Strategies To Reduce School Refusal In Young People With Autism

Strategies To Reduce School Refusal In Young People With Autism

Quite often when children arrive with me, it’s because at some point or another they have become what the system calls a ‘School Refuser.’

Sometimes that can mean they no longer attend school at all, and in other cases it can mean that attendance becomes increasingly infrequent.

In many cases this is a cycle which can be prevented by working together as a team.

Strategies To Reduce The Risk Of School Refusal

Find Ways To Reduce Anxiety In School

Often anxiety is at the heart of school refusal. Students feel unable to cope in the placement that they are in, either because of demands (from either people or their environment) or because of the level of sensory overload that they experience whilst they are there.

Understanding an individual’s anxieties are key. Once a student can talk about what it is about school that is difficult, staff and parents can begin to work to reduce those. Doing so will be different for each child or young person.

For some students, providing a quiet safe place they can go to in school when they feel unable to be in lesson helps. For others it may be a case of making changes to the timetable to ensure that the day starts with a preferred activity. Whilst for others it may be that regular sensory breaks throughout the day are needed to help them to self regulate and cope with the remainder of the day.

Actively working to reduce those parts of the day which cause the most anxiety needs to be a team effort, between the student, parents and school staff. Working in a unified way will help the child or young person to feel much more secure and listened to.

Ensure Days Not Spent At School Are Neutral

It is crucial to make days when the student has refused to attend school as neutral as possible. These days should not result in a punishment but nor should the young person be allowed to engage in preferred activities throughout the whole day. Doing so will increase the desire to stay at home and reinforce that School is not where they want to be. Where possible keep the structure of the day as similar to the school day as you can. Provide simple structured tasks to do in what would be lesson time (even if they are not completed), and limit preferred activities such a mobile phone or console use to when these would be allowed at school.

Develop Reward Schemes That Work – At Home And At School

I am a firm believer that if we ask, a child to do something difficult, they should be rewarded for doing so. I have no problem with positive reinforcement, after all if you were not paid to go to work each day would you do so?

With this in mind parents and teachers need to work together with young people to find out what motivates them, and develop a structured reward scheme that feels manageable. Take a look here for more information about the type of reward schemes you could use and about why I feel they are so important.

Ensure Students Feel Successful And Wanted When They Are In School

When a student arrives in school welcome them warmly. Do not ask why they have been missing from school or why they are late. Doing this will only result in them feeling more anxious about returning the time after. Instead ensure that they know that you are there for them and will be pleased to see them whenever they feel able to attend.

Ensure that whilst there the student feels wanted, needed and successful. For some students that may be by giving them small jobs to do, for others it may be by asking them to look after a younger student. Some may appreciate praise about their academic work, others may appreciate a friend coming over to sit with them at lunch.

There is no one size fits all approach. It is all about looking at the individual and understanding what will make them feel successfuland wanted within the environment.

Think Ahead

All too often students are left in unsuitable placements for too long. Whilst this is often the result of good intentions in the long term it isn’t helpful to the student. Once a student has become a school refuser, especially if this has gone on over a long period, it is much more difficult to get them to attempt a new placement. If something isn’t working and there isn’t a plan in place that both the school and parents feel will make a significant difference an Emergency Annual Review needs to be called. If outside agencies (e.g. CAMHs) are unable at this point to offer significant and immediate support, the school should admit that they are unable to meet need and ask the authority to look into alternative placements. Meanwhile parents need to put consistent pressure on them to do so.

Work Together As A Team

I know I say this often, but when parents and teachers really work together in a coordinated manner it is much much easier to secure the best out ones for children. By sharing knowledge, resources and power they can put things in place that would be ineffective alone in addition to securing support from other services.

What Next?

Why not read Sasha’s Story over at Steph’s Two Girls.

Our online autism courses are also a great place to learn more.

Take a look at the National Autistic Society advice for preventing School Refusal.

Join our Facebook group of parents and teachers of children on the spectrum who are working together to share strategies.

Join our Tribe below to get your hands on our free Strategies To Help Those At Risk Of School Refusal Checklist.


22 thoughts on “Strategies To Reduce School Refusal In Young People With Autism

  1. Great advice, love this post. As mum of a girl who became unable to attend school any more, I know that lots of these strategies helped us enable her to stay in a mainstream school for longer than I ever thought she would! It is definitely key to take it at the child’s pace, and to work as a team with the parents 🙂

  2. I think this post is so helpful. When I went to school the way the children were treated was just not okay and also they were called “the department” I think this definitely made them feel different and unwanted so your point about making them feel appreciated and successful is incredibly important.

  3. My partners son is going through a similar thing at school currently. He gets angry when he doesn’t understand things. They are getting a psychologist in to assess him, so I get the feeling the school feel like he should be receiving extra support, perhaps in a specialist school of some sort.

    1. Sometimes specialist schools are the best solutions but at other times existing schools can put things in place which make a bug difference with specialist advice x

  4. This is something all school staff should read. It’s very helpful suggestions. J may be too young for school but one day he could easily become a refuser so I will make sure I remember this advice x

  5. These all sound great tips for what must be such a challenging situation. I hope all teachers read this and have this in place. Working as a team with parents is so important for all school children.

  6. With the system we have in place we have to make sure we all work together.
    These tips are brilliant because I heard the other day at the school gate a mum saying a school was failing her friends child who had special needs – It takes a village.
    Charlotte x

  7. Great tips! I have 2 ASD boys in mainstream secondary school. They sometimes feel
    like they can’t cope with the demands of the normal classroom. Luckily our school has a ‘The Victory Suite’ which is a classroom they can be use as and when needed. It’s especially for SEN and anxious kids etc.
    They have a pass so can leave the main class if they struggle to cope or if needs be they can be solely taught in the ‘Victory Suite’ . As a parent I work with the SEN teachers on strategies to get them to school. It definitely helps to be working together with school.

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