Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

School Phobia Can Be Physical Terror

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

School Phobia Can Be Physical Terror

Article excerpt

SCHOOL PHOBIA may sound like one of those fancy terms cooked up by a psychiatrist.

But to students suffering anxiety attacks - heart pounding, stomach churning, feverish sweat streaming from pores - school phobia is a true terror.

"It's not a joke," said Cynthia Last, a professor of psychology at Florida's Nova University, who specializes in treating anxiety in children. "School phobia has serious consequences."

Last has received a $750,000 grant from the National Institute for Mental Health in Washington, D.C., to study treatments for school phobia. The four-year study will allow free therapy for 100 local children and adolescents, who have an irrational fear of school.

Since 1989, Last and her Nova students have treated about 100 students with school phobia. Last said she has an 80 percent success rate.

School phobia can strike students of all ages, and it can strike them in different ways, Last said. In the most extreme cases, Last said, fear of school has driven her patients to jump from a moving car, leap from a classroom window or gobble a potentially fatal dose of aspirin.

"It's not that the children want to kill themselves," Last said. "It's that they don't want to go to school."

After Frankie Canales started second grade last fall at Horizon Elementary in Sunrise, Fla., he began breaking into violent temper tantrums every time his mother left him at school. His family moved to Coconut Creek, Fla., and Frankie transferred to Sanders Park Elementary, but the outbursts grew worse.

Whenever he was forced to stay in his classroom, Frankie became nauseous. He shook uncontrollably. He hollered and bawled.

"I was afraid Mommy was going to forget to pick me up," Frankie said.

Frankie could not sleep. His screams threatened to drive his parents' marriage apart.

At first, school authorities had little sympathy for Frankie's outbursts. …

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