Autism: Navigating Child’s School Refusal

We look at the best ways to navigate your autistic child’s school refusal. Find out how to work with the school and how to aid your child.

Navigating Autistic Child’s Refusal To Go to School

School can be a frightening and overwhelming place for many kids, especially autistic children. This can cause a child to refuse to go to school. With all of our knowledge and autism resources, we will navigate the reasons and how to address autistic children’s school refusal in a positive and proactive way. 

What is school refusal?

School refusal can occur when children become distressed thinking about going to school. Although allistic (non-autistic) children may also struggle with this problem, it may be more pronounced in autistic children. Autism and school can lead to a tough environment as factors such as sensory challenges, difficulties with reading and verbal comprehension, and executive functioning fine and gross motor skills all play a part.  

School refusal can go from being reluctant to go to school to not being able to leave home or go to school at all. This will result in the child missing some or even all of their school days.  

What are the signs and symptoms?

The signs of school refusal are similar between autistic and allistic children. Knowing what to do when your child refuses to go to school can be difficult as you try to navigate the reasons. Let’s take a look at some of the signs and symptoms of school refusal:  

  • Your child begs and pleads not to go 
  • Trouble sleeping the night before school 
  • Increase in complaining of being sick and feeling unwell before a school day 
  • An increase in anxiety  
  • More meltdowns and avoidance behaviors 
  • Difficulties following morning routines 

When it comes to learning how to help a child with anxiety about school, it is important to understand the reasons behind these heightened feelings. Here we will look at the reasons behind school refusal. 

The reasons behind autistic children’s school refusal

Some children may find it difficult to cope with the demands that the school environment can place on them. It is very important for the parents to get to the root cause of the problem. It’s very important to act quickly on these signs that suggest your child’s school refusal. School refusal will not go away on its own. Let’s take a look at some of the added pressures of the school environment and what your child could be experiencing. 

  • Your child may lack social skills, which could cause them to struggle to make and keep friends, or they might experience some form of bullying. 
  • The school curriculum could be a bit difficult for them to cope with. Autism support in schools may not exist. 
  • They might struggle to cope with the school timetable. 
  • The sensory differences in the school environment could be overwhelming, such as noises, lighting, and smell. 
  • They might get into trouble with their teachers for unintentionally being inappropriate or not respecting authority. 
  • Sudden changes in their routine could be difficult. 

How to strategize with the school

Autism  support in schools is needed to ensure that autistic children can thrive in the school environment. You can use your understanding of your child to identify coping strategies that can be used in schools. Here are some ways to strategize with the school: 

  • Make sure to utilize your child’s IEP (individualized education plan) to get the supports needed.  
  • Request the school to make some reasonable adjustments at the start and end of your child’s school day. A staff member your child feels comfortable with could meet them at the school entrance. 
  • Ask the school if extra breaks could be allowed for your child throughout the school day. This will allow your child to redirect their attention and energy to different activities. 
  • Ask the school if they are willing to reward your child for some small improvements in achievement. 
  • Find out if autism support in the school for staff is an option. More autism awareness will ensure that your child’s needs are met. 
  • Be sure to set up a regular meeting with your primary contact at the school. This is often the teacher of record on his/her IEP, but could be the home-room teacher, principal, counselor, or student support group. 

Working on school refusal strategies at home

Of course, there are some practical strategies that you can implement at home!  

  • Acknowledge their feelings: show your child that you understand their feelings and anxiety about going to school. 
  • Make it clear and reassure them that things will be okay at home if their biggest fear is leaving home. 
  • Regularly remind your child about activities that can help them feel calm, such as using a fidget toy or practicing deep breathing. 
  • Set up a routine for the morning to set your child up for success for the day 
  • Set a plan for reinforcement right when your child gets home to make a successful day a big deal 

Lighthouse Autism Center is here to help

At Lighthouse Autism Center, we provide the highest quality therapy! Compassionate care meets clinical excellence in a beautiful play-based environment. Contact us and find out about all our services, such as Lighthouse Fusion ABA therapy and so much more! 

Together, we can unlock your child’s potential

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