‘It was damaging him’: the spiralling number of children refusing to go to school

For Jen Smith, the autumn term started, as always, with the prospect of managing the delicate process of her children’s school attendance. Both autistic, they were in mainstream classes until two years ago; now in specialist provision, they still faced deep-seated anxiety about school.

“My son’s anxiety began when he needed a disabled toilet key at school, but in the time it took to get one he felt he couldn’t go to the toilet and that is when the anxiety started building,” she says.

There were screaming and meltdowns on the way to school, she says, then more on the way home after he felt ashamed that he had been unable go in.

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