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Dealing With Aspergers Children Who Refuse To Go To School

Has your Aspergers (high functioning autistic) child given you some indication that he is nervous about starting back to school?  He may have even said, “I’m not going!!!

What youngster hasn't dreaded September, the end of summer and the return to school – but for many Aspergers students, the prospect of school produces a level of fear so intense that it is immobilizing, resulting in what's known as school-refusal behavior. Some Aspergers children have been known to be absent for weeks or months. Some may cry or scream for hours every morning in an effort to resist leaving home. Others may hide out in the nurse's office. Some children who miss school are simply truant (i.e., they'd just rather be doing something else), but sometimes there are genuine reasons to fear school (e.g., bullying, teasing).

Anywhere from 5% to 28% of kids will exhibit some degree of school-refusal behavior at some point, including truancy. For children with anxiety-fueled school refusal, the fear is real and can take time to overcome. Families may struggle for months to help an Aspergers youngster get back into the classroom. Ignoring the problem or failing to deal with it completely can lead to more-serious problems later on. Individuals who experience school-refusal behavior and anxiety disorders in childhood may face serious ramifications in adulthood.

Psychologists say and studies show the following:
  • Alcohol, drug use: A study of kids ages 9 to 13 with an anxiety disorder showed that those who still had the disorder seven years after treatment drank alcohol more often and were more likely to use marijuana than those whose disorders had resolved.
  • Depression: Teens and young adults ages 14 to 24 that had social anxiety were almost three times as likely to develop depression later on than those without the anxiety disorder.
  • Different life choices: Psychologists say they've seen young people with persistent anxiety make fear-fueled choices that can have long term effects, such as selecting a less-rigorous college or a less challenging career.
  • Psychiatric treatment: A study of school-refusing kids showed that about 20 to 29 years later they received more psychiatric treatment than the general population.

School refusal affects the entire family. If a child doesn't go to school, it may be hard for a parent to keep her job. Children are at heightened risk when starting a new school, and especially when entering middle school. It is the perfect storm with the onset of puberty, a huge transition and a chaotic academic environment.

Well-meaning moms and dads can make things worse by allowing an anxious Aspergers youngster to miss school. Such an accommodation sends the message that school is too scary for the youngster to handle and the fear is justified. Overprotective moms and dads rush in way too quickly to shield their Aspie from any experience that creates distress.

Untreated, an Aspergers youngster with school-refusal behavior is likely to fall behind academically, which can then lead to more anxiety. And there may be longer-term consequences. A 1997 study followed 35 students (ages 7-12) treated for school refusal. Twenty years later they were found to have had more psychiatric treatment and to have lived with their parents more often than a comparison group.

Some Aspergers teens with unresolved anxiety may go on to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs. A 2004 study followed 9- to 13-year-olds who were treated for an anxiety disorder. Seven years after treatment, those who still had the disorder drank alcohol more days per month and were more likely to use marijuana than those whose disorder had resolved.

Children with school-refusal behavior may have (a) separation anxiety (i.e., a fear of being away from their moms and dads), (b) a social phobia (i.e., an inordinate fear of being judged), or (c) a fear of being called-on in class or being teased. A specific phobia (e.g., riding the bus, walking past a dog, being out in a storm, etc.) may be present as well. Other kids are depressed, in some cases unable to get out of bed.

Because many children complain of headaches, stomachaches or other physical symptoms, it can be difficult to tell whether anxiety, or a physical illness, is to blame. (Note: Anxiety-fueled ailments tend to disappear magically on weekends.)

Aspergers kids with school refusal may complain of physical symptoms shortly before it is time to leave for school or repeatedly ask to visit the school nurse. If the youngster is allowed to stay home, the symptoms quickly disappear, only to reappear the next morning. In some case, an Aspergers youngster may refuse to leave the house. Common physical symptoms include headaches, stomachaches, nausea, or diarrhea. Tantrums, inflexibility, separation anxiety, avoidance, and defiance may show up, too.

Starting school, moving, and other stressful life events may trigger the onset of school refusal. Other reasons include the youngster’s fear that something will happen to a parent after he is in school, fear that she won’t do well in school, or fear of another student. Often a symptom of a deeper problem, anxiety-based school refusal affects 2 to 5 percent of school-age kids. It commonly takes place between the ages of five and six and between ten and eleven, and at times of transition, such as entering middle and high school. Kids who suffer from school refusal tend to have average or above-average intelligence. But they may develop serious educational or social problems if their fears and anxiety keep them away from school and friends for any length of time.

What Can Parents Do?

The most important thing a mother or father can do is obtain a comprehensive evaluation from a mental health professional. That evaluation will reveal the reasons behind the school refusal and can help determine what kind of treatment will be best. Your youngster’s pediatrician should be able to recommend a mental health professional in your area who works with kids on the spectrum.

The following tips will help you and your Aspie develop coping strategies for school anxieties and other stressful situations:
  • Arrange an informal meeting with your youngster’s teacher away from the classroom.
  • Emphasize the positive aspects of going to school: being with friends, learning a favorite subject, and playing at recess.
  • Encourage hobbies and interests. Fun is relaxation, and hobbies are good distractions that help build self-confidence.
  • Expose kids to school in small degrees, increasing exposure slowly over time. Eventually this will help them realize there is nothing to fear and that nothing bad will happen.
  • Help your Aspie establish a support system. A variety of people should be in your youngster’s life—other kids as well as family members or educators who are willing to talk with your youngster should the occasion arise.
  • Learn about your Aspie’s anxiety disorder and treatment options. For more information about school refusal and kid’s anxiety disorders, type "anxiety" and/or "school problems" in the search box at the top of this page.
  • Meet with the school guidance counselor for extra support and direction.
  • Talk with your Aspie about feelings and fears, which helps reduce them.
  • Try self-help methods with your Aspie. In addition to a therapist’s recommendations, a good self-help book will provide relaxation techniques. Be open to new ideas so that your youngster is, too.

Treatment—

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), in which clients learn to change negative thoughts and behavior, is the main treatment for school-refusal behavior and the anxiety disorders that often underlie it. The primary technique is exposure therapy, where children gradually face and master their fears.

CBT is very effective. Recent studies have shown that about half to 70% of children with anxiety disorders treated with CBT will have a significant improvement in function and decrease in their symptoms. Some specialized school-refusal clinics have success rates that are even higher.

Antidepressants such as Zoloft (sertraline) or Prozac (fluoxetine) are often prescribed for kids with anxiety disorders, although their use in kids is controversial.

Psychologists stress the importance of seeking treatment quickly—after as little as two weeks of missed school. The longer they've been out of school, the poorer the prognosis.


More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book


==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

The Benefits to Parenting a Child on the Autism Spectrum

Moms and dads of Aspergers and high-functioning autistic (HFA) kids can lead lives that are often complex, complicated by their youngster's differences. Many times such complications are imposed by others who do not understand or appreciate your child's way of being in the world.

Like all parents, you have likely done or said hurtful things to your child out of frustration or exasperation. This is typical of any mother or father, not just the parent of a youngster with Aspergers or HFA. Your frustration may stem from your child's limitations or your own challenge to cope day-to-day. You may wish your son or daughter would “snap out of it” and “get with the program.”

If you have been unable to see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty, then hopefully these “benefits” listed below will help you to recognize the profound journey that you have embarked upon as a mother or father of a child on the autism spectrum.

The Benefits to Parenting an Aspergers or HFA Child:

1. Computer technology and the Internet have revolutionized the world, and in particular, have been a blessing for the autistic youngster. As a result, it is entirely possible for your child to communicate with others around the world who are also seeking a connectedness in learning about the disorder and themselves. Through these relationships, your youngster may very well develop an enhanced confidence and comfort level about living with the condition.

2. In seeking formal and informal supports for your youngster, don't be surprised if you are both a ‘recipient of service’ and an ‘educator to others’. It may be one of your missions in life to help other parents of "special needs" children who are currently going through trials and tribulations that you have previously experienced.

3. Many mothers and fathers who survived the turmoil that an “autism spectrum diagnosis” can bring have gone on to develop wonderful support groups, products, agencies and organizations to make life easier for others. Maybe you’ll be one of these humanitarians.

4. Even if you are struggling currently, understand that you are raising a child who will likely have the ability to (a) focus intensely (on obsessions if nothing else), (b) notice details, (c) have a good memory, and (d) be a visual thinker with a unique mind.

5. Understand that without your youngster in your life, you would be a different person. As the mother or father of a youngster on the spectrum, your life has been forever changed. Maybe you have become stronger, more vocal, or more defensive in protection of your youngster and his rights. Maybe you are more tolerant and compassionate of differences in people of all kinds. In any event, you have developed emotional muscles that you never would have developed otherwise.

6. Whether you realize it or not, you and your youngster have been on quite a journey together. He has worked very hard to adapt to people, places, and things that are often very difficult to understand without your support and guidance.

7. Even if you don't see it yet, your youngster has a great desire to give back to you and others. He has a lot to offer you as well as the rest of the world – and he has every reason to assume his rightful place in the world and be recognized for his contributions.

8. Whether you see it or not, your youngster has come a long way toward becoming more self-sufficient and independent.

9. Your youngster will reflect back to you what you project upon him. Armed with your loving support, your trust and your confidence, your son or daughter will be poised for great things. And you have every reason to expect them.

10. It is very likely that you will be able to say some great things about your youngster in the not-so-distant future. For example, my child:
  • Does not get bogged-down with preconceived notions
  • Is ambitious and motivated
  • Is dependable and a hard worker
  • Is honest and trustworthy
  • Is non-biased and non-prejudiced
  • Is usually fair, just and objective
  • Is very inclusive, accepting and non-judgmental
  • Is very intelligent and knowledgeable
  • Tends to finish what he/she starts
  • Will research everything exhaustively to come to well-rounded, factual based opinions

More resources for parents of children and teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism:

Theories of Aspergers

What are some of the prominent theories that attempt to describe Aspergers?

Aspergers appears to result from developmental factors that affect many - or all - functional brain systems. Although (a) the specific underpinnings of Aspergers that distinguish it from other Autism Spectrum Disorders are unknown, and (b) no clear pathology common to people with Aspergers has emerged, it is still possible that Asperger's mechanism is separate from other Autism Spectrum Disorders. Several theories are available, although none are likely to provide a complete explanation. Below are the current theories with the most credibility:

1. Neuroanatomical studies and the associations with teratogens (see “What is a teratogen?” below) strongly suggest that the mechanism behind Aspergers includes alteration of brain development soon after conception. Abnormal migration of embryonic cells during fetal development may affect the final structure and connectivity of the brain, resulting in alterations in the neural circuits that control thought and behavior.

2. The mirror neuron system (MNS) theory hypothesizes that alterations to the development of the MNS interfere with imitation and lead to Aspergers core feature of social impairment. For example, one study found that activation is delayed in the core circuit for imitation in people with Aspergers. This theory maps well to social cognition theories like the theory of mind, which hypothesizes that autistic-like behavior arises from impairments in ascribing mental states to oneself and others (called hyper-systemizing), which hypothesizes that people with Autism can systematize internal operation to handle internal events but are less effective at empathizing by handling events generated by other agents.

3. The under-connectivity theory hypothesizes under-functioning high-level neural connections and synchronization, along with an excess of low-level processes. It maps well to general-processing theories such as weak central coherence theory, which hypothesizes that a limited ability to see the big picture underlies the central disturbance in Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging provides some evidence for both under-connectivity and mirror neuron theories.

4. A related theory, called “enhanced perceptual functioning,” focuses more on the superiority of locally oriented and perceptual operations in people with Autism.

5. Other possible mechanisms include serotonin dysfunction and cerebellar dysfunction.

What is a teratogen?

A teratogen is any agent that can cause a birth defect. It is usually something in the environment that the mother may be exposed to during her pregnancy. It could be a prescribed medication, a street drug, alcohol use, or a disease present in the mother which could increase the chance for the baby to be born with a birth defect. About 4 to 5 percent of birth defects are caused by exposure to a teratogen.

Once the egg is fertilized (conception), it takes about six to nine days for implantation (anchoring into the uterus) to occur. Once the fertilized egg is connected to the uterus, a common blood supply exists between the mother and the embryo. In other words, if something is in the mother's blood, it can now cross over to the developing fetus. Teratogens are thought to have the ability to affect the fetus about 10 to14 days after conception.

During the development of a baby, there are certain organs forming at certain times. If a teratogen has the potential to interfere with the closure of the neural tube, for example, the exposure to the teratogen must occur in the first 3.5 to 4.5 weeks of the pregnancy, since this is when the neural tube is closing. There are some organ systems that are sensitive to teratogens throughout the entire pregnancy, such as the central nervous system. The central nervous system is the baby's brain and spine.

One teratogen that affects the central nervous system is alcohol. Alcohol, at any time during the pregnancy, has the potential to cause birth defects and health problems in the baby, since the central nervous system is sensitive to teratogens the entire nine months of gestation. This is why alcohol consumption should be avoided in its entirety during pregnancy.

There are many different teratogens that cause birth defects. Listed below are a few examples:

• Acetaminophen
• Alcohol
• Microwave ovens
• Phenytoin (Dilantin)
• Prenatal vitamins
• Spermicides
• Varicella


==> The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

Click here to read the full article…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

Click here for the full article...

Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

Click here to read the full article…

Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Click here to read the full article…

Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

Click here
to read the full article...

Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

Click here for the full article...

My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content