Hands in a heart shape holding an infinity rainbox. Underneath the words Sandra Bell ND Coach
#31 School Can’t in the New School Year

For a lot of us the school year has just started. Our kids are adjusting to new classrooms, and new teachers, maybe new peers, and for some new schools. As parents we are also adjusting to all these new things too. When your child has experienced School Can’t in the past, these adjustments have an extra level of anxiety overlaid.

As in my previous post School Can’t is when a child is struggling to attend or engage with a formal education. It can be anywhere from a child attending school but is unable to engage with learning, through to being unable to attend at all for extended periods of time and experiencing extreme stress or a shutdown nervous system.

When your child has struggled to engage with school for any number of reasons this time of year often has the hope of a fresh start attached, especially if a new school is involved. But, if you are like me there is also the fear in the background that the struggle will begin again. Although for me that fear is more about how bad it will get before we can turn it around, and I know we can turn it around no matter where we get to. My oldest is hope for that. For my oldest we ended up at Plan E before we found the style of education that works for them, and although there is still School Can’t at times we’re able to work with their current school so they still get an education and work towards a qualification. 

For my youngest I figured out the School Can’t earlier than with my oldest so they didn’t go as far down the rabbit hole before I started putting strategies in place to help. This year is a new school for them, all new peers, all new teachers, and a new level of education, so there is lots of chance for it to be a fresh start, but I’m also very aware that they are still a neurodivergent student in a system that is set up for neurotypicals (if for anyone – I’m not sure our current system truly suits anyone, even the teachers) so there is still a very real risk that School Can’t will kick in again.

There are lots of posts around at the moment with useful strategies to put into place, like lowering demands - by reducing demands at home and pausing out of school activities - at least for the first few weeks. And ensuring supports are in place that meet the young person’s needs to help smooth the transition back into school, while making sure that the young person has a say in the supports, adjustments and accommodations that are put in place. It’s also important to support yourself too, it can be hard sending them off back into what you know isn’t always a safe place for them, and wondering many times throughout the day how they are going, and if they aren’t going OK how you’ll find that out – probably only when they come out of the school gates barely holding it together and then meltdown at home.

Some strategies involve knowing schedules and thinking through what might come up as issues, and while I can see the sense in these they aren’t for every child. Mine don’t want to know this ahead of time as it just leads to anxiety. They just want to take it as it comes, and whilst I would like to be proactive that isn’t their preference, so I have to just do what I can in the background and be ready for action when they are ready.  

A final note on strategies is that while some like knowing schedules don’t help every child, there are those can be harmful for all - such as social stories that are too prescriptive or set the child up to think that the day will be predictable. It’s like setting up a room all nice for someone to relax in, leading them in and then literally pulling the rug out from under their feet. It can make it so much worse than them being pre-warned that things don’t always go to plan.

What helps you or your young person who’s experienced school can’t transition back into school?

Thanks for reading.

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Please note all information and strategies shared as part of the blog are for information and educational purposes only and do not constitute advice for any particular individual or circumstances.