Moving from therapeutic wilderness to therapeutic boarding school


New Member
Hi! You may remember me from my posts in May about our problems with our son R. To recap, R is 13 (will be 14 this week). For more than a year, he was dealing vapes, sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night to hang out with friends and deliver his product, stealing from us, trying drugs and alcohol, refusing to let us monitor his social media, sneaking numerous electronic devices into the house, and using his snapchat and instagram accounts to deal vapes. Nothing we tried worked to curtail his behavior...not therapy, cameras in the basement, taking the door off his room, talking kindly, getting angry, consequences, etc. He did not recognize that as parents we had authority over him. In addition, he was bombing school, partially due to dyslexia and partially due to lack of effort. And he was very unpleasant to deal with.

With the help of an educational consultant, we picked a therapeutic wilderness program and had him transported there. We wrote and received letters from his weekly and talked to his therapist once a week as well. We also visited him in July and did a lot of reading assignments about the best way to set boundaries, reflective listening, etc. The program staff was incredible. The program itself must have been a big adjustment for him--no electricity, no running water, sleeping outside under a tarp, hiking five days a week, with 24/7 supervision and therapeutic interventions.

R has made a lot of progress over the past almost 12 weeks. He has developed much better communication skills, learned how to check in on his own emotions, developed some insight (although limited), and taken a bit of responsibility for his actions. His therapist says he is very immature and that his communication with us is very different than his communication with others--in other words, he is much better able to deal with others than us.

On his therapist's and our educational consultant's advice, we have decided to send him to a therapeutic boarding school (TBS) for at least the next year. The hope is that the school will be able to meet his academic, behavioral, and emotional needs. He will be well monitored in a structured setting, with weekly individual and group therapy. The school does not allow use of social media. If he breaks school rules, he will have consequences. We will have unlimited contact with him. Will probably visit him at least once before bringing him to a family celebration over Thanksgiving. At first he was unwilling to consider the TBS and was insisting on coming home. In fact, we got 4 weeks of letters in a row insisting on coming home. After looking at information about the school and having a phone interview with the admissions director, he agreed and now I think he is excited about going--or at least about getting out of wilderness, sleeping in a bed, and using a toilet!

He will be brought to me today and then he and I are flying tomorrow to the closest city to the school. My husband is meeting us there tomorrow and we will bring him to the school the next day. I am hoping everything goes well and that he does not challenge our boundaries while out of a structured environment.

I will say this: therapeutic wilderness is very expensive and therapeutic boarding is beyond very expensive. We have hired and Special Education attorney and had additional neuropsychologist testing done to try to make the case for the school district to pay for some of the placement. I don't know yet whether they will do so. We are so very fortunate that we are able to pay for this.

My hope is that R will thrive at the new school, follow the rules, earn himself up through their levels of privileges, continue to learn how to communicate with us, develop more insight and maturity, and be able to leave the TBS in a year to either start our public high school, a private day school in our area, or a regular boarding school. I'm sure there will be boundary testing and setbacks. My hope is that my husband and I will be able to face them without falling back into our own bad habits (for me, yelling and not listening, for my husband, attempting to rescue R from unhappy emotions).

I'm following you all. Best wishes!


Well-Known Member
Thank you for the update, Sushi. I only wish that my stepson DS had received these interventions when he was R's age (and even younger). They would likely have made a big difference for him.

I am also extremely impressed by the way you and your husband sprang into action to handle the situation. Yes, you are blessed with resources beyond the reach of perhaps most other families, but any family regardless of resources can easily default into denial and enabling. You did not do that and you deserve many kudos for facing the reality head on and doing what was necessary for both of your kids (as I recall you also have a daughter. I hope she is doing well!).

Keep us informed and stick around.


100% better than I was but not at 100% yet

I admire the lengths you have gone to save your son. And yes, agree that not everyone has the resources that you have which is a big plus.

I do hope that this all works out for your family and that your son goes in the right direction because he someday CHOOSES to.

I wish I had known what to do with our son when he started his dysfunction at the age of 15 but like so many other parents, we did NOT know what were were dealing with.

Good luck to you all!


Well-Known Member
Sushi. What a great post. What good news. A plan is everything. And you are well on your way, with yours, and the fact your son is engaging and responding, to me, is icing on the cake. Nothing is without its blips. Challenges. And responses. But it sounds like you have very good support, both in terms of the consultant, and the attorney. Take care. And thank you for giving us this update.
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Active Member

So happy for you and your family!!! You have made some very hard decisions and although there is work to be done yet, things seem to be moving in the right direction. That hope gives you the strength to keep moving forward!!


New Member
I need someone emotionally unattached and highly qualified to take my son off my hands and fix all his issues. Sounds like absolute bliss!! Unfortunately he only has me.o_O Also we share genes which I can tell you is a special kind of punishment.
I hope it works out for your son he's got a great chance I think.!..:)


Active Member
Wow, it sounds like your family has been going through a lot. I recently consented for my son to go to a residential treatment facility due to behaviours. Although our boys are different ages and experiencing different behaviours- I understand how hard that is on everyone. Especially when you feel like you’ve tried everything you possibly can and it wasn’t working.
Your strong momma, you’ve totally got this. I’m glad to hear that you were able to find a program that has helped him this summer. I also hope that he gets the help he needs at the therapeutic boarding school he’s going to attend. Hopefully this it’s changes everyone lives for the better!



New Member
Hello Sushi-

I just read your post (new member here) and I think we have parallel lives. I wanted to ask if you would share an update on your experience with private therapeutic boarding school?

It's only fair that I share my experience with my son that has brought us to a very similar place. B is 14 years old. Often he is kind, athletic, funny and bright. He's also defiant, destroys friendships, is oppositional, often refuses to work on himself and turns our household upside down daily.

We're fortunate to have worked with therapists, psychiatrists, tutors and executive functioning coaches. He's been to wilderness camps and we practices mindfulness and meditation at home. We are supportive, positive and encouraging. Despite the support, B finally hit the wall due to his conduct and left public school in 7th grade to attend a private therapy school for 8th grade. The current school is very supportive but its not the right out of district placement for high school. It's too small, socially limiting and doesn't offer sports needed by a high energy ADHD (and probably ODD) kid.

For 9th grade, in the fall, B's been accepted to an outstanding boarding school to support kids with ADHD. They aren't equipped for serious behavior challenges but we're hopeful it's the right combination of a fresh start, building on progress made in therapy, access to sports and the independence that he craves. Thank you if you can share any updates on your boarding school experience. All responses are welcome. thanks!


New Member
Hi! R is doing well has his therapeutic boarding school. He has reached the highest behavioral level (level 5) and is allowed some privileges. I see a lot of growth in him. He has better coping skills. While we still do occasionally have conflict, it is less frequent, less intense, and shorter in duration. The last time we had conflict, the next day he not only apologized for the previous day but also for how he had treated me last year. His therapist there is helping him work through some ideas for positive ways to engage with others and keep busy when he transitions home, which I expect will be this summer. I know that we will have challenges during and after the transition, so we are putting scaffolding in place to support him. I am hoping the district offers a specific program that I think would be a good fit for him. For that I have retained our excellent special education attorneys.

I feel the school we chose for him has been good fit for him behaviorally, therapeutically, and socially. I don't think it has been the best fit academically. I expect we will have some work to do in supporting him with that next year as well.

Having him away at school has been really good for the rest of us in other ways. My daughter is having a very strong academic year for her junior year of high school. The house is quiet, calm, and clean(er). With that said, I actually miss the little bugger.

I couldn't tell you if R has changed to the extent that he no longer wants to do the stuff that got him in trouble, or if he has just decided that the consequences outweigh the benefits. Not sure it really matters in the long run.

We are going to work with a parenting coach to put ourselves in a position to be able to parent R more productively as well once he is home.

Best wishes and I hope your son makes some good progress. Until he goes away, if you have any access to a DBT skills group for him, that has been very helpful with our daughter.


Well-Known Member
My grandson is now in a therapeutic day school (referred and paid for by the school district, thankfully) and I'm seeing some good changes. He's not real happy with it so far, but as he learns the rules and expectations and the 100% structure that comes with it, I think it will be easier for him. It's only been 6 weeks, but I'm hopeful. Still not an easy kid, still feel like we're walking on eggshells, but after all the horror of last December, we are grateful for any little glimmer of improvement. This school specializes in DBT skills and I think that's about the only thing left for him at this point. We've tried every drug there is, and many different social groups, services at the special day class on his general ed campus, 1:1 instructional aide, etc. This is kind of the last non-residential placement for him. When he was having an escalation at school, he was in the hallway exclaiming loudly "What do I have to do to get expelled from the place???" The director happened to hear him and stopped and gave him a five minute rundown of his options. That shut him right up. Wish I could have been a fly on the wall for that discussion!

There is some good news in this thread about our troubled kiddos.