This article aims to help parents/carers of autistic children who are struggling to attend school.

It discusses possible causes and offers ideas of how you might be able to help. It may also be a useful read for teachers, other school staff and for young autistic people.

There are many reasons school can be difficult and stressful for autistic children and young people.

It is not uncommon for some autistic children to be reluctant to go to school or even completely unable go to school.  This is often referred to as ‘school avoidance’ or ‘school refusal’.  These terms can lead to the wrong assumption that a child in this situation is being defiant and deliberately awkward.

When school ‘refusal’ or ‘avoidance’ happens, it can be both worrying and frustrating for parents and teachers – but it’s usually far more distressing for the autistic person.

Reasons an autistic child might find it too difficult to attend school will vary.

 These are some common situations:

  • It might be hard to get the right sort of support in place for your child in school – and this can cause them ongoing, daily stress, which, after a time, becomes too much to bear
  • Sometimes, even when appropriate support is in place, unexpected things can happen which can make school feel like too much of a challenge for your child
  • Sometimes there may be one off or infrequent occasions where your child feels unable to attend school – such as a sports day or a school trip
  • Sometimes there may be certain temporary situations which may cause a child to refuse to attend school until they are resolved – for example, if your child is being bullied or if there has been a change of teacher which has temporarily unsettled them
  • Sometimes a child gradually or suddenly refuses to go to school altogether

Some autistic children may struggle to tell you what it is that is causing them distress about school. This is because:

  • They might struggle to identify the reason
  • They might struggle to put their thoughts into words
  • They may find talking about it too painful, shameful or awkward

If your child is unable to tell you why they are too distressed for school:

  • You may need to make observations and look for patterns to see if you can identify triggers- for example, does their distress seem to increase on certain days, when they have certain lessons or certain teachers?
  • You may need to build their trust, so that they learn to be more comfortable talking to you. It may help if you spend more time doing low key, fun or relaxing activities with your child, where there is no pressure for them to talk.  In time, they may then open up to you

If everyone involved can work out the person’s individual challenges and needs, there are usually things that can be done to make school life much more appealing!  This could potentially stop an autistic person getting to the point of ‘school refusal’ in the first instance.

Information and ideas in our school related articles may help to make school easier for your child and could minimise the chances of them finding school too difficult to attend.

For links to all our school related articles, click on the link below:

Supporting your autistic child through school

Close search menu