OCD and Homeschooling

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Janet Singer's son Dan suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) so severe he could not even eat. What followed was a journey from seven therapists to ...Read More

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 three children were young, we homeschooled off and on throughout the elementary school years. My son 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. He has since graduated college.

His diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder didn’t come until after he graduated high school, 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 OCD. 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:

  • OCD is often associated with above-average intelligence, as well as creativity, and these two attributes do not always mesh well with traditional schooling.
  • The school is not able and/or not willing to meet the child’s special 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 if your child has left school or has never attended solely because he or she has obsessive-compulsive disorder, it may be a good idea to reevaluate the situation. It’s true that school might be a fervent breeding ground for OCD triggers, but is avoiding it the right thing to do? To complicate matters more, for those also dealing with social anxiety and perfectionism, school can be torturous. I know it’s easy to say “avoidance is never the answer,” but when you have a child who is terrified of going to school, what do you do? Sometimes, could it be that avoiding certain situations is the right thing to do?

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As with everything related to OCD, there are no easy answers. Parents, therapists, teachers, and students all need to become as educated as possible about the disorder. If it’s decided the child will attend school, the appropriate support network should be put in place. Of course, a support system is also necessary if the child is homeschooling. Either way, the child must receive proper treatment. Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy, the frontline treatment for OCD, is actually based on facing one’s fears, and is therefore the opposite of avoidance. So the actual location of the battleground (school or home) isn’t so important. What matters is that the war against OCD is faced head-on.

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