How to Help Children with ASD Overcome School Phobia

A school environment can be challenging for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, for reasons for which we will explore in this blog post. Most parents who come to us often complain that their child is refusing to attend school. Over our years of tackling this issue, we have come up with a few strategies to help parents send their children to school while avoiding such difficulties.

A child’s refusal to go to school cannot be solved until the reasons behind it have been identified and understood, and this may take a while.

Children and young adults with ASD can face tremendous pressure at school. Here’s a look at some of the specific reasons that could be causing a child to refuse to go to school.

  • Social Skills: If your child struggles with expressing his needs and lacks social skills, he might be unable to maintain a proper relationship with peers.

  • Lack of concentration and focus: Due to lack of concentration, children with ASD find it difficult to understand questions and analyze answers, which further affects their ability to cope with the school's curriculum.

  • Ability to organize: Few children with ASD find it difficult to organize their day-to-day activities according to their school’s timings, making it difficult for them to keep up with others.

  • Sensory Processing Disorder: Children with ASD have low tolerance levels to loud noises and may have a hard time dealing with the busy school environment.

  • Unable to cope with changes: Children with ASD find it difficult to cope with changes in their school, such as when their favorite teacher gets replaced with a new or substitute teacher, or when their classroom shifts.

Here’s what you can do:

Try to understand why your child doesn’t want to attend school. Ask them a few questions gently, such as:

  • Are you trying to avoid a particular situation?

  • Is someone treating you badly?

  • Is there something you’d like to talk to me about?

If they still do not answer, speak to your child’s teacher. This may help in analyzing differences in your child’s behavior at home versus at school.

These are a few questions you can ask your child’s teacher:

  • Is my child showing anxiety at particular times?

  • Is my child finding it difficult to cope with the regular timetable?

  • Is someone bullying my child?

  • What was your last conversation with my child?

  • Is my child correctly interpreting his/her peer actions or their own actions/those of others?

Understanding your child’s behavior completely can be difficult, but there are a few strategies you can suggest in how school can undertake dealing with your child.

  • Calm school environment: As discussed, few children with ASD cannot deal with loud noises and have sensory sensitivities. Ask staff members to choose a calm and quiet place while teaching or have your child wear ear/headphones.

  • Extra support at school: Ask the school staff to help your child in organizing their work and provide support during transitions between classes. Request a member of the school staff your child feels comfortable with to meet them at the school gate.

Tip: To manage these social complexities, it is advisable to take input from a trusted speech and language therapist.

  • Counseling: At the end of each day, ask the staff to have a heart-to-heart conversation with your child on how their day went. Based on this conversation, ask them to prepare your child’s timetable along with your child, so they know what they’re going to do the next day.

While supporting your child in going back to school after a certain period of refusal, do not pressure your child to attend school for an entire day. Rather, start them off with attending for an hour and build it up gradually. Here are a few strategies you can follow at home:

  • Use visual supports: Encourage your child to communicate with you about their problems by using visual supports. Gradually start a conversation with your child and ask them to rate recent events conducted or rate different places at their school like the playground, cafeteria, library, etc. on a scale from “bad” to “good.” This helps you in understanding where the problem occurs. After understanding various reasons behind their reluctance to go to school, share it with the school staff.

  • Have your child maintain a diary: Whenever your child feels anxiety at school, ask her to note it down in their diary. Read the diary together with your child as part of your evening routine every day and give suggestions on how to cope with difficulties. Share the diary with their teacher, if required.

  • Reward good behavior: Talk to your child about the importance of education. Upon completing tasks (these tasks can be simple or difficult, like- putting on their school uniform by themselves or completing their homework on time, etc.), reward your child on the progress they’ve made so far.

We hope this blog was helpful. For more information regarding sensory therapy, cognitive skills, behavioral therapy, developmental disorders, and early intervention, please contact Stepping Stones Center. We emphasize on acquiring new and appropriate behaviors, while also working on helping the child achieve developmentally age-appropriate milestones through evidence-based practices.

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