Unable to attend school

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?

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12 thoughts on “Unable to attend school

  1. I agree completely. There needs to be awareness amongst the professionals and teachers regarding this. The stress of seeing your child in so much distress is hard enough to beat without the added stress of the pressure schools ect put on you to make your child attend.


  2. Excellent post, thank you, although hearbreaking and brings back our ‘never to be forgotten’ experiences with our ASD child and school and the most unhelpful EP advice and practice to ‘flood’ eg force / pin down child to keep in school. Nothing seems to have changed since this was happening to my son 7 years ago, parents are still being told/advised (by professionals) to force their child into school despite their distress and extreme anxiety suffered. There is not enough help and support or people who understand – unfortunately. Somehow this needs to change.


    1. It certainly does. advice, recommendations and interventions should be based on evidence and best known practice. not poorly informed ignorant advice. Take heart though – see Jenna’s post below where in her LA changes took place. we need to see more of this.


  3. This is so true. I unfortunately felt pushed into carrying my son into school during his periods of high anxiety, this has caused so much damage. He is now having to have psychotherapy as a result and our local CAMHS no longer recommend this course of action.


    1. Jenna that is so so good to hear. if you feel able to email us or share here a bit more information i would love to share the good practice / guidance etc that your CAMHS now use. any snippet of information on this would be appreciated!


  4. I agree! My son was in high school and the damage done from 6th grade up till now is horrible. I thought I was the only one that cannot stand for the term ‘school refusal’ ! Thanks for your great blogs!


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