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  • Writer's pictureElisa Ferriggi

School Based Trauma

Over the past year, I’ve been working with more autistic children that are experiencing school based trauma. There are multiple reasons for school based trauma, here are some common ones:

-       Sensory overload

-       Environmental factors

-       Bullying

-       Peer and teacher relationships

-       Expectations too high/ low


Other reasons may include:

-       Child not picking up on non-verbal communication from peers

-       Child perceiving the environment as unsafe

-       Child’s needs not being met

-       Overwhelm of changes, routine and tasks


Often any one of these, can lead to heightened anxiety. A common response to anxiety about almost any situation is to avoid / escape it.  This serves well really, only as a short-term solution; it doesn’t address the anxiety in the long term. When it comes to school (unless you chose to educate otherwise/ alternative provision), a long-term solution needs to be applied.


There’s a term Emotionally Based School Avoidance (EBSA) that is used for children whose attendance is low/ non-existing in school due to emotions such as anxiety and distress. I don’t think it captures the true essence of why autistic children are avoiding school which is really school based trauma and the pressures and circumstances that autistic children are forced to be in within a school environment.


Externally, there is only so much than can be done to address some reasons; meetings with school for reasonable adjustments, actions taken against bullying etc. To be honest, many school systems and environments are not autism friendly due to the sheer overfill.  Which leaves the rest of the work to be done internally. Helping the child to emotionally regulate more effectively and manage the anxiety so that it doesn’t lead to avoiding school and impacting their future options.


Here’s an approximation of the method I use (tailored and individualised) to support children and young people in this situation:

1 Understand their history and from their perspective what is going on and find out their personal goal.

2 Psycho-educate on anxiety/ senses/ emotions/  link between thoughts, behaviour, emotions, and physical etc

3 Explore strategies and tools to manage emotional regulation

4 Work with the school to ensure they understand child’s needs and support ways to meet them.


5 Collaborate with child or young person to come up with a graded exposure plan that they are comfortable with whilst helping them apply the strategies and tools agreed, if this is part of their goal.


If your child requires support with anxiety. Please feel free to contact me to discuss support options.

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