University of Gothenburg
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Help kids who miss school!

Mats Johnson's latest blog entry

[Posted on 19 February, 2019 by Mats Johnson]

Some call it school refusal, others call it problematic school absenteeism, but both refer to when children and adolescents stay home instead of going to school for long periods of time. This is a growing problem, not only in Sweden but in many other countries as well. Many of these individuals lead an isolated and sedentary lifestyle, which in turn often leads them to develop physical health issues and dependency on computers and mobile phones. The situation also takes its toll mentally, with feelings of alienation and low self-esteem being especially common. All of this creates a difficult situation for the family as well.

This problem could become extremely costly for society at large. In December of 2018, one of Sweden’s most prominent documentary series explained that as many as 5500 youths were currently in the midst of a long-term absence from school, and estimated that if these individuals were to fail school and thus not secure employment, the resulting price tag would eventually end up at around 10-30 billion SEK (around 1-2.5 million pounds). The programme described several examples of children and adolescents who have struggled at school due to neuropsychiatric problems like autism.

In other words, there is much to be gained through early and effective intervention measures, both financially and emotionally.

Our research group at the GNC and the Child Neuropsychiatric Clinic (CNC) have found that many school refusing children have neuropsychiatric problems and/or learning difficulties. This makes it hard for them to meet academic demands and achieve passing grades, which predictably has negative effects on their mental well-being; a fact made even worse by the long wait times to child neuropsychiatric clinics like the CNC.

That being said, there is something that can be done! Neuropsychiatric examinations aimed at mapping out difficulties, strengths and interests can be carried out in collaboration with schools and provide them with the kind of understanding and individual adjustments needed to make school more manageable for these individuals. A model like that could have a profound impact on everyone involved, and create shorter wait times that will allow us to prevent these issues before they arise. Therefore, we are currently seeking funding for a project that would enable rapid examination and effective intervention measures.

The project is being planned in collaboration between the GNC and the CNC, and we would like to include the National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools (SPSM) as well. Quick access to thorough, well-structured neuropsychiatric and educational mapping efforts would allow our team to collaborate with schools and SPSM to find more individualised adjustments and support. This would make it easier for affected individuals to thrive at school and eventually find educational and professional opportunities that suit them.

Our experiences from this project could create an effective collaboration model that other institutions across the country might utilise as well.

[This is a blog. The purpose of the blog is to provide information and raise awareness concerning important issues. All views and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily shared by the GNC.]

Gillberg C, Gillberg IC, Thompson L, Biskupsto R, Billstedt E. (2014). Extreme (”pathological”) demand avoidance in autism: a general population study in the Faroe Islands. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatr. 24(8):979-84. doi: 10.1007/s00787.

Kearney, C.A., & Albano, A.M. (2018). When children refuse school: A cognitive-behavioral therapy approach/Therapist’s guide (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.

Munkhaugen EK, Torske T, Gjevik E, Naerland T, Pripp AH, Diseth TH. (2017). Individual charateristics of students with autism spectrum disorders and school refusal behavior. Autism.