Rosie and Jo’s mum.
When Jo was eight, I was told that, if she didn’t ‘want’ to go to school, I should manhandle her out of the house and all the way into school.
I called her CAMHS psychologist and explained. She told me to manhandle her into school too. Incredulous, I repeated her words back to her and she confirmed that I had understood correctly. She later denied it. I decided not to follow this advice and, for a couple of weeks, Jo’s attendance was erratic. The school called in the educational psychologist and asked me to meet them and her. The school staff re-iterated their position; school isn’t negotiable and Jo needs to be made to attend.
I explained my reasons for not manhandling her and the wonderful educational psychologist stated that clearly they needed to make whatever changes were required in school to enable my daughter to attend without physical force or restraint. She reminded them that, if her anxiety is so high that she can’t attend voluntarily, there is little point in her being there because she will be unable to learn.
From that day on I had a checklist of strategies to deal with my children’s inability to attend school at times of high anxiety. I would;
- tell my child that I believed her and was on her side, that I would do everything I could to help sort out the situation and I would not allow anyone to use physical force to make her attend school.
- explain to school that I was prepared to use the behaviour management techniques that I usually employed successfully at home but I wasn’t prepared to use force or restraint as this could cause physical, emotional and mental harm.
- correct anyone that used the term school refusal. The word refusal implies that the child has a choice and children with ASD and anxiety don’t choose not to go to school; they are unable to attend because of inadequate provision and unmanageable anxiety.
- ask any person recommending that I manhandled her whether they were prepared to carry out a risk assessment on the process including the risks to her physical, emotional and mental well-being.
- contact the Education Welfare Officer before the school did, explain my situation and ask what they could do to support us.
- email the school explaining my concerns and ask what they could do to help us enable her to feel able to return to school.
- circulate an email to all of the professionals involved with my child explaining that she was currently unable to attend school, how I was managing it, anything the school had said/recommended/refused to do and asking for a meeting to help find a suitable solution.
- record my child’s views on why she felt unable to attend/what she needed and circulate them to all the professionals working with her.
- send email confirmation of all verbal conversations so that they couldn’t be denied later on.
I was advised later on by a brilliant CAMHS psychologist that children with ASD and anxiety shouldn’t be punished for being unable to attend school. He also said that they should be encouraged to continue with activities they enjoy because they boost the child’s self-esteem and help them recover enough to return to school with the right support. It made perfect sense to me. Years down the line, both girls have had long periods of being unable to attend school. I supported them and followed the checklist and they always returned once the right support was in place.
To read more click here for Unable to Attend School – What Next?