School refusal is one of the biggest concerns that so many of my clients come to me with.
Whether your child has a massive meltdown in the school parking lot, refuses to ever get in the car in the first place, or elopes from their classroom whenever they get stressed out…
And when your child refuses to attend school (or refuses to attend school on time), that can come with some very real consequences for them and for you as their parent.
If your child struggles with school refusal, you are not alone, friend!
So today I want to walk you through exactly how to handle school refusal with the Embracing Autism Method so that you can stop stressing out about calls from the schools, battles with your child, and truancy notices.
Handle Your Autistic Child’s School Refusal With the Embracing Autism Method
If we haven’t met yet, hey friend, I’m Kaylene!
I’m an Autistic adult and parent-coach that helps parents of autistic children drop the “autism mom” label and become the parent-advocate that their kids truly need.
So if you’re looking to be able to truly accommodate your child, balance your family life, and create real change through advocacy, feel free to hop over to AutisticMama.com/Apply and fill out the form to access an advanced private training!
What is School Refusal
To be honest, I wish we had another term for this because “school refusal” implies that our Autistic kids are simply being jerks and refusing to go to school because they don’t feel like it.
And that couldn’t be further from the truth.
This isn’t simply a kid faking a tummy ache so that they don’t have to take their math test.
School refusal is really about when your Autistic child is struggling with regularly attending school, attending school on time, or actively participating in school once they get there.
And that struggle can showing up as resistance, refusal, meltdowns, or any number of outward behaviors.
Why Does School Refusal Happen
School refusal can happen for tons of different reasons, and finding out the specific reasons your child is struggling with school is going to be key to handling school refusal with the Embracing Autism Method.
(We’ll go into that in more details in the Accommodate section!)
Just a few reasons school refusal can happen are:
- Struggles with Transitions
- Sensory Overload or Sensory Needs Not Being Met
- Anxiety (Especially Over Lack of Control)
- Demand Avoidance
- Bullying or Social Struggles
- Exhaustion, Illness, or Physical Discomfort
- And there are so, so many more.
Remember, a list can be helpful, but you are going to want to get clear on exactly why your child is struggling to go to school.
How to Handle School Refusal With the Embracing Autism Method
The Embracing Autism Method is a framework that I’ve developed after working with tons of parents of Autistic children and noticing patterns along their journeys.
The Embracing Autism Method has three simple steps:
The Accommodate stage in the Embracing Autism Method is all about finding and providing the specific accommodations your Autistic child needs so that they feel safe and regulated.
So when you’re dealing with school refusal, you want to start by getting clear on exactly what is making your child avoid school.
“They just don’t like school” or “They just want to play video games all day” isn’t going to cut it here!
We need to get nitty gritty. :)
So let go of any assumptions you might have about why your child is avoiding school, and think about the following questions:
- What step in the process are they struggling with?
- Did something change that made it harder to go to school?
- What are they telling you about the reason for avoiding school?
- Have you noticed any patterns about the school refusal?
- When does your child *not* struggle going to school?
Once you get clear on the real reason your child is struggling, you can start to find targeted accommodations that address that struggle.
Here are a few examples:
- If your child struggles with transitions, you could try clear routines.
- If your child struggles with sensory overload, you could try regular sensory breaks.
- If your child struggles with bullying, you could try removing the bully’s access to your child.
For example, my client Sarah’s teenage son was struggling with getting to school on time because he was just way too exhausted to wake up and get out the door on time.
We devised a plan together on a recent coaching call, and it turned out that her son needed his ADHD meds and his caffeine drink earlier in the morning.
Then he needed to be left alone to doze off again for about a half-hour, and then he was much more ready to wake up for the day.
Now, he’s still a teenager that stays up too late playing video games, so this isn’t a perfect routine, but this small accommodation has made a huge difference in how often they get to school on time.
(Plus it’s made a huge difference in how both of them feel in the morning and how regulated and calm they both are!)
The goal is to find the strategies that actually work to help your child feel safe and regulated while going to school.
The Balance stage in the Embracing Autism Method is all about balancing accommodations with “real life” through routines, boundaries, and skill-building.
So when you’re dealing with school refusal, you want to focus on helping your child build regulation skills and implement some doable routines.
So first, we start with building regulation skills so that your child is able to stay regulated throughout the school day.
And I want to be clear—this is about staying regulated, not about compliance or stuffing down their needs.
This is about their ability to access their accommodations and get through the school day as comfortably as possible.
When building new skills, I always focus on these four steps:
(I teach more about this framework in the Embracing Autism Accelerator Program! Check out the details here!)
You’ll also want to help your child build doable routines that help them through their school day.
When we have routines, we’re able to get through parts of our day on autopilot, and it can help us avoid struggles with rigidity
A few routines you might want to consider building are:
- Going from home to school
- Coming home from school
- Transitioning from classes or recess
- Entering the building or classroom
For example, my client Becca’s daughter struggled to transition from the car into school every morning, and they couldn’t quite figure out why.
When they walked me through the exact scenario that happened every day, the problem became clear…
The plan was basically: get out of the car, walk into the building, and be at “school”, which was a broad term that could include absolutely anything (good or bad).
Instead, we created a routine for exactly what she’d do when she got into the building, which was to go into her special corner and have quiet time to herself.
That way, she knew exactly what to expect for her transition, and Becca had a solid plan to share with her instead of just expecting her to be excited to get out of the car and go to “school”.
The Change stage in the Embracing Autism Method is all about
So when you’re dealing with school refusal, you want to focus on advocating with the school so that they can implement the accommodations that you’ve found that work.
And I’ll be honest… This is often the trickiest part.
Teachers, school staff, and others on your child’s team typically mean well and truly want to make school a safe and welcoming place for your child, but often their hands are tied by tons of red tape.
Not to mention overwhelming caseloads, funding issues, competing classroom needs, and more…
So it’s important that we don’t just walk in with our fists flying.
But it’s *also* important that we don’t walk in with no idea what we’re fighting for and agree to whatever the team suggests.
That’s why in the Embracing Autism Accelerator Program I actually teach two types of advocacy:
- Collaborative Advocacy: You work with another person to meet your child’s needs in a collaborative way.
- Unwavering Advocacy: You know exactly what the solution is, and you aren’t ready to accept less than that solution.
So you’ll definitely want to prepare your specific advocacy scripts and plans ahead of time.
And if you want to take this a step further, you can start to build in opportunities for your child to self-advocate as well.
This can look like empowering your child with specific scripts they can use, teaching them how to access their accommodations, or giving them more control over the advocacy process.
Now you might be left thinking: okay, this sounds great, but I still have questions like…
- How do I find out exactly what is making school such a struggle for my child?
- What accommodation should I try first, especially if my child seems resistant to getting any help?
- How do I get the school to see that my kid isn’t just avoiding school because they’re lazy?
- What do I do if the school won’t cooperate with the accommodations that my child needs?
- How can I figure out what the problem is if I’m not at school and can’t see what’s really happening?
- What do I do if I’ve done all the accommodations I can think of and my child still refuses?
I teach all about how to discover your child’s unique needs, meet them without burning yourself out, and advocate for them effectively in my Embracing Autism Accelerator Program.
Plus, when you apply for the Accelerator, you get access to an exclusive private training: 3 Steps to Become the Parent-Advocate Your Child Needs.
Click here to apply and get your invite to the private training!