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My son won't go to school - what can I do?

DebJay's picture

My son won't go to school - what can I do?

Wed 20 Jun 2012 7:40pm

Hi all,

I have a 13 year old son with ASD.  He was diagnosed when he was 9.  Unfortunately his diagnosis  did not lead to improved support for him at school (mainstream) and a few months later he suffered a mental health crisis and dropped out of school.  He was subsequently diagnosed with agoraphobia.  We then secured some home tutoring for him (provided by the LA) whilst we helped him to overcome his agoraphobia.  We also got a statement for SEN (on second attempt) and after gradual transition he started at a special school for ASD pupils. 

His first year then went reasonably well though at times he found it difficult (the school is some distance from school).  Then the school holidays happened.  On his return to school (2011) he became extremely anxious (as he does with change) but he went into school and we thought all would be OK.  Unfortunately he was so overwhelmed by his first day back that he became unwell with anxiety and his behaviours worsened plus he couldn't sleep etc.  We got psychiatric support, modified his medication and slowly he improved.  At the same time, we started to expose him back to school and eventually he was able to do one week of part time lessons.  Unfortunately he couldn't cope and he regressed again and ever since then he refuses to go back.  He refuses to talk about school and becomes aggressive whenever we try and mention  it.

We have home tuition in place and a whole host of professionals helping us but we are not getting anywhere. My son refuses to go back.  We have tried to find out if there was anything specific that was upsetting him but he is unable to tell us (though he is verbal). I know he has a problem travelling far from  the area he is living in and the school is a distance.  We have to work very hard just to get him out of the house and visit our local town/park etc. 

We are aiming to start again this autumn and his school are preparing transition for hm but my son refuses to engage with the idea.  If he doesn't go back this Sept I don't know what to do; I am fearful that the LA will take his place from him.  Unfortunately there ae no other schools near to us that can accommodate him and neither is home education (by me or his dad) an option due to other commitments but also because he refuses for us to teach him.  Even his tutors are finding it hard  going.

If anyone has experienced a similar situation or can offer any advice, I'd be very grateful.





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  • JosieB's picture

    Hi Deb

    Welcome to the forum  Smile

    I think the answer to solving this problem is finding out what is causing your son to refuse school.  I know you said he doesnt seem able to tell you, how about seeing if he will write about it.

    Have you asked the school if they can shed any light on it?  Perhaps something is going on there that will help get to the bottom of it.

    Have you tried contacting ACE or IPSEA for some support and help from them?  You can find contact details for them and other organisations in our support section here:

    Hope some of this helps and do let us know how you get on.

    Josie - Community Champion
  • MikeS's picture

    Hi Deb,

    Welcome to the community! Josie has already asked you some useful questions but I also wanted to link you to the Dealing with transition page on the Ambitious about Autism page as some of the advice there might come in handy. I found some pages about this, Dealing With Aspergers Children Who Refuse To Go To School and Aspergers Children & School Refusal. Be interested to hear what members on the forum think of the advice in these!

    Mike - Former Community Manager
  • MikeS's picture

    Hi Deb,

    A member from Facebook, Zoe, asked me to post this for you on her behalf:

    Can I be devil’s advocate and ask why you want your son to go back to school?

    It sounds to me as if the school environment may not be the right place for him. There are some kids with autism who just cant function in a school setting. There is too much noise, too many people, too many demands are made on them (academic and, even more importantly for our kids, social).

    Some kids need very specialised 1-1 support in an educational setting that is not school-based, in order to access learning – especially if they have already had negative experiences at school. If a child is so anxious and emotionally dysregulated by school that he is tipping over into mental health problems, is a school the right setting?

    If you have home tuition in place, what is wrong with continuing that? The tutor could hook up with groups of homeschoolers in order to give your son some social contact with peers. This way, the social contact (which may be one of the main things that he is having difficulty with) can be short and well-managed.

    I’ve seen several children now who have had these difficulties and what I would advise is to be open to changing your goalposts. At the moment your goal is to get your son back in school – should the goal be to enable your son to access a learning environment/experience that truly understands and accommodates his difficulties (few people, more quiet, challenges that are geared to his edge of competence (social and academic) so that he can have positive experiences of success)?

    I hope that helps – I’m just trying to put across a different point of view.

    Mike - Former Community Manager
  • DebJay's picture

    Thanks all for your comments.  I've had a word with their school and they can give no indication why my son is refusing.  In the meantime I'm looking into the resources that Mike and Jose have referred to.

    To Zoe; home tuition provided by my local authority is inadequate.  Not only is it restricted to only 5 hours a week, but the tutors are generally not experienced enough in autism and do not provide a wide enough curriculum or access to any social groups etc.  It is also not working well at the moment; the tutors are struggling to engage with my son and my son is not accessing any learning.

    The service is poorly resourced and in my opinion is not a satisfactory way of providing my son with an education.  I understand what you are saying; I do think my  son needs 1-1 and if I could get specialised 1-1 education for him I would.  Unfortunately the resources are not there and I dont have the money to buy in private tutors either. 

    In terms of being open with my goalposts, I am being open and working with all sorts of people trying to find the right provision for my son.  My aim is for my son to access learning and the right emotional and social support.  Its never about me just getting him into school but options are limited and I have to work with what there is.

    Perhaps I haven't articulated that enough in my post but I am looking at every option available to us.  For now, I have agreed that we will try and get our son back into his special school this autumn very part time and with more support.  If he can't do that, then I will look at other options. 



  • JosieB's picture

    Hi Debjay

    Just popped in to see how you were getting on with your son's schooling. 

    Josie - Community Champion
  • Izzy's picture

    Hi Deb

    I really do understand what you are going through. I have been there some years ago .My son always suffered with school phobia and severe social anxiety . School was always a terrible struggle for him. He was 14 when he completely stopped attending school .He was diagnosed with asperger,and add . He had been put on a part time timetable but eventually the anxiety got so bad he stopped going completely. Looking back I feel terribly guilty for trying to force him to go by taking him every morning and trying to get him out of the car when he was feeling so sick with anxiety and sobbing in the back of the car. I realise now thatIt was making him worse. Like yourself I tried to get Home tuition for him from the Lea but he couldn't manage to go to a venue to receive this tuition because of his anxiety and they had refused a tutor to come to our home because of a risk assesment done on my son by the school saying he was a high risk because of his behaviour ,which was ridiculous . Eventually after a 2 year battle with authorities and with help of a local Mp we managed to get him a place in a special school at the age of 16. H was given a place in sixth form but although the school was wonderful he just couldn't do it. He had been out of school for over 2 years with no education and his anxiety was worse. He tryed every single day , I drove him every morning 15 miles to this school and we would sit outside for half an hour but he would be in a terrible state.  They had given him a personal Ta who would come out to the car and try and coax him in but he would just freeze . After 6 months of trying we eventualy gave up. He lost his place. Now he is 18 and suffers with severe panic attacks and anxiety .He has turned to alcohol and has become an alcoholic . He has no qualifications but could not manage to work anyway .He sees no future for himself and has attempted suicide last year when things got too much for him. He is no longer under Camhs as he is 18 and the adult mental health services are about to take him off their books as he can not manage to see his care support worker due to his anxiety with talking to people. Life is very stressful right now and although he is on medication each day is a struggle to even just go to a shop . He can not be with people unless he is under the influence of alcohol . We as parents have tryed every thing possible to help him but we do feel that if he was diagnosed much earlier like when he was in primary school then things would not have got so bad . It was all too late. I know this story does not help your situation but it justs lets you know you are not on your own .


  • asteroids's picture

    Hi Deb,

    Does your son have any interests? What does he do when he isn't at school? Could you use his interests to get him out of the house occasionally?

    I know you are going to be spending much of the summer trying to organise a return to school for your son but can I suggest that you don't do this within earshot of him? Maybe you could just avoid the subject completely for a few weeks and take the pressure off him.

    The journey to school must be awful for him as he will spend the whole time building up his anxieties, then the waiting outside will make matters worse. It sounds as though he needs some help to address his anxiety before he can return to school. There might not be any 'real' reason for his anxiety. Phobias are irrational fears.

    Could you find a place near his school where he would be willing to go? (Maybe a park or a library, or something like that). You could agree to go to that place during the holiday and not even mention school. That might help to reduce his anxiety about the journey.

    Whatever you do, concentrate on very small steps. Don't feel you have to have him back in school on the first day of the new term.

    Asteroids Sara
  • Janyan's picture

    I was excited to see your post because we are going through exactly the shame thing with our 14 yr daughter with high functioning autism. The anxiety about school is through the roof and we have yet to find a doctor who can diagnose and treat the condition. It has been so frustrating for all.  We are in the US.  I was wondering since it has been a while since your post  if things have gotten better and if so, what treatment modalities were used.  

    Janet handle
  • marthaandy89's picture

    After reading your problem one thing came to my mind that you should go for some distance learning degree programs because it will help him to recover from the state as you'll be there to comfort him.

    And once he gets better you can get him a regular institution.

  • Whirling Mind's picture

    OP: what about an alternative education unit?  They are used for pupils that have been excluded or cannot handle ordinary school.  See here: 

    Don't worry about home-education as an option, no-one can force you to do that if it's not possible and the LA still has a legal responsibility to ensure your son's education. The LA has a duty to find the best option for him.

    An alternative education unit would also mean your son was in a small group (maybe very small) of his peers so there would be no pressure like in an ordinary school.

    Another option (which may well tie in with an alternative education unit) is an online school, such as this:

    ...which would be absolutely perfect from what you've said.  The LA is the one that needs to be flexible about this.  The website explains about options for location of the learning (which can also be at home if you want but doesn't have to be).

    You say you are looking at all options, but I wonder whether the LA has actually told you about alternative provision as an option.  They often will not inform parents of options that cost them money or are more hassle for them.  They will only look at it if you find out for yourself and ask them.


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