School Refusal

School refusal is an increasing problem for many families. 

What is school refusal?

School Refusal is the act of putting more energy into avoiding going to school or engaging academically than it does to do


  • Children are often sick or in pain with headaches or gut issues

  • They may experience peer issues including bullying from peers or teachers

  • Or teacher issues and sometimes academic issues

  • Or it's just a day ending in Y!

Factors to consider when assessing the why a child is school refusing?

  • Anxiety

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome

  • Various Learning Disability, such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, dysgraphic, dyscalulia

  • Hearing and sight impairment (that might not have been assessed)


Not wanting to go to school is an age appropriate  developmental stage, but we can often get them through it. It becomes extreme when the child wants to go to school but can't for whatever reason. And is seen more with ODD, ADHD, anxiety, ASD, Down Syndrome, Chromosome Disorder. One challenges is with task and demand avoidance as it can be very extreme and not actually fit any of the boxes neatly.

Here's what it's like for many children:

  • Often kids don't know why they don't want to go to school

  • They go to school exhausted and come home exhausted

  • Their joy is diminished through the exhaustion and then this can lead to exhaustion

  • Sometimes they just don't know how to put into words how they are feeling so they just say, "I'm bored" or "I just don't want to go"

  • What they are learning might not make sense or seem useful

  • They often experience deep shame about not understanding at school

  • They can't understand instructions that are piled on top of each other

  • They don't have interoceptive awareness - they can't read what is happening in their body or give names to their emotions/feelings 

  • School is unpredictable, it can change with every class, and things aren't often the same


School refusal is scary for these children and they are forced to go and they don't feel safe and feel stressed and may be thinking:

  • What is wrong with me

  • I'm terrified

  • Will I ever get a job

  • Will I ever been different

  • I don't have hope

  • Am I okay?

  • Fear of what peers think

  • What will teachers think


Other Considerations

  • Remember they can still be successful even if they don't go to school in the usual way

  • In reports, get your behaviour therapist, paediatrician and other professionals, to word the "recommendations" of your child as a "requirements"

  • Give them the opportunity to go to school in a way that works for them 

  • Be kind and compassionate to yourself about your own feelings of guilt and failure about not being able to get your child to school - it is not a reflection on your parenting - and appreciate the baby steps!

  • If they didn't feel overwhelmed, they would go to school and we don't want to force them into a situation that feels unsafe

  • Look at their success with gaming, for example, and how you can translate that success into a different part of their life - and this will build a bridge of understanding because you are acknowledging them as competent

  • If your child has Pathological Demand Avoidance, check out our webinars on this topic


Don't Use the Implied Demand of Praise

Don't make a the mistake of the implied demand of praise. This can back fire rapidly as it raises their anxiety. See the slides for more. Don't praise them for normal daily activities that you would not praise a neurotypical child. Make your response to whether they go to school or not, the same and safe. Just have a normal unexcited response. Inside you might be dying, but play it cool on the outside and create that safe space for them.

Watch Bobbi Cook's Webinar on School Refusal

Webinar Slides

Download the slides from the webinar.

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Audio Only Version of the Webinar

Download the audio of the webinar so you can listen when you are doing the dishes or driving!

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