Help For Teen With School Refusal

School Refusal Among Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Many teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder find school environments overstimulating, due to social and academic pressure, which can lead to frequent absences or school refusal. When a teenager refuses to go to school, they may be unwilling or unable to explain why they experience such intense anxiety around going to school. However, not understanding the causes of school refusal can lead to power struggles with parents and losing motivation to return. Residential treatment centers can help teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder discover their preferred learning style and identify their passions and hobbies. 

The guide is meant to be comprehensive, but as such, not every section will be applicable to everyone. Instead, we invite you to click on the links in the table of contents to jump to the sections that most interest you.

What are Signs of School Refusal in Teens?

There is a difference between skipping classes every now and then to hang out with peers or because homework for that class was not completed and refusing to go to school altogether. School refusal occurs when a student refuses to go to school due to the distress they associate with attending school. The severity of school refusal can vary from a teen complaining about school every so often to missing days, or even weeks of school. Often, school refusal is associated with underlying anxiety around the type of situations that they are trying to avoid, such as being bullied, struggling to fit in, and academic pressure. 

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Signs of Teenage School Refusal

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Social Withdrawal at school and home
  • Fatigue and Insomnia
  • Physical ailments such as stomachache and headache
  • Tantrums about going to school
  • Poor academic performance
  • Extreme stress related to social interactions at school, assignments, deadlines, and grades
  • Separation Anxiety from parents

Why Are Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder More Likely to Experience School Refusal?

Many of the learning differences that teens on the spectrum experience are related to school anxiety, social skills, and sensory processing rather than their academic potential. Teens on the autism spectrum may struggle with learning in their school’s overwhelming sensory environment, based on student to teacher ratios and class disruptions. While many students who struggle academically find refuge in their relationships with classmates, teens with ASD are more likely to feel socially isolated at school and struggle to connect with their peers, which can contribute to a negative school experience.  

Issues at school–particularly bullying–can make a teen very hesitant towards going to school. Because teens with ASD struggle with expressing themselves, this can make it harder to get a grasp on what’s really happening and why your teen is acting a certain way.

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How Does Seven Stars RTC Support Teens on the Autism Spectrum?

At Seven Stars RTC, we believe that the first step in helping your teen become more confident in their academic and personal success is by giving them the tools to work through their underlying low self-esteem, anxiety, and self-doubt. By offering a wide variety of experiential therapies, we teach teens on the spectrum communication skills, social skills, and positive self-talk. Teens with autism spectrum disorder have different perceptions about abilities to process social information, which can contribute to their struggle to find belonging in a traditional school setting.  Between group therapy and recreation activities, teens learn to embrace their individual strengths in a group setting and become more confident in their interactions. 

During our residential treatment program, we offer individualized academics through an accredited academic program to help students regain motivation and catch up on school work that they may have missed due to school anxiety. This element is central to transition success as many students who have experienced school refusal also experience significant anxiety around falling behind in school. With small class sizes and individualized instruction, students learn to advocate for their learning difference and gain a sense of accomplishment in an academic setting.

Outcomes of our academic and therapeutic programming include: 

  • Self-determination. Students find what motivates them. They discover their strengths, passions, and interests. 
  • Self-awareness. Students become more emotionally aware and learn to express their emotions in conversations with others. 
  • Self-confidence. Students feel unique, worthy, and special. 
  • Self-direction. Students learn what their needs are and the most healthy way to meet them. 

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