OCD and Homeschooling

After reading many of John Holt’s books in college and subsequently working with him in Boston, I became committed to the homeschooling movement. This was in  the mid 70’s, way before homeschooling became an acceptable alternative to traditional schooling. When my children were young, we homeschooled off and on through the elementary school years. Dan, in particular, loved the freedom of being able to explore his interests as he pleased. He continued homeschooling throughout high school, and received his diploma from a non-traditional school that works with homeschoolers. Always bright and self-motivated, he was truly born to homeschool.

His OCD diagnosis didn’t come until after he graduated, and while he had known something was wrong for “a while,” his father and I didn’t have a clue. So the decision to homeschool, on our part, had nothing to do with the fact that Dan has obsessive-compulsive disorder. From Dan’s point of view, it was how he learned best. He did give high school a try for a few months in ninth grade, but decided to leave so he could “continue his education.” Whether his OCD played a part in that decision or not, I don’t really know. But I do know that Dan genuinely loves learning, and he and homeschooling were a great fit.

Over the years, I’ve noticed, mostly from talking with people and reading blogs, that a considerable number of children with OCD are homeschooling. This is a totally unscientific observation; I don’t have any statistics. But I do have a question: Why? No doubt everyone has their own reasons, but some possible explanations might include:

  • The school is not able and/or not willing to meet the child’s needs (even though they are legally bound to do so).
  • The child refuses to attend school. This might be directly related to the OCD (for example, he or she may believe the school is contaminated), or indirectly related (the child is being bullied because of his or her odd behaviors).
  • The child is willing to attend school but parents feel it is advantageous (in reference to OCD) to keep the child home.
  • The parents and/or child believe homeschooling is the best way for this particular child to learn (independent of any issues with OCD).

I believe in homeschooling. While I know it’s not for everyone, it can be a rewarding experience for parents and children who undertake it for the right reasons. But figuring out if your reasons are indeed “right” might not be easy. If your high schooler is overwhelmed with school work because of his or her perfectionism, or your  middle schooler thinks something bad might happen to you if he or she goes to school, is avoiding school altogether the answer? It’s easy to say “avoidance is never the answer,” but what parents wouldn’t find it torturous sending their children off to school in such distress?

As with everything related to OCD, there are no easy answers. Teachers, school counselors, parents, therapists, and students all need to become educated about OCD and the appropriate ways to deal with the disorder. They need to keep the lines of communication open, and work together in the best interest of the young OCD sufferer, whether or not it involves homeschooling.

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21 Responses to OCD and Homeschooling

  1. We have home schooled for about 20 years. We found out earlier this year that two of my kids have OCD. I wanted one of them to go to public high school this year, but child was quite reluctant. So we are still home and probably will be to the end. We all appreciate lots of flexibility. But it is still very very hard.

    • ocdtalk says:

      Thanks for sharing. You certainly have made quite a commitment to homeschooling…..twenty years, wow! I hope you have a good therapist and support network to help guide you and your children with OCD. Every child is different, right? Sometimes it is hard to figure out the best course of action for each one.

      • DeeDeeJ says:

        Good Day my daughter has OCD. With it she is homeschooling all her three children we only see them occasionally and we have no idea if everything is going alright. We dont know if she is coping and what her mental strength is etc. Is she managing to teach them or what happens on a daily basis. She is a qualified teacher up to Grade 3. I just worry so much about whether or not the children are being taught and are being kept up to date. Her husband seems to think that all is going fine. I just always ask myself the question of how she is coping. I dont know. She is not going for help and believes she can cure herself. I know that this is not going to work. Its all very stressful.

      • Thank you for sharing, DeeDeeJ. I know it is a helpless feeling being on the sidelines and not being able to do anything directly to help your daughter and her family. I don’t know anything about your situation, but it is possible for you to spend some quality time with your grandchildren to hopefully put your mind at ease? Or if you notice obvious problems you could use that information to start a conversation with your daughter or son-in-law? Is there a third party (such as mutual close friend, or clergy) who might be able to help you out?
        I wish you all the best and hope things go well for your entire family.

  2. Tina Barbour says:

    Very interesting and thoughtful post, Janet. I’m glad homeschooling was a good fit for your son.

    I I had OCD problems with my schoolwork, but overall, I did better at school with OCD than at home. So going to school was probably the best choice for me. But the school administration never knew about my OCD–I barely knew what was wrong with me, and my parents didn’t seek help either. It was all hidden away back then. I’m glad things are better in the schools (or can be better) than they used to be.

    I’m constantly impressed by the commitment of parenthood that you and you family showed Dan. He’s lucky!

    • ocdtalk says:

      Thanks for your kind words, Tina. Yes, I think things have definitely gotten better in the schools, but there is still so much room for improvement. At least we’re going in the right direction! Thanks for sharing.

  3. 71º & Sunny says:

    Hey Janet! I had no idea that you homeschooled. Wow, that is a hard job.

    I agree with you. There really is no one solution for everyone. I actually know several families that homeschool and I think they all have their different reasons. I’m glad that we have this option here in the U.S.

    • ocdtalk says:

      Hi Sunny. I agree. I think homeschooling is just one option to consider when your children are in their school years, and we are lucky that it is an option. When we first started, homeschooling families were being taken to court regularly for “truancy.” So times have definitely changed for the better in that department.

  4. parentsfriend says:

    I am doing a series on school problems on my Parents Are People Too blog.

    I would love to have you guest a blog. If that is not possible, I would love use this blog as a semi guest post.

    Let me know your preference of if not at all. I so enjoy your posts. Thank so much for sharing.

  5. ocdtalk says:

    It’s always an honor to have someone want to share my posts, so please feel free to share this, or any, of mine. As far as writing a guest blog, it would depend on your timetable…..the next month or so are quite busy for me, but you can email me at: ocdtalk@yahoo.com if you want to discuss further. Thanks for your support!

  6. parentsfriend says:

    Thank you . And I sent the email. Your sharing is one of the ways Stigma will be defeated.

  7. ocdtalk says:

    So many of us are working toward ending the stigma of mental illness. We can do it!!

  8. Rene says:

    Personally I think the homeschool environment is simply more conducive to developing OCD. Even if you take the view that ocd is nature rather than nurture (I feel the opposite, incidentally), a child at home will find it easier to do rituals and allow ocd to take control than one at school where its far harder for obsessions to take hold.

    • ocdtalk says:

      I appreciate you sharing your opinion, Rene. I will agree that if a child is homeschooling and is fairly isolated (for example, spending a lot of time alone in his or her room), his or her OCD will be easier to hide, which will delay diagnosis and treatment.

  9. karin says:

    First of all a big THANK YOU! for opening the way for homeschooling. That must have taken a lot of courage and conviction to do in the 70’s, esp. if you didn’t have a religious community to turn to for support!

    I homeschooled Tom from gr. 6 thru high school. (late 90’s on) It was a great experience but a LOT of work. My ocd levels wwere very low at the time ( i didn’lt know i had ocd). I wanted to homeschool him for all his schooling but i knew i was too depressed or something while he was young ( i had ocd thots but just thot they were sinful thots, so i didn’t get help but i did get help for the depression).

    With Katrina there wasn’t even the option of homeschooling. I couldn’t wait til till school started. I was such a mess that i sent her to day care twice a week from 16 months on til school started both for her sake (so she could have normal interactions with people) and mine.

    I still think about homeschooling her once in a while. However, we live in the country now, so school is her social activity.

  10. ocdtalk says:

    Thanks for commenting, Karin. It sounds as if you made the right choices for each of your children, given the circumstances. We were never the type of family that “insisted” our children homeschool; they always had a choice in the matter, because really, that’s what it was all about in my book……taking charge of your own learning. So each year we evaluated the situation and decisions were made. Sounds like you also weighted the pros and cons of different options. Thanks for sharing!

  11. This page is of special interest to me, as I have OCD (mostly severe Pure O, with some fairly mild hand-washing, checking and other compulsions thrown in for good measure), and was homeschooled. (I also have symptoms of what might be Maladaptive Daydreaming Disorder.) I have been wondering for quite a while if there might be some connection. The fact that I had OCD could not have possibly caused me to be homeschooled. I was homeschooled since I was about 6 and didn’t start showing significant signs of OCD until I was about 10 or 11. My parents homeschooled me because they didn’t trust public school curriculum and didn’t like the possible negative effects school could have on me (they had decided on this before I could walk, much less before I showed signs of OCD).

    However, I am wondering if the fact that I was homeschooled may have (at least in part) led to me developing OCD. I don’t know exactly how homeschooling could lead to OCD, but it’s a possibility that I’ve been pondering for quite a while. I never went to a school (unless you count the time I took my GED test to graduate), and was taught entirely at home. It wasn’t a bad experience – it was ideal for me, and allowed me freedoms that few others have. I had flexible school hours, never had to deal with peer pressure or bullying (I literally never had any friends my own age, the only people I knew were 40+ years old – including my parents, and most of the people I know to this day are that age or older – this all gave me unique experiences and imbued me with a rather unique personality). For quite a few years, my parents were the only people I was around for about 20-28 days per month on average (varying year by year). Largely because of this, I had and still have a closer relationship with my parents than most people have with theirs. I had a lot of time all by myself, which allowed me to exercise my imagination and engage in my favorite pastimes, especially reading. In terms of the education itself, I did fairly well by my standards, and must have done well by general standards, as I passed my GED test with significantly above average results.

    In a nutshell, it was the most perfect way to grow up that I can imagine, and seemingly would be too healthy to lead to mental problems. But I still can’t shake the idea that it might have led to the development of my OCD, and my research thus far has indicated a high incidence of OCD among those who were homeschooled.

    Do you think that there is a possibility that homeschooling might in some way cause or exacerbate the development of OCD?

    • My home schooled son doesn’t have ocd, but my ”schooled & day-cared’ daughter does.

      I would say maybe you could show symptoms of ocd..if your parent had ocd symptoms and you thot that was the normal way to deal with life, (this probably would disappear quickly once you grew up and realized it wasn’t normal to always check the stove 20 times or wash for 20 minutes after using the washroom as there would be no intense feeling to do this behavior) or if you had the disease itself and did whatever ocd said. In the second case your ocd may be manifesting itself differently from your parent’s ocd.

      My daughter has contamination ocd, and ‘just right’ ocd, but she reacts to different things than i do. At first, when she started showing symptoms, that she was now giving me back what i had done to her (making her wash her hands when i ordered her to do so)f during the time my ocd was very bad.

      • “I would say maybe you could show symptoms of ocd..if your parent had ocd symptoms and you thought that was the normal way to deal with life, (this probably would disappear quickly once you grew up and realized it wasn’t normal to always check the stove 20 times or wash for 20 minutes after using the washroom as there would be no intense feeling to do this behavior) or if you had the disease itself and did whatever ocd said. In the second case your ocd may be manifesting itself differently from your parent’s ocd.”

        Neither of my parents have ever had OCD.

      • Thanks for your comment Karin. I do think children often mimic their parents, and I believe this could be an issue whether the child is homeschooled or not. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Thanks so much for sharing your story, Hardwicke. My own personal opinion is that homeschooling does not cause OCD. I do think life experiences might affect when OCD first appears, if we are prone to the disorder. Overall your homeschooling experience sounds as if it was positive, so I don’t see the connection to the development of OCD. Who knows? I think it’s more important for us all to concentrate on living life to the fullest now, and not dwell on the past. I wish you all the best!

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