have to take care of ourselves because I wasn't near a breaking point. And I speak to parents all the time. So

Casey O'Roarty 51:13
yeah. So tell me now this is how I always wrap up my show, Jane, my final question, considering everything we've talked about and been through and our parenting journey. What does joyful courage mean to you?

Jayne Demsky 51:26
Well, having the courage to go after something that you want, brings joy. That's just the basic how I get it. And I can see that it my kids, things they have done, that's taken courage that has brought them joy. It took my son the courage to figure out take the time that you know, what does he really want to do after his education, and have the courage to go about that, and it's making him happy. Same thing with my daughter. And I had my own whole thing with courage as well that I wanted to share that for many years. I once my son started getting better, like in 2014. I knew I wanted to get involved and help families.

Casey O'Roarty 52:10
That was his gift to you. That was the gift of this experience. Right? No.

Jayne Demsky 52:14
But asked me if I would have rather had the gift or not go through that. Any day, not my kid go through it. Yeah. But I didn't have the courage for many years to go after this to try to help parents and learn and immerse myself and start interviewing people because I thought that someone else has got to be the one that better than me. Someone's got to be doing it. Who the heck am I? And how am I going to make a difference? And I was forced to jump in whole hog. I was half half in half out for many years. And then I was forced to because my husband quit his job and said, Jane, I'm not going back to work. I hate my job. He's been selling software for years. And he's like, I can't do it anymore. It's time for you, babe. I know you can do it. You can do it go after the stream. And I did. And I'm so thankful because he had the courage and the belief in me and I had the courage to take it and run with it. And every day. It takes courage because we always self doubt. Every day wonder like I'm wondering, did I talk too much here? takes courage to get what you want in life. Yeah. And joy. Oh, wow. I love that word joy. Me to want everyone to have joy in their lives. Everyone deserves it. Love it.

Casey O'Roarty 53:33
Ah, where can people find you and follow your work?

Jayne Demsky 53:37
Very easy on school avoidance.org Where I have access to all my information, my booklet on Know Your Rights deal with your school district and for school for educators. If you're listening to learn all about our course and the parents learn about a course. And our peer support group goes with our school avoidance masterclass. I am on Twitter, I think at school avoidance and on LinkedIn at Jane Dembski I have a private Facebook group. Oh, great. There's search school avoidance on Facebook and a private group that gives a lot of families comfort awesome. The other families

Casey O'Roarty 54:16
school avoidance Alliance. Is that it?

Jayne Demsky 54:20
Yes. facebook.com/groups/school avoidance

Casey O'Roarty 54:25
Okay, so you can get there that way listeners or in the search bar school avoidance alliance will get you there too. Ah, Jane, this has been so lovely. I knew that I would enjoy you so much. I'm so grateful for your work. So sweet. Like really thank you for doing all the on the ground stuff and gathering the information and being a voice for all of the families that are really struggling with how to navigate this. I really just appreciate you and I'm so glad to have had you on the show.

Jayne Demsky 54:54
Thank you so much. Thanks for having me. And

Casey O'Roarty 55:04
thank you so much for listening in today thank you to my spreadable partners as well as Chris Mann and the team at pod shaper for all the support with getting the show out there and making it sound good. Check out our offers for parents with kids of all ages and sign up for our newsletter to stay connected at the Sprott audible.com. Tune back in later this week for our Thursday show, and I'll be back with another interview next Monday. Peace

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