Autism Outreach for Schools

Vanessa's blog: School REfusal

Top Tips for supporting children who are refusing to come to school

Before we delve into these tips, in goes without saying that we have to be working in a partnership between school and parents/carers if we are going to effectively tackle problems with school refusers. Everyone involved need to feel empowered and involved rather than judged and blamed, although it is also important that we all understand how dire the outcomes for school refusers are.

  • It sounds like a really obvious thing to suggest, but talk to the young person about why they are refusing to go to school. It will not help to force them into school (Interesting article about ‘Forced Attendance’ here: ), as this will create clashes and erode relationships, as they are likely to push back harder. We need to listen to their reasons, validate their feelings and let them know that we are on their side. It helps to use language around looking to solve the problems, or explaining why we ask young people to do certain things, rather than talking about ‘getting you back into school’.
  • Keep a calendar, or log of when your young person manages to go into school and when they don’t; it will help you to spot patterns and triggers that you then may be able to address.
  • Establish a good morning routine of getting up, dressed eating breakfast and everything that would need to happen before going to school. Some young people may benefit from visual lists to support this. Keep the routine in place, even when your young person is not going to school.
  • Likewise, maintain positive sleep habits and a routine bedtime.
  • Make sure that TV and game time is limited at home during the school day; if home is more exciting that school, it is naturally the place they will want to be!
  • It is often useful to plan a phased return, increasing in manageable chunks with lots of rewards along the way. Young people with very high levels of anxiety may need this to be incredibly slow, with steps lime coming into the playground, but not the building, or coming into the school building, but not the classroom. For most young people, they will be more engaged with this if they have taken part in making the plan and choosing rewards.
  • Uncertainty always increases anxiety for young people with autism. It can be really helpful for parents/carers to talk through the timetable in the morning, or specifically highlight a thing they know their young person enjoys, i.e.“Oh it’s Wednesday; ICT this afternoon!”
  • We can also take away uncertainty by adding in more structure. Free time on the playground may not be appealing and many young people prefer to go into school to do a favourable task around their interests (e.g. Lego model making), a special job e.g. turning the computers on), or some calming/relaxation time and avoid the busy transition time.
  • Anything we can do reduce a young person’s anxiety levels will increase their capacity to take risks and try to do the things that they find difficult. We need to arm our young people with a toolkit of strategies to try when they feel anxiety rising and give them opportunities to express how they feel. There are resources around anxiety management and relaxation techniques here:
  • Young people will only agree to come to school if they feel safe. This may involve them having a safe space they can go to outside the classroom and/or a safe person who they can trust and talk to.
  • When young people have particular special interests, these will be the activities which make them feel confident and we can use these to ensure they feel really valued.