According to experts, school anxiety and avoidance have increased in recent years. Some estimate that 28 percent of students may suffer from school avoidance at some point in their educational career.
Youngsters with school anxiety and avoidance may refuse to go to school or may complain of physical symptoms before school. Physical symptoms may include headaches and stomachaches. Tantrums, inflexibility and defiance may also occur, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). Untreated, this pattern can become worse the longer a child is out of school.
Expert consultation is essential. Here are three steps for parents to take:
1. Obtain a comprehensive evaluation from a mental health professional. An evaluation can help reveal the reasons behind the child’s refusal to attend school and determine what kind of treatment will be best. Parents should work to find a mental health professional specializing in anxiety in youth.
2. Encourage your child to attend. Try to take your child to school in small steps and increase exposure over time. Talk to the child’s principal, teacher and guidance counselor about how to help.
3. Refer your child for services with the school district. Many parents do not realize that public schools have affirmative obligations to develop a Section 504 plan or Individualized Education Program (IEP) for students whose anxiety impacts learning and educational performance. In some cases, a more supportive or therapeutic placement may be necessary. Consult an experienced attorney or advocate if the school does not respond appropriately.
Marion Walsh, an attorney with the law firm, Littman Krooks LLP, focuses her practice on special and general education advocacy, with an expertise on assisting children with anxiety. Littmankrooks.com.