Everyone gets anxious sometimes. We experience sweaty palms, a dry mouth, or a pounding heart. For children, anxiety can feel like chest pain, panic, confusion, paralyzation, and exhaustion. In a poignant article from NPR, a student suffering from severe anxiety described the feeling as “being chased by a lion”.

This 16-year-old student, Jared, suffers from severe anxiety that prevents him from going to school for up to months at a time. In the morning his parent’s tape a red or green piece of paper to their front door to signal to the bus driver whether to stop for Jared… or not.

Jared hasn’t always felt like this. He used to enjoy school, and he excelled at it. However, at 13 he was in the hospital for an appendectomy. He began to feel anxious and stressed about all the work he would have to make up. He struggled so much it gave him physical stomach cramps. At first, his parents didn’t understand the depth of Jared’s anxiety. They felt more and more helpless. They tried everything they could think of, but their once gentle and academic son refused to go to school.

They even tried calling the police.

Since then his parent’s have learned more and Jared has been through a lot. Jared has been diagnosed with severe anxiety, been through therapy, experienced several more hospitalizations, and has been on several kinds of medication.

Erin Berman, a clinical psychologist with the National Institute of Mental Health says that “Anxiety feels no different if you’re being chased by a lion, or you have to go to school. [Students with anxiety] may look like they aren’t paying attention, [but in their minds they’re] thinking about all the things that are scary.”

Some children will grow out of their anxiety, and others won’t.

Luckily for Jared, he is enrolled in a program at his school called Aspire that is designed specifically for students with anxiety. The school is equipped with therapists and social workers. They give the students every opportunity to feel safe and comfortable at school, even going so far as to allow students to arrive late to class so they can avoid interactions with people in the halls. This helps the students in that program feel less anxious.

Most of the students in this program have missed 6 months or more of school before enrolling.

Anxiety is a painful and debilitating state of being, and it’s constant. Students who suffer from anxiety are constantly questioning their choices, dreading the next on they must make. This is part of why going to school is often an insurmountable task.

Programs like Aspire work to create an environment of learning that is accessible to all. They are helping students work through some of their issues, to become a less anxious person. Even though programs like these cost more than conventional schooling, they are worth it because everyone deserves a chance at education.

Even so, Jared still has days where he just can’t make it to school. His parent’s tape a big red piece of paper to their door, and they hope tomorrow will be a better day.