Part 14 – reasons for my son’s school refusal

As a result of my autistic son becoming too unwell to attend school, I realised that we had to ‘fight’ for a more supportive education for him in the hope that, one day, he would be well enough to return. So taking advice from our local Parent Partnership we wrote to my son’s school asking for a meeting in which to explore the reasons behind our son’s crisis, how we were to maintain our son’s education and most importantly to ask that our son be assessed for a statement of SEN(A statement is a formal document that details a child’s learning difficulties and what support will be provided.)
No longer were we going to be deterred from applying for an assessment – by now we had learnt that we could apply for an assessment ourselves though we were advised to have the school on our side. And we did want to work with the school as we didn’t think conflict would help anybody particularly our younger daughter who we were concerned may receive unfavourable treatment if we fell out with the school.
Unfortunately meetings with the school became difficult. At the initial meeting with the school we discovered that two incidents had preceded the onset of my son’s mental health problems – firstly conflict with another peer that led to the class teacher taking disciplinary action.  Unfortunately, as my son has difficulties in communicating and understanding other people he often gets into verbal conflict.  Discipline can cause him further distress particularly if he doesn’t understand what he did wrong in the first place and why he is being disciplined.  I’m not against my son being disciplined if he has done something wrong but I did wonder whether the school had handled it well.

Secondly, the weekend he became unwell with what we thought was a tummy upset was the weekend preceding mock SATS tests, a week of rehearsal and practice before the real thing the coming summer. My 10 year old son was then in year 6 which is the year when British school children sit their SATS (a form of testing) before progressing onto secondary education in year 7.  I feel doing SATS is stressful for any child but for someone with anxiety issues and learning difficulties who needed academic support, even more so.  And for my son there is no difference between practice SATS and the real SATS – they are both tests which cause him great stress and anxiety.

Having learnt about these two incidents,  it didn’t surprise me that my son couldn’t cope any longer with school as I knew these issues would be very difficult for him to deal with.  But what annoyed me most was the attitude of the school who implied that it was the recent death of one of our guinea pigs that tipped my son over the edge.  I didn’t want to get into a blame-game but I really didn’t accept the guinea pig thesis as the main reason for my son’s school refusal.  We told her, as politely as we could, that we thought that our son’s crisis was also the result of stress and anxiety that my son  was experiencing in school which was getting worse as he became older and more self-aware.

If that meeting wasn’t tricky enough, then the following meeting about statementing was even more conflictual.  For this meeting the SENCO brought in an education officer from the local council who informed us that my son’s levels of intelligence were not low enough to require a statement.  She showed no consideration to my son’s autism and other difficulties.  To make it worse, the education officer then used local government speak and pointed out that there was already funding in the school to support him.  Really?  I saw no evidence that sufficient funding was being used to support my son because for years my son had to tolerate inconsistent academic support and no social or emotional support at all.  Not surprisingly, my son was unable to fully participate in the school curriculum or out of school activities and school trips.

I reacted badly and blurted out that did she have any understanding of what my son was going through, of what we were going through, what it was like to deal with challenging behaviour, what it was like not to have a social life or holidays?  She just sat there stony faced and silent as did all the other people who were attending that meeting and I realised that my emotional outburst was not the way to push for my son’s rights.  I changed my approach after that. Nevertheless the education officer agreed to bring in an educational psychologist and home tuition services and somehow through this very fraught meeting we had also managed to get the school to agree to our request for an assessment.

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4 Responses to Part 14 – reasons for my son’s school refusal

  1. Aspie in the family says:

    >@ Looking for Blue Sky – thanks for popping in and commenting. It disappoints me that too many families go through fights like mine – as if we don't have enough to deal with. I feel there are too many people in education who don't understand autism and aspergers and don't properly include autistic children. Not surprisingly children like mine end up out of education or unwell. Its a sad state of affairs, I think.

    @ Steph – hi there and thanks for commenting. I know what you mean about an uncommunicative SENCO – we were supposed to have a mtg with our SENCO regarding my daughter but nothing happened. I have to now chase it up, again. Great that you have organised a meeting about transition and I hope it works out. Regarding funding I still have not had the time to work this out but I felt that there was either not enough funding for my son or it was being put to general use. Its a sad state of affairs when a parent doesn't trust the schools use of SEN funding.

    @ Karen V – hi there and thanks for popping in. Hope your sons OT appointment went well. Totally agree with you about the power of the ASD community – some great perspectives and experiences to read and learn from. Provides great support too I think.

  2. Karen V. says:

    >It's interesting to see how ridiculously difficult the educational system can be – no matter where you are for a parent with an ASD child. Guinea pig? Really!! ( I have just found your blog – you found me first- thanks!)

    I will be going back so I can understand all you have been through – I started to browse and ran out of time (I'm at my son's OT appt!) I did want to tell you that just this morning I was thinking how powerful we ASD parents are and can be as a group when we are fighting our battles – we gather support and experience from each other. We provide each other with perspective about what we've been through or reminders of what we went through a while ago. Looking forward to commenting often! :)

  3. Steph says:

    >Your story is so shocking and yet sadly familiar to lots of people I'm sure. Our girl has been at her new school nursery since January, and the SENCo has made no effort to contact us all that time. Fortunately the nursery teacher is doing a brilliant job, but surely if the SENCo was doing hers properly she would have at least checked everyone was happy? I've called a meeting for the beginning of next term to make sure everyon is on board with how the transition to reception will go – and made very sure the School Head will be there too. She is key to my daughters education I feel.
    Funding also worries me – schools here get it allocated up front as an 'average' total, it doesn't come with the child. So how do I find out what that Special Needs funding is actually being spent on?! Nothing seems to be in the parent or child's favour, it's all one long battle :(

  4. Looking for Blue Sky says:

    >Reading this just makes me want to shake those people you are dealing with. Why is it the same story every year in every country ? It sounds like you now have an idea how to get what you and your son need from the 'system' so hopefully everything will start to happen soon xx

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