Thursday 2 September 2021

Back to School, or not, 2021

And so it begins again. 

Back to School. 

Three little words which can cause so much stress.

This week my two girls are back to school of sorts, but not without stress and added complications. I don’t know how to feel. Am I happy they have schools to go to? Am I relieved, apprehensive or anxious?  Or am I angry at the school system which is clearly not fit for purpose for many children, not just my own?

Maybe all of the above. One of my girls doesn't properly have a school to go to, but that's a long story. Some of that story can be read in my blog post Not Back To School..... Not Fine In School, but the rest is a long and ongoing story. 
Inside of a front door with nothing else in the photo. Text reads empty door photo. the reality for many families failed by the education system
Today I’m thinking of all the other families who are really struggling with Back To School. Those who’ve seen an increase in anxious or violent behaviour over the last few weeks as the school start approaches. Those who were struggling before the summer term ended and who have known for a while that it’s just not working any more, but what can they do about it? Those who are dreading phone calls and emails from school or who are living in fear of being hounded by attendance officers and threats of fines.

I’m thinking of the children too. Those who are walking into new environments, potentially facing new staff and new children, without having been given any details of what’s about to happen. Those who are scared (for good reason) as they are dragged into school but who are told ‘it’ll be OK’ and they should just ‘get on with it’. Those who mask because they are worried about being seen or getting into trouble. Those who are not being given the additional support and understanding that they need.

There can be many factors leading to the 'not back to school, not fine in school' situation. Many parents hear the 'but they are fine once they are in school' comment but the reality is that children who react like this once in school may well be masking and internalising all the stress. School refusal is a phrase which has been overused for many years - throwing the blame firmly at the feet of the children who are unable to attend. School anxiety, school-based anxiety or school induced anxiety could all be used as better alternatives. Forcing children into school and into an environment which does not meet their needs is not going to help them overcome anxiety. In fact many adults will tell you this has instead led to trauma.
a footprint made of stones, on a stony beach
The image above shows a footprint made out of stones, sitting on a stony beach. If I had a bit more time and brain power I’d have liked to come up with something prophetic to go with it, about how we as parents are there to walk alongside our children and support them to be the best they can be in life. How those working in education are hopefully there to do the same.

For the next few weeks I will be sitting in my car, in a school car park, for an hour at a time, three days a week. Three hours of school a week. Two hours out of the house each of those days including the drive here and back. Is school worth it? Time will tell.

The system is broken. The schools we have in this country do not suit all children and not enough is being done to improve that situation. When I am through the most difficult of times, I will be making it my mission to change that.

In the meantime I am starting a brand new series on my blog, sharing experiences of those who are feeling the impact of this lack of understanding, lack of planning and lack of care for all children. The series will be called Not Fine In School. The aim is to highlight not only the issues surrounding school anxiety or school attendance difficulties, but the fact that having children who do not cope with back to school and who are not fine in school is the reality for hundreds of families like mine, not just a handful.
A black background with a multicoloured heart logo in the middle, with the words not fine in school, experiences of a broken system
If you feel up to sharing your 'not fine in school' experiences please email me at I understand how difficult it can be for families to talk about this topic - for some there will be a need to stay anonymous, which is totally fine. But this issue of the outdated system which is failing is huge and should not be brushed under the carpet any more. 

For any parents and carers needing help right now, I highly recommend the incredibly helpful Not Fine In School website ( There are many supporters behind the scenes and in the linked Facebook group who have been, or are going, through difficult times during the school years. Plenty of knowledge is being shared which could make a real difference to other families. If the system is not fit for purpose we need to shout that out loud. Please help, by sharing your story or sharing this post to get the message out there.

I've also come across this helpful post over on the Mum in the Madhouse blog, giving tips for choosing a secondary school.

For more information about PDA, please read any of the books in my post 
Books about the Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) profile of autism 
Stack of book spines, all books about PDA listed in the post link given

To find out more about our experiences, please check out our 'About Us' page or the summary of our experience in Our PDA Story Week 35. If you are looking for more online reading about Pathological Demand Avoidance, the posts below may help.

What is PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance)?

Ten things you need to know about Pathological Demand Avoidance

Does my child have Pathological Demand Avoidance?

The difference between PDA and ODD

Strategies for PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance)

Pathological Demand Avoidance: Strategies for Schools

Challenging Behaviour and PDA

Is Pathological Demand Avoidance real?

Autism with demand avoidance or Pathological Demand Avoidance?

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