Recovery from school refusal

I’m not sure if there is such a thing as recovery from school refusal but for us we’ve got to a point where my son is now spending nearly 4 whole days in school.  It’s a remarkable achievement because this time last year my son was struggling to leave the house, travel very far or engage with anyone outside the family.  It was so difficult that I started to doubt whether my son would ever return to school or indeed have any sort of quality of life.  It was so worrying that the psychologist suggested more assessments but I said “no” because I felt that whatever was happening to my son was a temporary blip that he could recover from given time.

And I have been proven right.  With lots of support we have helped our son take those first intrepid steps into the school grounds and from there into the school building and then into lessons.  It was hard work as it meant us going over and over each stage until he was confident enough to move on to the next stage.  And so it went on, months and months of  building up his confidence until he suddenly declared that he “loved his school” and could he do “more lessons please”.

To hear these words was amazing.  It was the breakthrough we were waiting for because it showed us that he was feeling happy, confident and in control.  It has also meant that I’ve been able to take a step back.  For the last six months or so I’ve spent large chunks of time in school whilst my son sat in class.  I was happy to do this because I knew my son was less anxious knowing I wasn’t very far away but I still hoped that one day he would manage without me.  Even though my son has an autism spectrum disorder, I still have to work towards him becoming an independent adult so stepping away from his school life became an important aim of mine.  Now that moment has arrived and I’m just like any other mum taking her child to and from school.  It really is fabulous.  Watching my son enjoy going to school is not something I ever thought I would see again.

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7 Responses to Recovery from school refusal

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  2. N Cantrell says:

    Hi, can I ask you how you managed to get your son back into school? My daughter has ASD and is refusing to go to school and I just don’t know what to do. School are at a loss I think and have just said she can work from home some days but I don’t think this is helping.
    Any suggestions s would be great.
    Thank you Nicola

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Hi there and thanks for commenting.

      The first thing I did was to get him checked out by his psychiatrist. My son has a diagnosed anxiety disorder on top of his ASD which requires medication. As he was growing he needed his medication adapted to suit his physical size. As soon as this was sorted and his anxiety was under control we then got home tuition involved and for a while he had lessons at home but frankly these were not very affective as the tutors struggled to engage my son. Throughout all of this I tried to encourage him to go back to school but he wouldn’t engage on the subject at all. It was only when I gave him a choice: home tuition or return to school that he took the decision to return to school. He was still very anxious about it so we started off gently; ie driving into the playground, sitting in reception, going into a classroom so that eventually he was able to sit in a classroom for a lesson. It took months and months for him to achieve this but it was obvious he was pleased with himself. Unfortunately as he built up to full time schooling he started to struggle again and just before school broke up for summer he relapsed. I think this was due to poor support from his school particularly regarding transition and now we’re back to square one which is incredibly frustrating given all he (and we) have achieved. I think it shows that no matter how much work we do we have to have the right support for our children in school.

      I can only advise that you do all the necessary medical checks (if you haven’t already done so) plus work with the school (which sounds like you are). I think doing work at home could work if the tutor(s) are knowledgeable in ASD and can engage your daughter. Those tutor(s) could then move with your daughter back into the school environment where she could build up on the hours she spends there. But I would recommend that you only go as slow/fast as your daughter; it could be that going to school full time is too much (as it was for my son). The other thing that works well is to get tutors to focus on your daughters interests and get her to pick the lessons she wants to do at school. It may sound indulgent but our children’s anxiety can worsen when they feel out of control.

      Besides that it is well worth reading this blog on Pathological Demand Avoidance and school refusal –

      PDA is part of the autism spectrum. Its main symptom is high levels of anxiety that lead the person to become very controlling. Though my son doesn’t have this diagnosis I do think he shows some PDA tendencies particularly re his anxiety & controlling behaviour. I have found this blog a very interesting and helpful read particularly with regard to school refusing.

      One final recommendation is the book Overcoming Your Child’s Fears and Worries: a guide for parents using Cognitive Behavioural Techniques by Cathy Creswell and Lucy Willetts. It was recommended to me by another mum of a school refusing daughter with ASD and anxiety which in turn was recommended by her local CAMHS.

      Besides that I wish you well and hope that you can find what works for your daughter.

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  4. Yay! It’s so nice to hear happy news. Well done you for perservering and being so patient x

  5. Scottish Mum says:

    4 days in school from school refusal is absolutely great. You’re doing a great job.

  6. Galina V says:

    Brilliant news, Deb! So happy for you.

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