'I was once where your child sat.' A letter to parents battling with school refusal.

This year was supposed to be my final year of school

It was the year I was supposed to get my senior jersey, supposed to have a school formal and supposed to make memories with friends as our schooling journey comes to an end.

However instead this year I sat on the sidelines, treading a different path. And while I sometimes feel jealous looking at my friends and what I call ‘normal kids’, I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

I, like many other teenagers in Australia, left school last year due to what’s been deemed ‘school refusal’. School refusal is when children are unable to go to school because they are too anxious. Additionally, students with ADHD and Autism are twice as likely to experience school refusal. So as a young girl with autism ready to enter the school gates, the odds were already stacked against me. 

School refusal is such a prevalent issue with the media focusing in on it as rates increase but very few times do you read about it from a child’s point of view. So, if you are a parent with a kid who has a similar story to my own, this is for you:

Dear Parents,

I was once where your child sat. I was once that vulnerable, anxious, sad, angry, aggressive, and distressed young kid. You are not alone on your journey and things do get better. You may feel isolated and lost right now but I am writing to show you that it gets better. After 10 years of fighting this battle, my family and I are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I am treading my own path, which is much easier said than done. Watching all my friends do what I looked forward to doing, and more importantly, what I feel I should be doing is hard. It is difficult not to feel like an oddball when it appears to be something everyone does. But as I look back at all the stress school brought to me and the intensity at which it destroyed my mental health, I am grateful to have the option to do what is right for me. What I wish I could have read when I was younger was stories similar to my own so I could feel less alone, so I am writing this and being vulnerable to help others like me. 


Watch: Parents of Teenagers: Translated. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

Whilst leaving school was the right path for me, let me be clear that this is not my campaign for all kids who don’t like school to drop out. It is more for you all to calm down. We are told that missing school is detrimental for kids. If you don’t do well in school, then how are you going to graduate? If you don’t graduate, how are you going to make a future for yourself? Well, I am living proof of it. 

In Grade 2 I missed an entire week of school and in Grade 9 I missed an entire term of school. The point is missing school is not the be-all and end-all. In fact, if my parents had not allowed me to miss this time off school and prioritise my mental health, I don’t think I would be here, writing this today.


For a while, my parents tried to make home a boring environment, so that I would go back to school. This failed, and only made me feel less inclined to be at home, leaving me with nowhere to go and making my mental health decline even further. They quickly learnt that this was not an effective tactic. In fact, if children are forced or punished because of school refusal, they are actually at an increased risk of anxiety and depression. 

It is not weak to pull them out and/or seek alternative ways. There are other options. It is not avoiding the problem and pushing it down the line (as so many people who don’t even know me, love to tell me), it is learning that one system is not designed for everyone, and mental health is a greater priority than an ATAR 99. Prioritize your child's mental health and overall happiness over societal expectations.

I want to tell you there is a simple fix but sadly it takes time and a whole lot of patience. Lean on those close to you, implement strategies to make your child feel safe with their teachers, keep a steady routine, reach out to mental health professionals, and most importantly listen to your child and figure out what works best for them. I know that right now it feels like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, but I hope by reading this you can see there most definitely is. 

You are not alone,


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